Curcumin is a yellow chemical produced by certain plants. It is the main thing that makes turmeric yellow and gives it most of its properties. It can be found as a food spice, it is sold everywhere, and it has always been thought of having amazing anti inflammatory, antioxidant and anticarcinogenic properties. Is this true though? Are there studies supporting those claims?
Our bodies aren’t perfect at dealing with cellular damage or even at metabolism. They tend to generate reactive oxygen species (ROS) and those have been associated with many diseases, especially those that occur later in life. In theory those occur because those ROS accumulate throughout someone’s life.
A recent study focused on the effects of curcumin on HO-1 (heme oxygenase), an enzyme that catalyzes the degradation of heme. HO-1 is produced in a cell under stress and it has cytoprotective effects. It appears that curcumin induces the expression of HO-1. This suggests that the effects of curcumin may be mediated through the activation of HO-1.
How it works is by inhibiting many inflammatory/cell-death pathways like NF-κB and AP-1 as well as TNF-α. Many studies have shown that curcumin induces positive changes in cells, though some argue that digested curcumin may not be as effective. Its anticancer effects certainly don’t have a significant enough effect to be considered a drug, but curcumin does indeed interfere with pathways that are dysregulated in cancer cells, and pathways that can lead to mutations, thus there may be a benefit in consuming it and there certainly don’t appear to be any side effects. I have introduced it personally in my diet and although evidence suggest that any dosage you add to your meals wont be big enough to induce a significant effect, it certainly doesn’t hurt + it has a nice taste especially combined with rice.
If you are looking for a definite answer and a conclusion you won’t find it yet. All the tests show positive results but i wouldn’t depend on it to be healthier. If you want a spice though that tastes good and certainly makes you healthier (even slightly) Turmeric is one that you can add to your meals with no second thought. Another one is curry, which is a mixture of herbs that all appear to have good health effects. All those spices work as functional foods, their effect is uncertain but they do appear to be working, and the best part is that adding them to your meals is incredibly easy.
Sources: Mechanism of heme oxygenase-1 gene induction by curcumin in human renal proximal tubule cells , Dietary Antioxidants and Health Promotion , Curcumin (diferuloylmethane) down-regulates expression of cell proliferation and antiapoptotic and metastatic gene products through suppression of IkappaBalpha kinase and Akt activation.
Image: By Simon A. Eugster – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31748137