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Curcumin — The Best Supplement for Anti-aging

By Dr. Michael Murray, ND

In this article:


‌‌‌‌What is Curcumin? 

Curcumin is a yellow-orange pigment of turmeric root (Curcuma longa), which as most people know is the main component of curry. Curcumin is one of the most studied natural compounds being investigated for health benefits. Over the past 30+ years over 8,000 scientific investigations, including well-designed human clinical trials, have been conducted with curcumin. Based on the results of these studies, curcumin has emerged as one of the most popular dietary supplements in the world and is especially valued for its anti-aging effects.  

Curcumin’s Anti-aging Benefits 

‌‌‌‌Curcumin is a Powerful Antioxidant

Many of curcumin’s beneficial effects are attributed to its ability to support the body’s own antioxidant and anti-inflammatory processes.1 Compounds that act as oxidants or free radicals promote cellular damage and accelerated aging. On the flipside, antioxidants are compounds that prevent this damage. 

For example, if you cut an apple in half and set it out in the sun, over time it would turn brown as the result of oxidative damage much like iron can rust. This oxidative damage could be slowed down considerably if the apple was sprayed with lemon juice or any solution containing vitamin C and placed in the refrigerator. 

Here is an interesting fact, the level of antioxidants in cells, as well as the level of dietary antioxidants, determine the different lifespans of mammals. For example, human beings live longer than chimpanzees, dogs, cats, and many other mammals because we have a greater quantity of antioxidants within our cells and diets compared to other mammals. 

The antioxidant activity of curcumin is superior to nutritional antioxidants like vitamins C and E, and beta-carotene as these antioxidants are effective against very specific types of oxidants (water-soluble pro-oxidants for vitamin C, fat-soluble pro-oxidants for vitamin E, and superoxide for beta-carotene). 

In contrast, curcumin is effective in protecting against both water and fat-soluble oxidants as well as other types of harmful molecules. It is very helpful in protecting against damage to LDL cholesterol that leads to it becoming oxidized LDL, which is harmful to the lining of the arteries and leads to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).1 

‌‌‌‌Curcumin and NF-κB Regulation

Curcumin exerts many other additional health benefits that slow down the aging process that go beyond its antioxidant effects. Many of the effects of curcumin are the result of it influencing a cellular protein complex known as NF-κB (nuclear factor kappa-light-chain-enhancer of activated B cells). 

NF-κB is involved in cellular responses to stimuli such as stress, free radicals, heavy metals, radiation, and oxidized LDL. All of these stimuli can trigger inflammation through activating NF-κB. Curcumin promotes proper regulation of NF-κB and, as a result, can help improve the body’s response to stressful stimuli that ultimately helps reduce inflammation and cellular damage.1 This effect is useful in preventing the cumulative cellular damage that is associated with aging.

‌‌‌‌Curcumin and Inflammation

Accelerated human aging is characterized by a state of chronic, low-grade, inflammation for a number of reasons. This process is commonly referred to as “inflammaging.” A key factor in inflammaging is reduced function of mitochondria, the energy-producing compartments in cells. 

Typically, as people age there is a decline in mitochondrial numbers and function. With the decreased cellular energy that is the result of this process, it leads to the leakage of inflammatory compounds from the mitochondria as well as a greater formation of cellular “waste” within the cell itself. 

Within an individual cell, there is a process that is used to deal with this collection of cellular debris that is known as autophagy. The term autophagy literally means the “eating of one’s self.” Decreased autophagy is another hallmark feature of aging and is closely tied to mitochondrial function. The end result is that the cellular debris that is created is not cleared through autophagy and as a result, it produces a trigger for chronic inflammation. 

One of the other unique anti-aging benefits of curcumin is that it protects and improves mitochondrial function; preserves autophagy, and supports the function of the immune system to properly process and dispose of cellular waste.2 

Curcumin has also shown remarkable effects in supporting the body’s response to inflammation in such a way that it reduces inflammaging as well as promotes improved overall cellular health. These beneficial effects have been observed in clinical studies.1,2 For example, curcumin preparations are showing incredible promise as a protector against brain aging.2-4 Residents of rural India who eat large amounts of turmeric have been shown to have the lowest incidence of age-related brain issues in the world. Of course, turmeric (the main component of curries) can be liberally consumed in the diet but taking a curcumin product provides higher dosage levels in order to produce better results. 

In a study conducted at UCLA, 40 adults between the ages of 50 and 90 years who had impaired cognition and memory were randomly assigned to receive either Theracurmin® or placebo. Theracurmin® is a highly bioavailable form of curcumin and was given at a dosage of 90 milligrams of curcumin twice daily (180 mg total) for 18 months.5 At the beginning of the study all subjects were evaluated for cognitive function and were reevaluated at six-month intervals and after the end of the 18-month study. The results showed that those taking Theracurmin® experienced significant improvements in their memory as well as their ability to concentrate and focus. In contrast, those subjects who took the placebo did not show these improvements. In tests related to memory, Theracurmin® produced a 28 percent improvement over the 18-month study. Theracurmin® also led to improvements in mood scores and PET scans of the brain in those taking Theracurmin® showed significantly less damage compared to the placebo group. These results along with other studies indicate that Theracurmin® and other curcumin products may be the best choice for people seeking prevention of age-related mental decline and brain issues.

‌‌‌‌Curcumin and Joint Health

Another result of aging is the breakdown of cartilage and other joint structures leading to subsequent decreased function and mobility of the joints. Curcumin has shown impressive results in improving joint health.6 Two of the most well-studied curcumin products on the market, Theracurmin® and Meriva®, have shown considerable benefits in controlled human trials in improving joint health. In the first-ever double-blind clinical trial with curcumin for joint health, a total of 50 subjects over 40 years of age were given either curcumin (180 mg daily as Theracurmin®) or a matching placebo for 8 weeks.7 Results of the trial showed that knee discomfort scores in those subjects with moderate to severe scores were significantly lower in those taking Theracurmin® compared to those taking a placebo group. 

Meriva® has also been used in detailed studies for joint health.8 In one study, 50 patients with knee discomfort were given 1,000 mg Meriva (providing 200 mg of curcumin) for 3 months. Results showed that joint discomfort scores decreased by 58% and the walking distance in the treadmill test increased from an average of 76 at the beginning of the trial to an average of 332 meters.9 In another clinical trial, 100 patients with knee discomfort were given 1,000 mg Meriva for 8 months.10 Just as in the other study, symptom scores and walking distance were all improved significantly.

Another small placebo-controlled study of people with mild to moderate joint discomfort of the knee found curcumin to be helpful when combined with piperine (a compound from black pepper that has shown some ability to enhance the bioavailability of curcumin). Six weeks of daily treatment with 1,500 mg of a curcuminoid complex (C3 Complex®) that included 15 mg of Bioperine®, a standardized piperine preparation, resulted in significantly greater reductions discomfort while improving physical function.11 

In a study with an extract of turmeric providing 75 to 85% curcumin without piperine, a daily dosage of 1,500 mg per day for 4 weeks also improved stiffness, discomfort, and function of the knee. The results compared quite favorably to the control group taking ibuprofen. Most subjects (96%–97%) were satisfied with the improvements achieved in joint health.12

‌‌‌‌Available Forms of Curcumin:

Turmeric can be consumed liberally as a spice, juiced like ginger, or used in the diet in other ways, in those looking for the specific health preparations concentrated for curcumin are recommended. There is some concern that regular curcumin powder is poorly absorbed and that it may not provide consistent results. This poor absorption of curcumin has led to the development of a number of commercial products that provide improved bioavailability along with clinical support of safety and efficacy. These preparations deserve special mention because of their clinical investigations, most notably Theracurmin®, Meriva®, and C3 Complex®. That said, there is some evidence for benefit from regular curcumin powder as described above.

‌‌‌‌Usual Dosage:

The dosage of a curcumin preparation ideally should be based upon clinical evidence of safety and health benefits. These are recommended levels for the various popular forms

  • Curcumin – 1,500 mg daily.
  • Theracurmin® - 60 to 180 mg of curcumin daily.
  • Meriva® - 1,000 mg providing 200 mg of curcumin daily.
  • C3 Complex® - 1,500 mg of curcuminoids along with 15 mg Bioperine® daily.

‌‌‌‌Side Effects and Safety:

Curcumin is generally extremely well tolerated with no significant side effects reported from clinical trials. 

‌‌‌‌Drug Interactions:

If you are taking any prescription drug, please check with your physician about any potential drug interaction with curcumin. Curcumin has several possible drug interactions, only a few of which have been confirmed. For example, curcumin may reduce the absorption of the talinolol (a β-blocker); increase the elimination of the drug norfloxacin; and inhibit a number of chemotherapy agents including camptothecin, doxorubicin, and mechlorethamine.

References:

  1. Kunnumakkara AB, Bordoloi D, Padmavathi G, et al. Curcumin, the golden nutraceutical: multitargeting for multiple chronic diseases. Br J Pharmacol. 2017;174(11):1325-1348. 
  2. de Oliveira MR, Jardim FR, Setzer WN, Nabavi SM, Nabavi SF. Curcumin, mitochondrial biogenesis, and mitophagy: Exploring recent data and indicating future needs. Biotechnol Adv. 2016;34(5):813-826. 
  3. Bhat A, Mahalakshmi AM, Ray B, et al. Benefits of curcumin in brain disorders. Biofactors. 2019;45(5):666-689.
  4. Ullah F, Liang A, Rangel A, Gyengesi E, Niedermayer G, Münch G. High bioavailability curcumin: an anti-inflammatory and neurosupportive bioactive nutrient for neurodegenerative diseases characterized by chronic neuroinflammation. Arch Toxicol. 2017;91(4):1623-1634. 
  5. Small GW, Siddarth P, Li Z, et al. Memory and Brain Amyloid and Tau Effects of a Bioavailable Form of Curcumin in Non-Demented Adults: A Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled 18-Month Trial. Am J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2018;26(3):266-277. 
  6. Chin KY. The spice for joint inflammation: anti-inflammatory role of curcumin in treating osteoarthritis. Drug Des Devel Ther. 2016;10:3029-3042.
  7. Nakagawa Y, Mukai S, Yamada S, et al. Short-term effects of highly-bioavailable curcumin for treating knee osteoarthritis: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled prospective study. J Orthop Sci. 2014;19(6):933–939.
  8. Mirzaei H, Shakeri A, Rashidi B, Jalili A, Banikazemi Z, Sahebkar A. Phytosomal curcumin: a review of pharmacokinetic, experimental and clinical studies. Biomed Pharmacother. 2017;85:102–112.
  9. Belcaro G, Cesarone MR, Dugall M, et al. Product-evaluation registry of Meriva®, a curcumin-phosphatidylcholine complex, for the complementary management of osteoarthritis. Panminerva Med. 2010;52(2 suppl 1):55–62.
  10. Appendino G, Belcaro G, Cesarone MR, et al. Efficacy and safety of Meriva, a curcumin-phosphatidylcholine complex, during extended administration in osteoarthritis patients. Altern Med Rev. 2010;15:337–344.
  11. Panahi Y, Rahimnia AR, Sharafi M, Alishiri G, Saburi A, Sahebkar A. Curcuminoid treatment for knee osteoarthritis: a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial. Phytother Res. 2014;28(11):1625–1631.
  12. Kuptniratsaikul V, Dajpratham P, Taechaarpornkul W, et al. Efficacy and safety of Curcuma domestica extracts compared with ibuprofen in patients with knee osteoarthritis: a multicenter study. Clin Interv Aging. 2014;9:451–458.

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