June 21, 2012

Update on Curcumin's Potential for Treating Parkinson's and Alzheimer's and Cancer, etc, etc....

I've written several posts over the past few months about curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, the curry spice that Indians call the "holy powder." Curcumin has a lengthy history in ancient cultures, both for its culinary and medicinal attributes.

It has been described by today's scientific researchers as "the unsung hero" among many more widely touted nutrients. Strangely, while it hasn't received a lot of publicity, it has been the subject of more scientific study than any other compound, and most of those studies have been very encouraging about its potential to treat such ailments as:
  • Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, MS and other neurodegenerative diseases.
  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Arthritis 
  • Depression
Background
One of the leading researchers on curcumin is Ajay Goel, PhD, director of epigenetics and cancer prevention at the Gastrointestinal Cancer Research Lab at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas. He has studied curcumin for 15 years and notes that curcumin is the only botanical whose clear efficacy has been demonstrated by science. Almost 5,000 peer-reviewed studies now exist to support curcumin's beneficial effects. (See my previous post for a report on a recent interview with Dr. Goel.)

Curcumin has powerful antioxidant properties, which means it can fight inflammation. Most of the diseases in the list above are accompanied by inflammation and, according to some research, prompted by it. Curcumin also appears to combat ongoing cellular damage. These dual attributes -- combating inflammation and cellular damage -- could affect virtually all the body's tissues, including the brain. What's especially exciting to me (and millions of others) is curcumin's potential to fight Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

Most of the promising early research on "the holy spice" involved testing on mice. An impediment to obtaining the same results with humans was the lack of product potency to cross the blood-brain barrier. Most commercial turmeric for culinary use contains only 2-8% active curcumin.

Recent research, however, has produced a curcumin derivative -- BCM-95 -- that has been shown in several studies to possess a bioavailability six times greater than conventionally prepared curcumin. So, a 400mg dose of BCM-95 delivers the same usable amount of curcumin as 2,700mg of the standard extract.

Although there is no RDA (Recommended Daily Allotment) for curcumin, a daily dose of 400-1,000mg is used in most studies. Up to ten times that amount has been used in some therapeutic studies.

Curcumin and Me
I have Parkinson's and prostate cancer. And I have a huge fear of Alzheimer's. I know that the standard recommendation with preliminary studies, such as those with curcumin, is to wait for the outcome of large-scale trials. But at age 83, I say the hell with that.

I've been taking curcumin for over a month now, but I didn't know about the BCM-95 version until a few weeks ago. I now take a 400mg pill of BCM-95 after breakfast, lunch and dinner. That total -- 1,200mg -- is similar to what many researchers are using.

Right from the start, I experienced a greatly improved sense of well-being and a renewed energy. The arthritic back pain seemed to ease up after a few days on curcumin, but that positive trajectory has leveled off. And there's no easy way to tell how curcumin might be affecting my Parkinson's and prostate cancer.

Recent Research Studies
I've been so intrigued by curcumin's potential that I set up a Google alert for it. (In case you aren't aware of  Google alerts -- you can choose any topic of interest and their software will flag any new information about it, and send you email updates. I set up a "daily" notification schedule, so I'm not bombarded with updates throughout the day.)

I've been surprised by the volume of new research results I've received over the last month. Here are some of them:
  • Researchers at Oregon State University, collaborating with colleagues at the University of Denmark, discovered that curcumin supports an increase in the levels of the cathelicidin antimicrobial peptide (aka CAMP), a protein that helps the immune system fight infection. (I have a young Nepali couple living with me, and Bhawana told me that her family in Kathmandu grew turmeric/curcumin and always used it, mixed with warm milk, whenever anyone in the family had a cold or runny nose. They also used it to treat open wounds. So the new study validates the folklore.)
  • Curcumin has been recognized as having great potential to treat Alzheimer's due to its anti-amyloid and antioxidant properties. But its insolubility in water has restricted its ability to cross the blood-brain barrier. Researchers in Tokyo report successfully synthesizing water-soluable PLGA-coated curcumin nanoparticles and combining them with Tet-1 peptide to produce a drug "with multiple functions in treating Alzheimer's disease."
  • Fruit flies are increasingly used as subjects in neurodegenerative disease studies. Researchers at Linkoping University in Sweden administered curcumin to five groups of flies that had developed Alzheimer's symptoms. The flies on curcumin lived up to 75 percent longer -- and maintained their mobility longer -- than the others.
  • A randomized pilot study by researchers at the Nimala Medical Center in India "provides the first evidence for the safety and superiority of curcumin treatment in patients with rheumatoid arthritis and validates the need for future large-scale trials to validate these findings in patients with RA and other arthritic conditions," the researchers report.
I have in my files a half-dozen other recent studies that show promising results for the use of curcumin in treating small cell lung cancer, cutaneous T-cell lymphoma, Parkinson's disease, and breast cancer. 

It's amazing how much curcumin research is going on, and how almost all of it shows great promise for the compound's use in treating a range of ailments. What amazes me even more is that curcumin's potential receives so little media attention.
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