Does Curcumin Work: The Business of Science vs. Curcumin

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University scientists can’t stand supplements. They’re messy and natural and not controlled by universities. This week a review paper was published by pharmaceutical chemists claiming that the supplement Curcumin doesn’t work. This is despite a good deal of recent research showing that Curcumin seems to work well clinically. So with conflicting information, does Curcumin work?

What Is Curcumin?

To understand what Curcumin is, you first have to know a little about the Asian root plant turmeric. Native to India, turmeric contains curcuminoids, a variety of compounds, one of which is Curcumin.  For thousands of years turmeric has been used in Asia for purposes such as dyes, medicines, and as a spice in Indian cooking. Curcumin is extracted from the rhizomes of turmeric, and its signature is the bright-yellow color of its powder. Today, Curcumin is found in a dietary supplement form and is even used in cosmetics.

For centuries traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine has used Curcumin for its anti-inflammatory properties. As a supplement, Curcumin is also known for its anti-inflammatory properties and is often taken to help relieve arthritis. In order to aid in absorption, Curcumin as a supplement is usually taken with a pepper extract, or bioperrine. In addition to its anti-inflammatory properties, Curcumin has very powerful anti-oxidant properties..

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Does Curcumin Work Based on Cell-Based and Clinical Research?

There are two types of research that are important to discuss here. One is research that shows how Curcumin impacts real cells, and the other is clinical. Why? While we’ll get into the new research that questions the efficacy of Curcumin later, for now it’s important to understand that the paper focused only on how Curcumin impacted proteins in a test tube. So if Curcumin has been shown to have positive effects of real human cells or on real human patients, then the new paper isn’t important.

So does Curcumin work when impacting real human cells? In the lab, Curcumin has been tested on both tendon and cartilage cells. In both cases, it was shown to reduce the inflammation in those cells. Curcumin has also been shown to turn around the toxic brew of chemicals which results in the destruction of arthritic joints, allowing repair cells to move back in and do their job. In addition, curcumin has been shown to  stimulate mesenchymal stem cells to help with the production of cartilage.

Curcumin can also help troubled cells survive. When there is chronic stress in the body, such as arthritis, or even weight gain or other effects of aging, apoptosis can occur. Apoptosis is when the cells of the body tend to wear out faster due to some type of stress. For example, as you age, the toxic chemical IL-1-beta can accumulate in your joints. This can cause apoptosis, or cell death; however, Curcumin has been found to be protective against these changes.

Does Curcumin work in other clinical research? Curcumin supplementation has also been shown to alleviate bone loss due to oxidative stress in a mouse study, and in addition to it’s powerful toolset in treating joints, curcumin has also been shown to help with a leaky gut by reducing the harmful chemicals that leak through the intestines and into the bloodstream.

Another study found curcumin reduced inflammatory markers as effectively as ibuprofen, and another study took this a step further, showing that curcumin reduced markers of oxidative stress by 200-400%.The clinical research on the use of Curcumin in knee arthritis gets even more interesting. A recent review of the eight biggest randomized controlled trials demonstrated that there was mounting evidence that Curcumin works to help pain and improve function. While more research can always be performed, this is pretty impressive.

How About the New Study?

The new research focuses on how Curcumin behaves in a test tube and how it impacts important proteins. It’s a review of lots of research that seems to show that Curcumin and the chemicals in it can cause key proteins to do good things. The researchers believe that Curcumin is highly unstable and doesn’t really react with these key proteins. They also conclude somehow that the clinical trials for Curcumin have never shown any efficacy. Huh? How about the above eight randomized controlled trials? Looks like these scientists are on a Curcumin witch hunt?

The upshot? Does Curcumin work? Pharma scientists don’t like supplements. This study claiming Curcumin doesn’t work was covered by quite a few websites. However, as you can see, it seems to have an agenda. While these scientists think Curcumin doesn’t react the way they would like to see it in the test tubes, how then can it impact real human cells through objective research? How then can Curcumin the supplement be showing efficacy in the eight clinical trials that have been performed? The moral to this story? Be careful about what you read!

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NOTE: This blog post provides general information to help the reader better understand regenerative medicine, musculoskeletal health, and related subjects. All content provided in this blog, website, or any linked materials, including text, graphics, images, patient profiles, outcomes, and information, are not intended and should not be considered or used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please always consult with a professional and certified healthcare provider to discuss if a treatment is right for you.

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