Curcumin is found in turmeric, the primary spice in curry. Both modern medicine and Asian tradition make claims for the health benefits of curcumin. What really is known about this spice derivative?
Traditional Claims of the Health Benefits of Turmeric
Turmeric powder is made from the rhizome of the turmeric plant.
As noted in “curcuma longa“, traditional East Indian medical uses for turmeric starts with ingesting it for stomach ache. It has also been used to treat skin infections, muscle aches and arthritis. One traditional Chinese treatment is using a turmeric derivative as a topical analgesic colic. Internally, the Chinese have used turmeric to treat chest pain, colic, hepatitis and ringworm.
Recent Medical Claims for Curcumin
Modern medicine usually extracts the active curcumin from the flavourful turmeric. It might be applied externally, taken orally or injected in a solution.
The claim for being a “blood thinner” seems true; this makes curcumin potentially beneficial for people in danger of heart attack or stroke. In “Turmeric“, Medline Plus warns of the danger of combining curcumin with other anti-coagulants, such as ibuprofin or warfarin. The blood-thinning properties of curcumin make it inadvisable for surgical patients.
Medline Plus also agrees that curcumin may help settle an upset stomach, but states that all other claims need more evidence.
These other medical claims include helping against arthritis, delaying the effects of Alzheimer’s disease, inhibiting bacterial growth, reducing the risk of cancer, and lowering blood sugar levels. To be fair, the “cucurum longa” article often notes the need for clinical trials on humans.
The U. of Maryland article on “Turmeric” adds several other possible medical uses. It reduced the relapse rate for people whose ulcerative colitis was already in remission. It might help prevent atherosclerosis, the build-up of arterial plaque leading to heart attacks. There is some potential for helping diabetics. Most interesting is the possibility that it might aid in cancer treatment.
In May 2011, Medical Xpress reported that “Curcumin compound improves effectiveness of head and neck cancer treatment“. This in vitro study of specific cancer cell lines showed that a curcumin derivative boosted the effectiveness of the specific chemotherapy drug, cisplatin. This combination has not been tested on humans.
To summarize: few of the medical claims have been demonstrated in double-blind tests on humans.