You’ve heard all about Turmeric. Found in clarifying skincare, antioxidant-rich lattes and some of your favourite dishes, the spice has become something of a health-boosting hero. But what about its main active ingredient, Curcumin? Lesser-known yet emerging as a key player in the wellness world, this bright yellow compound boasts a host of benefits of its own.
Curcumin vs. Turmeric: What’s the Difference?
You may confuse Turmeric and Curcumin for being one and the same. In some ways, they are; Curcumin is a naturally occurring chemical compound that forms part of Turmeric. However, Turmeric is actually the root of a plant called Curcuma Longa, and is often ground into a fine powder to give you the spice you know and love.
It’s Curcumin that gives Turmeric its signature mustard yellow colour, alongside a raft of therapeutic qualities that have raised its profile as a wellness supplement. Think of it like the vitamin C in an orange or the calcium in your milk. As Turmeric’s most potent ingredient, it’s responsible for many of the spice’s body-kind abilities.
The Benefits of Curcumin
1. It’s an Anti-Inflammatory
Inflammation is at the root of many ailments. It’s your body’s triggered response to a perceived injury, and it plays an important role in the healing process. However, when this response is prolonged, it can contribute to chronic pain, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and Alzheimer’s, amongst other health conditions.
Knowing the impact long-term inflammation can have makes it easier to understand why Curcumin’s anti-inflammatory properties are so beneficial for treating a variety of diseases. Because it works on a cellular level, it's believed to be as effective as anti-inflammatory drugs, but without the associated side effects.
2. It’s Also a Powerful Antioxidant
Let’s talk about free radicals. Produced both naturally and by external aggressors (such as pollution or smoking), they’re trouble-making atoms with unpaired electrons, which makes them unstable. In order to stabilise, they scavenge the body for electrons they can pair up with, and in doing so, they cause damage to your cells, proteins and DNA.
Left to run amok, those free radicals may contribute to accelerated ageing and a number of conditions, including heart disease. However, antioxidants, such as Curcumin, inhibit the free radicals. They track them down and give them one of their own electrons, creating a stable pair that puts a stop to internal damage.
3. Curcumin May Boost Brain Power
The idea that any supplement can boost brain power may sound far-reaching, but the way Curcumin interacts with the functions in your brain is a source of great interest to medical professionals.
It all starts with neurons; fundamental units of the brain that are able to multiply, caused by a type of growth hormone called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). In one animal study, Curcumin was shown to increase levels of BDNF, which indicates it may be useful in improving memory. Another report hypothesised that this could make it effective in preventing age-related brain diseases, including Alzheimer’s. However, controlled human studies are required to confirm the true effects.
4. It’s Been Linked to the Prevention of Cancer
According to Cancer Research UK, laboratory research has shown that Curcumin can have an anti-cancer effect on cancer cells. “It seems to be able to kill cancer cells and prevent more from growing,” they explain. “It has the best effects on breast cancer, bowel cancer, stomach cancer and skin cancer cells.”
One study they cite looked at the effects of combined treatment with Curcumin and chemotherapy on patients with bowel cancer. Although further trials are required to confirm the compound’s cancer-fighting properties, researchers concluded that the combined treatment might be better than chemotherapy alone.
5. Curcumin is Thought to Reduce Depression
There are a growing number of reports that explore Curcumin’s effects on depression and, so far, the results have been impressive. In one human study of 56 participants with major depressive disorder, half were given a placebo, while the other half took 500mg of Curcumin twice per day for eight weeks. Over weeks four to eight, the Curcumin was shown to be significantly more effective than the placebo, improving several mood-related symptoms the volunteers were experiencing.
Similarly, in a controlled trial of 60 people with depression, 20 were given Prozac, 20 took Curcumin, and 20 consumed a combination of the two for six weeks. Interestingly, the effects of the Curcumin were comparable to the Prozac, signalling that this natural compound may be an effective antidepressant.
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