April 5, 2012

Turmeric: To Take or Not To Take?

That is the question.

Yesterday's post reviewed recent studies showing promise for turmeric and its health-enhancing ingredient curcumin in fighting Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, MS, cancer, diabetes, and arthritis. But I noted that researchers have found that turmeric / curcumin is not readily absorbed into the human body. Studies are underway to overcome that obstacle. The standard medical advice in situations like this is to wait for the outcome of these studies.

But I have about half of the ailments listed above, plus a huge fear of Alzheimer's. I'm also 82 years old (soon to be 83). I may not even be around by the time these studies are concluded. Even if I'm still here, I'll be further down the road of the progressive diseases like Parkinson's and cancer.

My first thought: just start throwing turmeric on lots of things I eat (and, given my clumsiness, no doubt staining most of my clothes with turmeric's potent yellow pigment). Unfortunately, the turmeric researchers have found little, if any, gains in serum levels in humans after a dose of 2 grams of curcumin alone.

But, as I noted yesterday, the addition of piperine (a black pepper compound) to curcumin may greatly enhance its advantageous absorption by the body. Adding 20mg of piperine to the curcumin increased its bioavailability in the body by 2000%. See http://1.usa.gov/HWLbG3

OK. So far so good. But what about side effects from megadoses of curcumin? One study (involving only 24 adults) found that single oral doses of up to 12gm could be well tolerated.

So we're back to the original question. Wait for the results of the studies now underway, or try a curcumin / piperine supplement now?

Looking for a risk-free choice is not realistic. There are no risk-free choices. Even the choice of not using curcumin carries a risk -- the risk of missing out on potential benefits. There's another risk for someone like me, who already takes a variety of drugs and supplements: might curcumin and piperine interact negatively with other things I'm adding to my body's chemistry?

Unfortunately, there are no experts on curcumin / piperine. We know too little about the topic now for anyone to claim expert status.

Strangely enough, if I were just dealing with my Parkinson's and cancer, I  might well opt for "wait and see." Those afflictions involve a progressive but slow decline, and it would be almost impossible to know whether taking curcumin / piperine was having an effect. Moreover, for now, neither disease seriously impacts my quality of life.

But what's made me decide to go for popping the pill is the chance it might provide some quick relief for the arthritis apparently causing my lower back pain -- a real pain in the ass. It was bad enough when Parkinson's forced me to give up my lifelong bike-riding. I really resent the idea of curtailing my long walks because of the back pain.

I plan to start with a supplement from a reputable company that has 1 gram of curcumin and 5mg of piperine. (I may try to find something with a higher dosage of piperine.) I plan to keep careful records of what I take, and of any subsequent changes -- good or bad -- in my well-being.

I took my first pill yesterday afternoon --mixed with green and hibiscus tea and a teaspoon of coconut oil, expecting to bounce out of bed in the morning and go for a five-mile hike.


PeterDunlapShohl said...

John, are you sure about PD and biking? I let Parkinson's talk me out of biking and went for a couple of years without riding. Then I got back on and found out that  I could ride after all. I feel damn near normal on a bike. I even have been on winter rides when the paths are clear.


John said...

Peter - I'd love nothing better than to get back on a bike. If turmeric/curcumin  alleviates the back pain, I'll give it a try.   Come to think of it, I may just try it anyhow.  My back doctor tells me to just "walk through the pain."  So maybe I should just "bike through the pain,"


Ross said...


How about a recumbent bike or they even have these new treadmill bikes? If you are interested maybe someone on the listserv has one to try?


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the 2 part article. I enjoyed your thoughts on research. I don't think you have to worry about alzheimers in a big way. For biking, try an adult 3 wheeler. That's what they use in Florida. I've seen the odd one up north as well.

Joffery Stark said...

Turmeric has been used by ancient Chinese and Indian cultures for thousands of years, as a herbal remedy and for ceremonial purposes. Turmeric has a characteristic yellow colour, which is attributed to its main component - curcumin.
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samia hussain said...

nice post