A common thread runs through most curry powders … the bright orange-yellow spice called turmeric.
Turmeric is a member of the ginger family, long used in India and China as a folk medicine, food preservative, coloring agent, and spice.
The deep-orange root of the turmeric plant comes from three compounds called curcuminoids.
The name of one of these pigments – curcumin – is now used to refer to the trio as a whole.
Curcuminoids are polyphenols … the “antioxidants” that famously abound in tea, cocoa, culinary herbs and spices, berries, grapes, onions, and many other fruits and vegetables.
Rather than through direct action, polyphenols produce substantial antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects via indirect, “nutrigenomic” influences on our genes.
Like other polyphenols, curcumin possesses many healthful properties, but it may be the most beneficial and versatile member of that family ... see “The growing promise of curcumin”, at the end.
Now there's evidence that supplemental curcumin tightens the barrier that keeps bacterial toxins from getting into your blood and harming your metabolic health.
And these exciting results – whose applicability to people must be confirmed in clinical studies – suggest that curcumin may provide added protection against diabetes, heart disease, and auto-immune disorders.
First, let's review the role of “gut permeability” in inflammation, autoimmunity, and the major metabolic disorders.
Buyer beware: Potency of curcumin extracts varies widely
Unlike the curcumin in fresh turmeric, the extracts in standard “95% curcumin” supplements are very poorly absorbed, and these products have been repeatedly proven ineffective.
The best and most cost-effective way to greatly enhance the “bioavailability” of curcumin is to add some of turmeric's own volatile oils.
Research shows that turmeric's volatile oils enhance the benefits of curcumin and provide their own benefits.
Accordingly, when we decided to offer a curcumin supplement, we employed a patented, clinically tested extract called BCM-95® that includes the full spectrum of turmeric's volatile oils.
Clinical studies show that BCM-95 curcumin is absorbed six to seven times better than the curcumin in conventional 95%-curcumin dietary supplements (Antony B et al. 2012).
BCM-95® has been tested in 13 published studies, including eight human clinical trials, with uniformly positive results for safety and superior absorption.
Our curcumin supplement delivers BCM-95 extract in wild salmon oil, to further enhance absorption and provide the complementary health benefits associated with omega-3 fatty acids.
Western diets drive metabolic disease
The Standard American Diet (SAD) – also called the “Western” diet (WD) – features processed foods high in refined carbs, sugars, and omega-6 fatty acids.
The Western diet is also dangerously low in the protective nutrients, antioxidants, and fibers found in whole foods.
These characteristics of the Western diet are driving an epidemic in metabolic diseases: obesity, glucose intolerance, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, fatty liver disease, dementia, and chronic kidney disease.
Along with the chronic, “silent” inflammation that the Western diet promotes, there are two reasons for this problem.
First, consuming a Western diet leads to an increase in harmful bacteria in the intestines' microbial environment or “microbiome” .
Second, Western-style diets make the body's intestinal barrier more permeable and less able to block entry to toxic bacterial molecules such as lipopolysaccharides (LPS).
(The body's intestinal barrier is an exquisitely tuned “organ” that's designed to allow nutrients through, but block bad bacteria, foreign substances, and large molecules.)
LPS molecules occur in the outer membrane of gram-negative bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella.
If they get from your gut into your blood, LPS and other bacterial toxins elicit strong immune responses that promote inflammation, metabolic diseases, and autoimmune disorders.
Once activated by LPS, your immune-system cells begin to infiltrate your adipose (fatty) tissue – which can lead to glucose intolerance – or they enter the artery wall where they form plaques, resulting in heart disease.
Accordingly, a healthy, “tight” gut wall greatly reduces the risk of this cascade of pathological events and processes.
Curcumin protects a key gut function ... and metabolic health
A new study from Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine adds to the broad benefits already attributed to curcumin … and suggest a possible role in preventing metabolic diseases (Ghosh SS et al. 2014).
Researchers at VCU examined the effect of curcumin supplement
s on the intestinal barrier, and report that supplemental curcumin reduced the “loosening” effect of a Western-style diet on the intestinal wall.
According to lead investigator Shobha Ghosh, Ph.D., “Our study for the first time shows that curcumin … had profound effects on the intestinal wall and can effectively reduce inflammation by this mechanism … and thereby attenuate [reduce] the development of diabetes and atherosclerosis.” (VCU 2014)
For the VCU study, mice were fed a Western diet for 16 weeks, which significantly increased the permeability of the animals' intestinal walls, and blood levels of LPS toxins from gram-negative bacteria.
The mice were then divided into two groups:
- One group was given curcumin.
- The other group received antibiotics (Neomycin and polymyxin) to selectively kill LPS-producing bacteria.
Both approaches – antibiotics and curcumin – significantly reduced the diet-induced rise in blood LPS levels and improved intestinal barrier function.
Better yet, both treatments significantly reduced diet-induced glucose intolerance and atherosclerosis in the mice.
Of course, it is seriously unhealthful to take antibiotics except to fight serious infections, whereas curcumin is totally safe and broadly healthful.
This study shows two things:
- The importance of healthy intestinal-barrier function to metabolic health.
- Supplemental curcumin may be an easy way to improve intestinal barrier function and help prevent metabolic diseases.
As Dr. Ghosh said, “… our results show that a Western diet affects the intestinal barrier at several levels. It decreases the activity of a key enzyme involved in LPS detoxification … [and] decreases the expression of tight-junction proteins that are required to restrict the movement of molecules such as LPS across the intestinal wall.” (VCU 2014)
“Collectively, these direct effects of Western diet on the intestinal wall itself results in the movement of bacteria-derived toxin (LPS) into the circulation where it contributes to low-grade chronic inflammation,” she added (VCU 2014).
She made a key point: “If we can restrict the release of LPS from the intestine by protecting/restoring the intestinal barrier function, as we did by using curcumin, then we can reduce the development of these diseases.” (VCU 2014)
Dr. Ghosh's team plans to conduct pilot clinical studies to further develop curcumin as a therapy for metabolic or diet-induced diseases.
The study was supported in part by grants from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI).
The growing promise of curcumin
To learn more about the exciting results of research on curcumin
, see these past articles from Vital Choices
- Ghosh SS et al. Oral Supplementation with Non-Absorbable Antibiotics or Curcumin Attenuates Western Diet-Induced Atherosclerosis and Glucose Intolerance in LDLR−/− Mice – Role of Intestinal Permeability and Macrophage Activation. September 24, 2014. Accessed at http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0108577
- Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). Oral curcumin may protect gut function. Accessed at http://www.healthcanal.com/digestive-system/55517-oral-curcumin-may-protect-gut-function.html