Turmeric is a yellow spice used commonly in India foods. It is a popular herbal remedy for arthritis, cancer, cardiac disorders, high cholesterol, and many other conditions.
Curcumin is derived from turmeric and is usually credited with having most of the health benefits. Curcuminoids is a term that collectively refers to curcumin and several similar compounds found in turmeric. Curcuminoids only make up about 2-3% of turmeric. Curcumin is the most abundant and most studied of the curcuminoids.
Though curcumin has long been used to treat a variety of conditions, it has more recently been in the spotlight for its promising neuroprotective benefits. In fact, the high prevalence of turmeric in the Indian diet is one of the reasons that the incidence rate of Alzheimer’s is thought to be so low in India. And they have actually linked curry consumption (turmeric is an important ingredient in India curry) with better cognitive performance in older adults.
Most of the benefits of turmeric come from its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
Curcumin is Anti-inflammatory
Inflammation is the body’s natural response to cell damage and foreign invaders. The problem is when inflammation becomes chronic and does more harm than good. For example, chronic inflammation in the body can aggravate or even cause arthritis, asthma, cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s.
Inflammation can wreak havoc in the brain as well. After a brain injury, excessive inflammation can lead to secondary cell death and progressive, long-term disability.
Controlling inflammation in the body and in the brain after trauma is very important to reducing the amount of secondary brain injury. Curcumin has been shown to help mediate inflammation by inhibiting enzymes and cells involved in the inflammatory pathway.
Curcumin is a Powerful Antioxidant
Another factor that can lead to secondary brain injury is high levels of reactive oxygen species. Chronic, high levels of reactive oxygen species are common markers in patients with brain damage. Reactive oxygen species in the brain can cause oxidative stress and neuronal cell death. Unfortunately, the brain contains relatively low defenses against reactive oxygen species.
Antioxidants are one way the body fights reactive oxygen species. Curcumin has been shown to have powerful antioxidant activity, boosting the body’s antioxidant defenses, and counteracting oxidative stress in the brain.
Curcumin Boosts Memory and Mood
A study completed in 2016 examined the effect of curcumin on memory in adults with mild memory deficits due to aging. In the study, participants were either given a placebo or Theracumin, a bioavailable form of curcumin discussed more in-depth later, two times a day for 18 months. The study was a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial – meaning that neither the researchers or the participants knew if they were being given the placebo or the curcumin.
The study found that after 18 months those taking the Theracumin showed a 28% improvement in memory, while those taking the placebo showed no improvement. In addition, those taking the Theracumin had improved mood and decreased anxiety.
Curcumin Promotes Nerve Regeneration
In a 2013 study, curcumin was shown to promote nerve regeneration and better motor function in rats with nerve damage. Higher doses of curcumin resulted in better nerve regeneration.
A second study performed on rats with nerve damage found that, when taken in the early stages of nerve damage, curcumin could prevent chronic peripheral neuropathy.
Though these findings have not been tested in humans yet, I think these studies show clear potential for curcumin to help eliminate some of the neuropathy that brain injury survivors so often experience.
Risks Associated with Turmeric?
The risks associated with adding turmeric to your diet are very low. However, there is a chance that you may experience some abdominal discomfort or nausea, especially with high doses. As always, you should consult your doctor before adding supplements to your diet.
Best Curcumin Supplement to Take?
The bioavailability of a substance refers to how much of the substance is able to enter the blood stream and therefore have an active effect on the body. When it comes to supplementing with turmeric, a major problem is that curcumin has very low bioavailability. In fact, unrealistically high dosages of turmeric would have to be taken for there to be a detectable level of absorption of curcumin in the blood. To overcome this problem, scientists have begun to modify curcumin to enhance its bioavailability.
To receive the most benefit from turmeric/curcumin supplementation, most experts currently recommend supplementing with a curcumin extract in one of forms listed below for enhanced absorption.
Piperine (also patented as Bioperine) is a compound found naturally in black pepper that boosts curcumin bioavailability by 2000%.
Another thing to note is that fats have also been shown to marginally increase the bioavailability of curcumin. This is why some brands boast being formulated with oils for improved absorption.
Meriva is actually the form of curcumin that was recommended to us by a doctor at Cerebrum Health. It is a special formulation of curcumin in which the curcumin molecules are bound to phospholipids from sunflower oil. On average Meriva has a 20-fold improvement in bioavailability over standard curcumin.
Thorne is typically the most recommended brand of Meriva, but it is pretty pricey. Jarrow Formulas is another well respected brand at a lower price point.
Theracumin is currently boasted as the number one most bioavailable form of curcumin. This formulation of curcumin is prepared with very small particles, almost nano-particles, that are stable and soluble in water. Standard curcumin is not stable in water, which greatly decreases its bioavailability. Theracumin is shown to be 27 times more bioavailable than standard curcumin.
The neuroprotective benefits of turmeric are very promising. And while there is a fairly expansive amount of research surrounding turmeric, most of its benefits are theoretical in regards to brain healing.
At this time, I feel that the evidence suggests that a curcumin supplement is beneficial for brain injury survivors however, like most supplements, more research has to be conducted to verify these claims.