~ Curcumin as an Antioxidant

Curcumin, the extract found in a common household spice, is common no longer. It's been drawing more and more attention among medical experts the last several years for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory qualities.

When the body responds to a physical injury, a series of changes occurs through which free radicals are released. These free radicals, or "oxidants," protect the body from foreign invasion, such as infection. However, in the process of killing invading bacteria, oxidants can also harm our cells.

Such oxidants can include superoxide, hydrogen peroxide, hydroxyl radicals and lipid peroxides. Over time, as our cells continue to be affected by these free radicals, or oxidants, organs begin to degenerate. The result can be such diseases and conditions as chronic inflammation, heart disease, aging acceleration and chaotic cell growth leading to cancer.

The body does have built-in defense mechanisms to protect itself from free radical damage, but eventually, aging and disease deplete the body's ability to keep oxidants at bay. Studies show that curcumin can inhibit, or possibly even reverse this process by scavenging or neutralizing free radicals and breaking their subsequent oxidative chain reaction.

Research as early as 1995 has shown that a diet that includes curcumin can restrict this oxidative stress. Scientists in India found curcumin inhibited lipid peroxidation, superoxides and hydroxyl radical.

Two more recent studies were published last year. In the first analysis, scientists found that prolonged exposure by curcumin to endothelial cells of the bovine aorta resulted in "enhanced cellular resistance to oxidative damage."

Doctors in a separate investigation discovered that curcumin suppressed oxidative stress induced by trichloroethylene in mouse liver. The researchers concluded that curcumin's benefit seems to be derived from its ability to inhibit increases in cellular levels of peroxisome, a component associated with oxygen utilization in cells.

The oxidation of LDL, the "bad" cholesterol, plays an important role in the development of atherosclerosis. Based on that knowledge, medical researchers have also examined the effect of curcumin on LDL oxidation and plasma lipid levels. In one investigation, doctors in Spain fed 18 rabbits a high cholesterol diet to induce atherosclerosis.

The rabbits were divided into three groups; one group was given 1.66 milligrams of curcumin per kilogram of body weight, the second group was given 3.2 mg, and a third group was designated as a control. After seven weeks, the investigators found that the group fed the lower curcumin dosage decreased LDL's susceptibility to lipid peroxidation, and both dosage groups had lower cholesterol levels.

Motterlini R, Foresti R, Bassi R, Green CJ. Curcumin, an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent, induces heme oxygenase-1 and protects endothelial cells against oxidative stress. Free Radic Biol Med 2000 Apr 15;28(8):1303-12.

Ramirez-Tortosa MC et al. Oral administration of a turmeric extract inhibits LDL oxidation and has hypocholesterolemic effects in rabbits with experimental atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis. 1999 Dec;147(2):371-8.

Ruby AJ et al. Anti-tumour and antioxidant activity of natural curcuminoids. Cancer Lett 1995 July 20;94(1):79-83.

Watanabe S, Fukui T. Suppressive effect of curcumin on trichlorothylene-induced oxidative stress. J Nutr Sci Vitaminol 2000 Oct;46(5):230-4.

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