You may already have heard that turmeric is a potent anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer food, but did you know that it can also help protect your heart and fight autoimmune diseases?
In a study published in the journal Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin in 2011, researchers from Niigata University of Pharmacy and Applied Life Sciences in Japan found that three weeks of supplementation with the turmeric compound curcumin significantly improved cardiac health in male rats who had been given an injection to induce an autoimmune disease of the heart (autoimmune myocarditis). The rats supplemented with curcumin also showed a reduction in the area of the heart covered by inflammatory lesions and a reduction in the heart’s weight-to-body-weight ratio.
“Our results indicate that curcumin has the potential to protect against cardiac inflammation through suppression of IL-1beta, TNF-alpha, GATA-4 and NF-kB expresses, and may provide a novel therapeutic strategy for autoimmune myocarditis,” the researchers wrote.
Turmeric has the distinction of being both one of the most widely used culinary spices and traditional medicines in the world. Its benefits have been well studied by Western scientists, who attribute much of its disease-fighting prowess to a trio of naturally occurring yellow-orange chemicals called the curcuminoids (and sometimes known simply by the name of the most famous of them, curcumin).
Turmeric is not just good for the hearts of people with autoimmune myocarditis; in fact, several studies conducted by researchers from the University of Tsukuba in Japan suggest that it may be as beneficial for your heart as aerobic exercise!
In a pair of studies published in the journals Artery Research and Nutrition Research in September and October 2012, respectively, the researchers found that women who took a curcumin supplement showed as much improvement in two measures of heart health (vascular endothelial function and arterial compliance) as women assigned to a moderate aerobic exercise training program. An even greater benefit was seen, of course, in those who took the supplements and engaged in the exercise program as well.
In another study, published in the American Journal of Hypertension in June 2012, the researchers found that a combined exercise and curcumin program significantly slowed age-related degeneration in the heart.
Because turmeric is such a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, numerous studies have been conducted to see whether it could be effective in reducing the severity of inflammation-based autoimmune diseases.
In autoimmune diseases, the body is attacked by its own immune system. These diseases are still poorly understood, and most of them have no known cause or cure. Common autoimmune diseases include type 1 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease (including ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease), rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, multiple sclerosis, myocarditis, thyroiditis, uveitis, systemic lupus erythromatosis and myasthenia. An estimated 5 percent of the world’s population suffers from an autoimmune disease.
According to a research review published in the journal Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology in 2007, curcumin has been shown to reduce the symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis in humans or animals. As expected, symptomatic relief comes, at least in part, from the regulation of inflammation pathways.
It should be noted that the body absorbs curcumin most effectively from turmeric root, rather than from supplements. In addition, the maximum benefit to nutraceuticals typically comes when they are consumed at low doses over a long period of time. Nevertheless, at least one trial suggests that daily curcumin doses of up to 8 g might be safe for up to four months or longer.
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