Adding spice – in the form of curcumin supplements – to the daily diets of people with risk factors for heart disease may lower inflammation, according to a new study from the Mashhad University of Medical Sciences in Iran.
Inflammation is implicated in a wide range of illnesses, from heart disease to cancer and joint pain. In the eight-week trial, researchers found significant reductions in signs of inflammation, such as C-reactive protein and other blood markers.
Curcumin is the active ingredient of the spice turmeric and has a long history of culinary and medicinal use in the Asian countries.
Two key effects of curcumin that account for most of its therapeutic effects are its strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which have been demonstrated in several animal studies. However, there have been relatively few studies conducted in people.
The research team designed a randomized controlled clinical trial to see if short-term use of a curcumin supplement could reduce inflammation in people with metabolic syndrome, a cluster of risk factors for heart disease.
Having a large waistline, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, low levels of HDL (good) cholesterol and high levels of triglycerides, are among the factors that make up metabolic syndrome. People with three or more of these risk factors are at considerably higher than average risk of developing heart disease or diabetes or both. Inflammation is also emerging as a feature of metabolic syndrome.
Among 117 participants who had been diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, half were given pills containing one gram of curcumin powder, and the other half were given similar looking pills with no curcumin inside. All participants took the supplements every day for eight weeks.
At the beginning of the study and again at the end, the researchers measured levels of three blood markers of inflammation, including C-reactive protein (CRP), which even on its own has been linked with heart disease risk.
They found that the people who took curcumin had improved blood levels of all three biomarkers as well as reduced fasting blood sugar and hemoglobin A1c, a measure of long-term blood sugar levels. The comparison group had higher glucose and levels of one of the inflammation markers, and no changes in the other markers.
The study team also analyzed data from eight previous studies and confirmed that curcumin had shown a significant reduction of CRP concentrations in a total of 281 patients.
The researchers didn’t examine the effect of curcumin on disease outcome. And being a short-term study, it's unclear what the long-term implications of supplementation may be.
Curcumin is considered a very safe natural supplement. Experts recommend, however, that pregnant and lactating women avoid using it. People with malabsorption syndrome, gall bladder problems, gastric ulcer, bleeding problems as well as those who are undergoing surgery, should consult with their physician before taking this supplement.
While the spice turmeric is known to have medicinal properties, and its regular use in diet is strongly suggested, it is not an equivalent substitute for pure curcumin. Turmeric contains very low quantities of curcumin, usually less than 5 percent, and curcumin has a very low absorption in its raw form.
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