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Curcumin: anti-inflammatory and protein inhibitor


Curcumin is the ingredient in turmeric that is prized for its anti-inflammatory and healing properties. learn more

Daniel J. Siegel, MDYou wander through the market and see what looks like ginger root. The vendor smiles as you pick up a piece and smell it. You expect ginger and the scent is similar to ginger or perhaps galanga,1 but not quite the same. The vendor, seeing interest, slices a piece of the rhizome for you and you immediately notice the bright yellow-to-orange color.  This is not ginger, it is turmeric, a member of the ginger family, Zingiberaceae.2 Turmeric (Curcuma longa)3 is a versatile rhizome that is integral to Indian cooking.4 It is used either fresh or boiled briefly and then ground to a powder.

READ: The good, the bad, the ugly of alternative therapies

It is also a valuable medical plant, prized for its “active” ingredient (“active” is in quotes because there is a complex mix of compounds in any plant). Of all the compounds related to turmeric, curcumin is the focus of most research.   

Properties and absorption

This active aromatic phenol has many intriguing effects, acting as an inhibitor of multiple histone deacetylases and transcriptional co-activator proteins, arachidonate 5-lipoxygenase enzyme and cyclooxygenase. 

Curcumin is all well and good as an anti-inflammatory, if only it could get into our bodies. Clinical trials have shown that this poorly water soluble compound exhibits poor bioavailability, rapid metabolism, low levels in plasma and tissues, and extensive rapid excretion.

ALSO READ: Tea tree oil: What can it do for your patients?

Numerous approaches to increase curcumin bioavailability have been explored, including the use of absorption factors (such as piperine), liposomes, nanoparticles or a structural analogue.5

Intriguingly, there are two very different approaches to enhancing absorption orally, one of which involves complexing with lipids6,7 while the other involves a  more natural approach of co-administering with piper niger (black pepper), which sounds sexy,8 though there is some concern that the piperine and related compounds may have adverse effects on the gut with regard to increasing permeability to many other chemicals, some of which may be antigenic and therefore problematic to individuals with underlying immune system dysfunction9.

NEXT: Potential uses


Potential uses

In dermatology there are many potential uses for curcumin. Topically it may play a role in wound healing;10,11 malignancy12 including melanoma; and a variety of inflammatory conditions including psoriasis, vitiligo13 and  skin aging,14   among other uses. 

Ayurvedic remedies

The Ayurvedic system of medicine was founded more than 3,000 years ago in India. Combining the concepts of ayur (life) and veda (science or knowledge), Ayurvedic medicine is used widely in India and is often combined with conventional Western medicine.15

READ: Indigo Naturalis

Ayurvedic medicine uses turmeric extensively, both orally and topically, to treat a wide variety of conditions. Taken orally with honey, water or milk, or used as a paste on the skin, turmeric is used Ayurvedically to treat conditions related to the skin, heart, liver, and lungs. Ayurvedic medicine claims that turmeric can assist with enhancing complexions and the immune system, easing digestive issues, detoxing the liver, balancing cholesterol, fighting allergies.16

 If you copy the text http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=curcumin+skin and paste it into your browser you will see over three hundred papers on this area of research, with almost 90 papers since 2013. 

In the spirit of Ayurvedic medicine-combining life, science, and knowledge-I close this column by saying, आपकी उम्र लंबी हो और आप समृद्ध बने! (Hindi translation to English: “Live long and prosper!”)



1. http://www.thaifoodandtravel.com/ingredients/galanga.html

2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zingiberaceae

3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turmeric

4. http://www.tigersandstrawberries.com/2005/12/25/what-does-fresh-turmeric-taste-like/

5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curcumin

6. Appendino G, Belcaro G, Cornelli U, Luzzi R, Togni S, Dugall M, Cesarone MR, Feragalli B, Ippolito E, Errichi BM, Pellegrini L, Ledda A, Ricci A, Bavera P, Hosoi M, Stuard S, Corsi M, Errichi S, Gizzi G. Potential role of curcumin phytosome (Meriva) in controlling the evolution of diabetic microangiopathy. A pilot study. Panminerva Med. 2011 Sep;53(3 Suppl 1):43-9. PubMed PMID: 22108476.

7. Di Pierro F, Settembre R. Safety and efficacy of an add-on therapy with curcumin phytosome and piperine and/or lipoic acid in subjects with a diagnosis of peripheral neuropathy treated with dexibuprofen. J Pain Res. 2013 Jul 3;6:497-503. doi: 10.2147/JPR.S48432. Print 2013. Erratum in: J Pain Res. 2013;6:641. PubMed PMID: 23861596; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3704545.

8. Berginc K, Trontelj J, Basnet NS, Kristl A. Physiological barriers to the oral delivery of curcumin. Pharmazie. 2012 Jun;67(6):518-24. PubMed PMID: 22822540.

9. Jensen-Jarolim E, Gajdzik L, Haberl I, Kraft D, Scheiner O, Graf J. Hot spices influence permeability of human intestinal epithelial monolayers. J Nutr. 1998 Mar;128(3):577-81. PubMed PMID: 9482766.

10. Akbik D, Ghadiri M, Chrzanowski W, Rohanizadeh R. Curcumin as a wound healing  agent. Life Sci. 2014 Oct 22;116(1):1-7. doi: 10.1016/j.lfs.2014.08.016. Epub 2014 Sep 6. Review. PubMed PMID: 25200875.

11. Manca ML, Castangia I, Zaru M, Nácher A, Valenti D, Fernàndez-Busquets X, Fadda AM, Manconi M. Development of curcumin loaded sodium hyaluronate immobilized vesicles (hyalurosomes) and their potential on skin inflammation and  wound restoring. Biomaterials. 2015 Dec;71:100-9. doi: 10.1016/j.biomaterials.2015.08.034. Epub 2015 Aug 19. PubMed PMID: 26321058.

12. Basnet P, Skalko-Basnet N. Curcumin: an anti-inflammatory molecule from a curry spice on the path to cancer treatment. Molecules. 2011 Jun 3;16(6):4567-98. doi: 10.3390/molecules16064567. Review. PubMed PMID: 21642934.

13. Thangapazham RL, Sharad S, Maheshwari RK. Skin regenerative potentials of curcumin. Biofactors. 2013 Jan-Feb;39(1):141-9. doi: 10.1002/biof.1078. Epub 2013 Jan 11. Review. PubMed PMID: 23315856.

14. Tundis R, Loizzo MR, Bonesi M, Menichini F. Potential role of natural compounds against skin aging. Curr Med Chem. 2015;22(12):1515-38. Review. PubMed  PMID: 25723509.

15. https://nccih.nih.gov/health/ayurveda/introduction.htm

16. http://www.turmeric.co.in/turmeric_ayurvedic_use.htm

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