Turmeric: The Spice of Life

July 30, 2010

Turmeric:  The Spice of Life 

 Competency:  Brain Health, Heart Health 

 Reference:  Life Extension Magazine Review Article, August 2010 (Subscribe to this magazine!) 

 Turmeric is the yellow in mustard and curry.  It is a spice used in Indian food for five thousand years, and in Aryuvedic medicine just as long.  And it should be used in Western medicine just as much.  Hints about its usefulness started to emerge in the world of cancer care about a decade ago.  Now, the flood of information is such that we are beginning to see it as a possible mainline supplement for all of us.  Let’s get to why. 

 Last year a Dr. Seely published an article showing that curcumin (the active ingredient in turmeric) binds to our appetite receptors, blocking our appetite input.  That’s the first step in our food journey.  It makes us feel less hungry.  If you eat less, you don’t get overweight.  But down the line, turmeric has been shown to increase fat consumption by the liver, and in fat tissue, by blocking the growth of new blood vessels, disallowing new fat cells to develop.  It favorably changes the way our appetite system controls our appetite and the distribution of body fat. The PPAR system in your liver stands for peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor.    It is a master control switch of metabolism and cellular development (Wikipedia).  Turmeric activates the PPAR nuclear proteins.  That results in better sugar metabolism.   It also activated the AMPK system which controls how fast you make new sugar molecules while simultaneously increasing the rate at which you store and break down sugar.   This is the point of action of our most commonly used diabetes drug, metformin.  Only difference, curcumin might well be doing it better.  (Kim Biochem Biophys Res Comm 2009;16:337) 

You could make the argument that it is functioning as an anti-obesity drug.  That’s nifty. But down the road, our metabolism and internal inflammation get us into trouble when we attach glucose molecules to proteins because our blood glucose is too high.  We call these AGEs or advanced glycation end products and we measure them as a way to see how well we are controlling our diabetes. (Hemoglobin A1c).  Guess what turmeric does?  Yes, turmeric lowers AGEs.   In diabetic rats, it has been shown to slow the development of cataracts by lowering AGEs.  Oxidized fats in our blood are the cause of much vascular disease.  Curcumin prevents that oxidation by boosting our natural internal antioxidants called glutathione, catalase and superoxide dismutase. 

 This sounds like a super drug.  It works in the beginning, middle and end of glucose metabolism, all to the better.  But it’s not all so easy.  We don’t absorb it very well and it only lasts minutes in our blood.  That means we need a better delivery form.  Unless you really like Indian food and eat curry breakfast, lunch and dinner, turmeric might not be for you.  When we take it in a pill, we only absorb a tiny bit.  If it’s mixed with black pepper, absorption goes up dramatically, but it still only lasts an hour or two. 

 WWW.  What will work for me.  We’ve been following this story for years now.  I’m still watching.  I also buy gelatin capsules and make my own turmeric supplement once or twice a year.  I take one a day of those capsules.  Ingredients: 90% turmeric from the Indian grocery store.  10% finely ground black pepper.  We didn’t mention this article about the strong association of turmeric consumption and better brain health and less Alzheimer’s.  Now, that’s something I want to remember.

The column was written by Dr. John E. Whitcomb, MD., Brookfield Longevity, Brookfield, WI, (262-784-5300)