Curcumin is a bright yellow compound found in a variety of plants, most prominently turmeric and, to a lesser extent, ginger. It is the principal curcuminoid, eliciting effects similar to other polyphenols but with its own unique twist. Studies suggest that it may help support a healthy heart and prevent cognitive decline associated with aging. However, curcumin is most well-known for its powerful anti-inflammatory properties. Let’s take a closer look at curcumin and how it can help to reduce and relieve inflammation.
What is Inflammation?
Although inflammation frequently has a negative connotation, it is actually a vital component of your body’s natural immune response. Functionally, inflammation is designed to heal your body after any injury, repair any tissue that has been damaged, and defend your body against foreign substances, including harmful bacteria and viruses. Without inflammation, even the simplest wounds and illness would get infected, fester, and become potentially fatal.
Inflammation is most often characterized by:
- Sometimes immobility and pain
Inflammation occurs almost immediately as soon as you get injured or infected. Your arteries dilate, allowing for increased blood flow, while your capillaries open up to become more permeable. This is all to allow easier flow of white blood cells, nutrients, and hormones to the injured area. White blood cells ingest the germs and damaged cells in the injured area to begin the healing process.
Acute and Chronic Inflammation
Inflammation can be either acute or chronic. Acute inflammation is short-term and occurs after a basic injury (cuts, scrapes, sprains, sore throat). The effects of acute inflammation often go away after a few days. Chronic inflammation is long-term and is a result of autoimmune diseases or serious wear-and-tear conditions.
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How Inflammation Can Be Dangerous
As natural and necessary as inflammation is, it can also be dangerous, particularly in its chronic form. Chronic inflammation, also sometimes called persistent, low-grade inflammation, is an effect of the body perceiving a threat that does not exist. It signals the inflammatory response, sending the white blood cells to the mistaken area. With nowhere to go and nothing to do, the white blood cells will sometimes start attacking healthy cells, tissues, and organs.
In other forms of chronic inflammation, the threat is real but you may not perceive it, causing the inflammatory response to continue indefinitely without any outside help.
Scientists are still studying the effects of chronic inflammation, but studies suggest that the persistent physical stress of chronic inflammation may contribute to a variety of serious problems, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and depression.
Anti-Inflammatory Properties of Curcumin
In order to combat the effects of inflammation, many doctors and health professionals recommend a diet high in anti-inflammatory foods and compounds, including curcumin. Studies on curcumin have focused on its ability to inhibit TNF-a (tumor necrosis factor alpha) and NF-kB (tumor necrosis factor beta). TNF-a is a cell-signaling protein that plays a role in systemic inflammation. NF-kB is a protein that activates cytokines, which are compounds secreted by immune system cells, including certain pro-inflammatory enzymes, like cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2).
Studies show that these anti-inflammatory properties can help reduce inflammatory signals associated with arthritis and joint pain.
Antioxidant Properties of Curcumin
Along with its potential to directly reduce inflammation, curcumin has also been shown to possess powerful antioxidant properties. Oxidative damage, which occurs naturally when your cells process oxygen, results in free radicals. These molecules are highly reactive with all types of cells, including proteins and fatty acids. When left unchecked, free radicals can cause extensive damage to these cells. Free radicals may even cause damage to DNA.
Persistent oxidative stress has also been shown to contribute to inflammation. The good news is that curcumin’s antioxidant capability allows it to effectively neutralize free radicals. Studies even suggest that curcumin may boost the activity of antioxidant enzymes in your body, so along with actively protecting you against free radicals, curcumin may boost your natural antioxidant defenses.
How to Take Curcumin
Although turmeric is the most well-known food containing curcumin, it actually has one of the lowest concentrations of the compound. Studies found that even pure turmeric powder only had a curcumin concentration of about 3.14 percent by weight. You may find it more beneficial to take curcumin supplements, which offer much higher concentrations.
In terms of dosage, you can take up to 8 grams of curcumin without any adverse effects. For oral supplements, recommended doses range from 80 to 500 milligrams per day. Studies show that curcumin is relatively safe to use, even at higher doses and concentrations.
Curcumin can have poor oral bioavailability when taken on its own. Unless you specifically want curcumin’s anti-inflammatory properties in your colon, you should pair it with an absorption-enhancing compound. There are two very different therories about how to increase bioavailability. Some manufacturers use piperine, a black pepper extract, which irritates the gut lining to open the cellular spacing so that the curcuminoids can enter the bloodstream. In essence, the piperine is causing “leaky gut” and other substances, not just the intended curcuminoids, can enter the body. A better method for increasing absorption and bioavailability is liposomal delivery technology.
If you suffer from chronic inflammation or joint pain, curcumin supplements may offer the relief you need in a natural, organic form.