Is turmeric as wonderful as it seems? Everyday Einstein looks at the science behind turmeric's active ingredient: curcumin. Click to listen or read.
The Bad News
Unfortunately, you might have noticed that all of these studies deal with rats, mice, and guinea pigs. There are a couple of issues related to studying turmeric’s (and curcumin’s) effects on humans.
First, there is a difference between how much turmeric you eat, and how much ends up floating around in your blood ready to fight off cancer and Alzheimer’s (this is called bioavailability). There is some evidence that using turmeric in cooking may actually increase its bioavailability.
Another issue is that the amount of curcumin being used in these studies on rodents is considerably higher than the amount you’d get eating curry. While there is no evidence that curcumin is bad for you in the short term, it may have long term toxic effects if taken in excess.
Another issue related to curcumin is that it interferes with the part of your metabolism that handles other drugs, which can cause unforeseen side effects. There have also been some studies showing that high doses of curcumin may increase the chances of lung cancer in some individuals.
The final issue is that nobody knows what a “high dose” of curcumin is. Is a teaspoon every day for 5 years too much? Will 2 teaspoons a day cause long-term health issues? Is a teaspoon even enough to have any affect on your health? Is turmeric safe for everyone, or are there some genetic conditions which can render it harmful? At this point, there isn’t enough data to answer any of those questions.
So now you know more about the wonderful properties of the spice turmeric and what most people believe to be its most important chemical component, curcumin.
While the jury is still out on the long term effects of curcumin and how much is too much, there is no denying the fact that India has a considerably lower rate of both colorectal cancers and Alzheimer’s disease. Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy way to tell if this is due to diet, genetics, lifestyle, or a combination.
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