Canberra, Australia (ISJ) - Turmeric has been part of Indians’ culinary ingredient for over 4,000 years and considered for its therapeutic properties like anti-inflammatory, healing, digestive and liver problems and skin diseases.
Health scientists at the University of Newcastle’s Nutraceuticals Research Group is now studying its efficacy to treat type 2 diabetes. The clinical study is being done by scientists led by Professor Manohar Garg, Head of the Research Group.
"The root cause of type 2 diabetes is systemic inflammation, which impacts insulin secretion and function" said Professor Garg "We want to nip the inflammation in the bud. This study will use two bioactive compounds that we find in food – curcumin and omega-3 fat. Both are very important anti-inflammatory agents."
Curcumin, derived from turmeric, is part of the ginger family and commonly used for food colouration. Its healing properties are well known in India, according to Professor Garg.
"Turmeric has been used for centuries to promote healing of bruises, sprains, wounds and inflammation. When I was injured or had inflammation as a child, my mother would put a teaspoon of turmeric powder into a glass of milk and make me drink it – I'd get a good sleep and feel better when I woke up," he said.
"Nowadays in India the level of curcumin (turmeric) intake has dropped considerably as people switch to Westernised fast foods, and it parallels with a significant rise in type 2 diabetes cases. In fact the disease is now an epidemic in India and may soon be the number one health burden."
The randomised control trial will test both compounds, with the recruitment group being segregated into four. One will get curcumin only, the second will get omega-3 fat only, the third will receive both, and the fourth will serve as a control group. The capsules contain 200 milligrams of curcumin and 1 gram of omega-3 fat respectively.
People who are prone to develop diabetes because of impaired glucose tolerance or impaired fasting glucose, and who are aged between 30 and 70 will be part of the trial.
"The anti-inflammatory mechanisms surrounding curcumin and omega-3 fats are different, so we want to test if they complement each other and have treatment synergies beyond their individual effects," Professor Garg added. "Our thinking is that the combination is safe, free of any side- effects and may prove to be as effective as drugs used for management of diabetes".
Curcumin is also a powerful antioxidant. Antioxidants scavenge molecules in the body known as free radicals, which damage cell membranes, tamper with DNA, and even cause cell death. Antioxidants can fight free radicals and may reduce or even help prevent some of the damage they cause.
In addition, curcumin lowers the levels of two enzymes in the body that cause inflammation. It also stops platelets from clumping together to form blood clots.
Research by scientists at University of Maryland Medical Centre, USA suggests turmeric may be helpful for the following conditions:
Indigestion or Dyspepsia
Curcumin stimulates the gallbladder to produce bile, which some people think may help improve digestion. The German Commission E, which determines which herbs can be safely prescribed in Germany, has approved turmeric for digestive problems. And one double-blind, placebo-controlled study found that turmeric reduced symptoms of bloating and gas in people suffering from indigestion.
Turmeric may help people with ulcerative colitis stay in remission. Ulcerative colitis is a chronic disease of the digestive tract where symptoms tend to come and go.
Because of turmeric's ability to reduce inflammation, researchers have wondered if it may help relieve osteoarthritis pain. One study found that people using an Ayurvedic formula of herbs and minerals with turmeric, winter cherry (Withinia somnifera), boswellia (Boswellia serrata), and zinc had less pain and disability. But it's impossible to know whether turmeric, one of the other supplements, or all of them together, was responsible for the effects.
Early studies suggested that turmeric may help prevent atherosclerosis, the build-up of plaque that can block arteries and lead to heart attack or stroke. In animal studies, an extract of turmeric lowered cholesterol levels and kept LDL (bad) cholesterol from building up in blood vessels. Because it stops platelets from clumping together, turmeric may also prevent blood clots from building up along the walls of arteries.
But a double-blind, placebo-controlled study found that taking curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, at a dose of up to 4 g per day did not improve cholesterol levels.
There has been a great deal of research on turmeric's anti-cancer properties, but results are still very preliminary. Evidence from test tube and animal studies suggests that curcumin may help prevent or treat several types of cancers, including prostate, breast, skin, and colon cancer. Turmeric's preventive effects may relate to its antioxidant properties, which protect cells from damage. More research is needed.
Bacterial and Viral Infections
Test tube and animal studies suggest turmeric may kill bacteria and viruses, but researchers don't know whether it would work in people.
A preliminary study suggests curcumin may help treat uveitis, an inflammation of the eye's iris. Preliminary research suggests that curcumin may be as effective as corticosteroids, the type of medication usually prescribed. More research is needed.
Turmeric's powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and circulatory effects may help prevent and treat neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer disease, Parkinson disease, multiple sclerosis, and other conditions.
Sources: University of Newcastle's Nutraceuticals Research Group, Australia
University of Maryland Medical Centre, USA
Image courtesy: Professor Manohar Garg – Uni. Of Newcastle