By Craig Weatherby
Turmeric root has long been prized in Asian medicine.
And the term “curcumin” refers to its complex of yellow-orange compounds.
More accurately, curcumin is just one of a trio of three closely related “curcuminoids”.
Lab experiments and preliminary clinical studies indicate that this synergistic trio of polyphenol compounds supports immune and brain health in uniquely powerful ways.
Now, the results of three clinical trials appear to add improved artery function – a key aspect of vascular health – to the list of potential curcumin benefits.
In all three trials, daily curcumin supplements improved known risk factors for cardiovascular health just as much as moderate aerobic exercise did.
As the authors of one trial wrote, “… regular ingestion of curcumin could be a preventive measure against cardiovascular disease in postmenopausal women. Furthermore, our results suggest that curcumin may be a potential alternative … for patients who are unable to exercise.” (Akazawa N et al. Oct. 2012)
All three of these preliminary trials were small but well-designed: randomized, double-blind, and placebo-controlled.
All three trials were conducted by researchers from Japan’s University of Tsukuba, and involved postmenopausal women.
Trial #1 – Effects on Blood Flow
The Japanese team randomly assigned 32 postmenopausal women to one of three groups for an eight-week trial:
Exercise (moderate aerobic exercise training)
The women’s vascular health was judged by their reading on tests of a major measure called “flow-mediated dilation” or FMD, which was measured before and after the trial.
People’s FMD scores can predict their risk for adverse cardiovascular events … with a recent study linking every one percent drop in FMD to a 12 percent increase in cardiovascular risk.
Encouragingly, FMD scores improved equally – by 1.5 percent – in the women who took curcumin supplements and in those who engaged in aerobic exercise … with no changes seen in the control group.
As the authors wrote, “Therefore, regular ingestion of curcumin could be a preventive measure against cardiovascular disease in postmenopausal women. Furthermore, our results suggest that curcumin may be a potential alternative … for patients who are unable to exercise.” (Akazawa N et al. Oct. 2012)
Trial #2 - Effects on Artery Response
The Japanese team randomly assigned 32 postmenopausal women to one of four groups for another eight-week trial (Akazawa N et al. Sept. 2012):
Control (placebo pills)
Exercise + Placebo Pills
Exercise + Curcumin Pills
The women’s vascular health was judged by their scores on tests of another major measure of vascular health, called “arterial compliance” (AC).
Arterial compliance is the change in blood volume in response to a change in blood pressure, and the volunteers’ AC was measured before and at the end of the trial.
Like FMD scores, people’s AC scores can predict their risk for adverse cardiovascular events.
Encouragingly, AC scores improved equally in the women who took curcumin supplements and in those who engaged in aerobic exercise, with no changes in the control group.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, AC scores improved the most among those in the Exercise + Curcumin group.
The reasons for curcumin’s effects likely relate to its effects on genes governing immune-system proteins that promote inflammation and oxidation … such as tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha).
As the Japan team noted, “Curcumin exerts anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative effects by inhibiting tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) … [h]owever, TNF-alpha levels were not assessed in this study.” (Akazawa N et al. Oct. 2012)
So as they said, “Further studies are warranted to clarify the mechanism underlying the effect of curcumin on endothelial function.” (Akazawa N et al. Oct. 2012)
Trial #3 - Effects on Blood-Pumping Pressure
The Japanese team randomly assigned 45 postmenopausal women to one of four groups for a third eight-week trial:
Control (placebo pills)
Exercise + Placebo Pills
Exercise + Curcumin Pills
The aim of this pilot study was to test the idea that regular endurance exercise combined with daily curcumin supplements might lower the age-related increase in left ventricular (LV) after load … an adverse development for cardiovascular health.
After eight weeks, the Japanese team found desirable changes in the curcumin and exercise groups:
Aortic SBP dropped significantly in the Exercise + Curcumin group.
Brachial systolic BP (SBP) dropped significantly in the Exercise and Exercise + Curcumin groups.
Heart-rate-corrected aortic augmentation index (AIx) dropped significantly in the Exercise + Curcumin group. (AIx is used to gauge arterial efficiency.)
As the University of Tsukuba team concluded, “These findings suggest that regular endurance exercise combined with daily curcumin ingestion may reduce LV after load to a greater extent than monotherapy with either intervention alone in postmenopausal women.” (Sugawara J et al. 2012)
Choose your curcumin carefully
We should note that curcumin is not well-absorbed when extracted from turmeric.
In fact, the curcumin in conventional 95%-curcumin dietary supplements is very poorly absorbed ... far less well-absorbed than the curcumin in fresh turmeric root.
In contrast, clinical studies show that the curcumin in Vital Choice Curcumin in Wild Salmon Oil is absorbed six to seven times better than the curcumin in conventional 95%-curcumin dietary supplements (Antony B et al. 2012).
Why is that so? Our curcumin is accompanied by turmeric volatile oils … a combination proven to greatly enhance absorption of curcumin.
All three three Japanese trials used curcumin delivered in colloidal nano-particles, whose absorption rate versus conventional curcumin supplements we cannot quantify or confirm.
- Akazawa N et al. Curcumin ingestion and exercise training improve vascular endothelial function in postmenopausal women. Nutrition Research - 17 October 2012. Published online ahead of print. doi: 10.1016/j.nutres.2012.09.002
- Akazawa N et al. Effects of curcumin intake and aerobic exercise training on arterial compliance in postmenopausal women. Artery Research; 28 September 2012 (10.1016/j.artres.2012.09.003)
- Celermajer DS, Sorensen KE, Spiegelhalter DJ, Georgakopoulos D, Robinson J, Deanfield JE. Aging is associated with endothelial dysfunction in healthy men years before the age-related decline in women. J Am Coll Cardiol. 1994;24:471–476.
- Cho JW, Lee KS, Kim GW. Curcumin attenuate the expression of IL-1β, IL-6, and TNF-α as well as cyclin E in TNF-α-treated HaCaT cell; NF-kB and MAPKs as potential upstream targets. Int J Mol Med. 2007;19:469–474
- Csiszar A, Ungvari Z, Edwards JG, Kaminski P, Wolin MS, Koller A, et al. Aging-induced phenotypic changes and oxidative stress impair coronary arteriolar function. Circ Res. 2002;90:1159–1166
- DeSouza CA, Shapiro LF, Clevenger CM, Dinenno FA, Monahan KD, Tanaka H, et al. Regular aerobic exercise prevents and restores age-related declines in endothelium-dependent vasodilation in healthy men. Circulation. 2000;102:1351–1357
- Donato AJ, Black AD, Jablonski KL, Gano LB, Seals DR. Aging is associated with greater nuclear NF kappa B, reduced I kappa B alpha, and increased expression of proinflammatory cytokines in vascular endothelial cells of healthy humans. Aging Cell. 2008;7:805–812
- Gates PE, Boucher ML, Silver AE, Monahan KD, Seals DR. Impaired flow-mediated dilation with age is not explained by L-arginine bioavailability or endothelial asymmetric dimethylarginine protein expression. J Appl Physiol. 2007;102:63–71
- Gavin KM, Seals DR, Silver AE, Moreau KL. Vascular endothelial estrogen receptor alpha is modulated by estrogen status and related to endothelial function and endothelial nitric oxide synthase in healthy women. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2009;94:3513–3520
- Herrera MD, Mingorance C, Rodríguez-Rodríguez R, Alvarez de Sotomayor M. Endothelial dysfunction and aging: an update. Ageing Res Rev. 2010;9:142–152 La Vecchia C. Sex hormones and cardiovascular risk. Hum Reprod. 1992;7:162–167
- Moncada S, Palmer RM, Higgs EA. Nitric oxide: physiology, pathophysiology, and pharmacology. Pharmacol Rev. 1991;43:109–142
- Quiles JL, Mesa MD, Ramírez-Tortosa CL, Aguilera CM, Battiono M, Gil A, et al. Curcuma longa extract supplementation reduces oxidative stress and attenuates aortic fatty streak development in rabbits. Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol. 2002;22:1225–1231
- Sugawara J, Akazawa N, Miyaki A, Choi Y, Tanabe Y, Imai T, Maeda S. Effect of endurance exercise training and curcumin intake on central arterial hemodynamics in postmenopausal women: pilot study. Am J Hypertens. 2012 Jun;25(6):651-6. doi: 10.1038/ajh.2012.24. Epub 2012 Mar 15.
- Taddei S, Galetta F, Virdis A, Ghiadoni L, Salvetti G, Franzoni F, et al. Physical activity prevents age-related impairment in nitric oxide availability in elderly athletes. Circulation. 2000;101:2896–2901
- Taddei S, Virdis A, Ghiadoni L, Mattei P, Sudano I, Bernini G, et al. Menopause is associated with endothelial dysfunction in women. Hypertension. 1996;28:576–582
- Thijssen DH, Black MA, Pyke KE, Padilla J, Atkinson G, Harris RA, et al. Assessment of flow-mediated dilation in humans: a methodological and physiological guideline. Am J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol. 2011;300:H2–H12
- Wongcharoen W, Phrommintikul A. The protective role of curcumin in cardiovascular diseases. Int J Cardiol. 2009;133:145–151