COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A low dose of a curcumin extract from the spice turmeric can have a variety of positive health effects on healthy middle-aged individuals, according to an Ohio State University study presented at the 2012 Experimental Biology meeting April 23 in San Diego.
Commonly used in Southeast Asian and Middle Eastern cooking, turmeric -- a deep orange-yellow powder made from the roots of the Curcuma longa tropical plant -- has been proposed to have health benefits ranging from fighting cancer to slowing progression of Alzheimer's disease. Because of these purported benefits, extracts of curcumin (the active ingredient in turmeric) have been developed for both clinical trials and for sale as dietary supplements.
"The problem with most of these extracts is that they need to be taken in high doses, some in excess of 1,000 mg, because the curcumin is poorly absorbed by the body," said Robert DiSilvestro, a professor in Ohio State's Department of Human Nutrition and with the university's Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. "Such high doses defeat part of the purpose of taking a supplement."
Instead, DiSilvestro studied an extract containing 80 mg of curcumin mixed with small amounts of natural fat compounds intended to help boost absorbability of the spice extract. The supplement, known as Longvida®, is produced by Verdure Sciences of Noblesville, Ind. Unlike previous trials, which focused mainly on people with existing health problems, DiSilvestro recruited healthy individuals ages 40-60. Nineteen study participants were given a daily dose of the curcumin supplement for four weeks. Another 19 subjects received a placebo. Blood samples were taken before and after the study period.
"Our study suggested that this particular curcumin supplement was relatively well absorbed because a low dose produced many good effects on blood and saliva measures," DiSilvestro explained.
These effects included a reduction in triglyceride levels, which are linked to heart disease. Curcumin also increased plasma levels of nitric oxide, a molecule that can work against high blood pressure. Researchers also observed lower plasma concentrations of sICAM, a molecule linked to atherosclerosis, the process of artery hardening.
Some other positive effects of the curcumin related to antioxidant actions, which are thought to help fight cancer and other diseases. For example, DiSilvestro said, the plasma antioxidant enzyme catalase went up after curcumin supplementation.
Curcumin also produced a small decrease in plasma contents of beta amyloid protein, which is an indicator of brain aging, especially in relation to Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, alanine amino transferase readings, which are associated with liver disease, went down with the curcumin treatment.
"The study has two take-home messages. One, a wide variety of potentially health-promoting effects was seen in just four weeks from a low dose of this form of curcumin. Two, this curcumin product may be able to produce benefits in healthy people, not just in individuals who already have health problems," DiSilvestro said.
Verdure Sciences funded this study.
Associate professor Joshua Bomser and research associate Elizabeth Joseph, both in the Department of Human Nutrition, were also involved in the study.