The supercharging immunity benefits of curcumin
Your immune system is incredibly smart. It has to be. Battling billions of invading bacteria and toxins is like intercepting every raindrop in a downpour—and in a nanosecond, deciding whether to kill it, change it, or let it fall. Making things harder, countless threats disguise themselves and evade detection. Curcumin, an extract of the spice turmeric, is changing this immunity cat-and-mouse game dramatically.
Curcumin—4,000 years old and still healing strong
Curcumin has a long and remarkable history as a healer and preventer of many health threats. From ancient Indian Ayurvedic practices to today, it’s been used to battle:
- Skin diseases
- Intestinal worms
- Intermittent fevers
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Liver disorders
- Heart disease
But there’s more, much more.
How do you know if you need curcumin?
Well, for starters, if you have any symptoms traceable to the above conditions, make sure your doctor knows about them.
If you have none of those symptoms, do you need curcumin?
In my opinion, that’s an emphatic yes. Everyone should take curcumin. If healthy, to stay that way, if in poor health, to battle whatever’s causing it.
Chronic inflammation, disease, and curcumin
Let’s see how curcumin fits in the health “big picture.”
It’s widely accepted that chronic inflammation is the cause of nearly every major disease in the book—those associated with cancers, heart disease, bone and joint disease, cognitive decline…the works.
We’re not talking about healthy inflammation that kicks in when, say, you cut your finger, and the site swells up, turns red, then calms down while the damage is repaired. That’s your immune system’s healthy response.
Chronic inflammation is when environmental toxins or a stressful, unhealthy lifestyle and diet cause low-level inflammation to spread throughout every cell in your body. Making every cell in your body vulnerable to the full cast of unhealthy characters.
And most of these diseases show no symptoms at all until they’re well dug in and truly dangerous. Knowing this, you can see why doctors like me call curcumin an immune system godsend.
It’s one of the most powerful, natural anti-inflammatory substances we’ve ever encountered. With equally powerful antibacterial and antifungal properties. That alone is cause for celebration. But there’s more.
Curcumin improves your immune system
In 2012, a study at Oregon State University showed for the first time that curcumin can turbocharge your immune system’s already formidable arsenal of defensive and restorative mechanisms.
The breakthrough finding is called a cathelicidin antimicrobial peptide (CAMP). It’s a powerful antimicrobial—the only of its kind found in humans.
The good news? Curcumin nearly tripled the amount of CAMP in the immune system.
We already knew that vitamin D is required to activate this powerful killer, which protects us against bacterial, viral, and fungal infection by spotting those unfamiliar raindrops in the downpour—and killing them.
We now know that curcumin does the same job as vitamin D.
Additional protection? Great news for all of us, especially the 90-plus percent of Americans who are vitamin D-deficient.
And there’s still more reason curcumin is as good as its golden yellow color.
Physical or emotional stress causes our bodies to produce cytokines, which help our immune system rush help to the source of stress—in the form of infection-fighting inflammation.
That’s all good, but as I mentioned, chronic stress can mean chronic inflammation and chronic, dire health threats. So reducing this chronic inflammation is important.
That’s the job of an anti-inflammatory protein complex called NF-kB. It gets a big boost of extra help from curcumin in calming those cytokines down and relieving inflammation. Which reduces your risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, and autoimmune diseases, including type 2 diabetes.
Curcumin clobbers cancer
Curcumin is among the most promising anti-cancer agents we’ve ever seen. It can play a major role in the cat-and-mouse game that typifies our battle against cancer.
Where do we see curcumin’s cancer-crushing clout?
One of a million tactics used by tumor cells is to attack a specialized immune system tumor suppressor protein called TP53, preventing it from sensing cell damage and counterattacking with its own specialized “death ray” (technical name apoptosis-inducing circuitry).
In this case, curcumin fights back by:
- Increasing the amount of TP53 our immune system produces—like adding another shift on the production line
- Blocking the multiple signaling pathways that tell cancer cells to run amok
- Delivering a fatal counterpunch, in the form of chemical messaging that convinces tumor cells to die—a phenomenon called apoptosis
In short, curcumin has shown, time after time, who’s the boss. It’s been proven to outpunch and out-fox just about everything cancer cells throw at it.
Circulating cancer stem cells are as scary as cancers get. They’re produced in an active tumor and then cut loose into the bloodstream. As stem cells, they can mimic and modify the genetic code of any vulnerable organ or inflammation site they find—and turn it into another tumor. It’s called self-renewal, and it’s the engine that drives metastasis.
In research targeting circulating lung cancer stem cells, curcumin significantly impeded the cells’ self-renewal ability—and showed signs that it can damage and neutralize the cancer cells’ DNA.
This is holy grail-level intervention.
Case closed—curcumin is a go-to preventer and healer
What you’ve just read is only a teaspoon taken from gallons of well-researched proof. There are more than 6,000 citations, and more than 100 gold standard, years-long clinical studies. All of them confirm curcumin’s amazing benefits, and I’m sure more will come.
And, by the way, importantly, curcumin has shown only the slightest, hardly ever, side effects. Diarrhea and yellow-colored stools occasionally occur at high dosages. Best of all, nature gives it to us for far less than the cost of any conventional treatments promising similar results—no prescription needed.
How do you get and use curcumin?
It shouldn’t be a surprise that we advise nearly all our readers to get curcumin into their lives.
If you often enjoy curries and other delicious Asian, Indian, and some southern hemisphere cuisines, you’re certainly getting plenty of turmeric, the source of curcumin.
But even dishes loaded with turmeric are light in curcumin itself, which is only 4–5 percent of the turmeric root’s total composition.
There’s also the critical matter of absorption. Curcumin can be extracted from turmeric and ground to a fine powder—but only 3–5 percent of that powder is bioavailable, that is, easily absorbed by our bodies. The rest passes through us without being properly used.
This has prompted researchers worldwide to find ways to make this wonder-spice effective in small, manageable, doses.
The good news is that there are now many ways to help curcumin supplements ease readily into our systems, with up to 97 percent bioavailability.
So if you’re going to shop for a supplement, look for labels promising standardized extracts and enhanced bioavailability. Some combine curcumin with a black pepper extract called pepperine for enhanced absorption. Others use a potato starch-based compound called gamma cyclodextrine. The brand names Cavacurmin and Meriva are both great sources of curcumin.
We recommend 1,500 mg over the course of the day.
Within a few days to a few weeks, you should start to notice that everyday aches and pains start to vanish. Especially if you have arthritis. Everyone’s different, of course, and lots of other factors are in play. But, perhaps the best way to see if curcumin is working is to get a CRP test before you start taking it, and again after 3 – 6 months. If you see your CRP levels drop, you know it’s working.
That goes for everyone, even if you’re in super good health. In that case, frankly, you might not know, or see from a test, that curcumin is working, though I’ve had patients claim that they feel super-duper after starting curcumin.
Medium health? Curcumin could help lift you to better than average. Especially for people over 60, a stronger immune system could be a literally life-saving gift when flu season comes around.
Not-so-good health? I’m sure curcumin can help fix you up. It’s been effective, as I mentioned, in taking on chronic inflammation. That alone should be a dramatic first step toward healing. But we haven’t even finished counting all the specific diseases curcumin tackles. Whatever ails you, I know the golden spice can help.
Danger-zone health? A weakened immune system can’t fight off all the threats a strong system can handle. Curcumin, in many critical interventions, has been injected into the bloodstream—intravenous immunoglobulin therapy (IVIg)—and has successfully added protective firepower against inflammation and infection.
Be advised, of course, that no supplement can reverse the ravages of poor diet, and lack of exercise. Changing those ways for the better will give curcumin its best shot at helping you toward your best health.
Also, while very effective, curcumin is not meant to replace conventional cancer therapies. It’s a great adjunct. But it’s best to work with your doctor to determine the best course of action for your particular situation.
If you’re wondering if you should take curcumin forever…
Another emphatic yes—give health a chance, and may your forever last years longer than you expected.
Take good care.
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Last Updated: May 7, 2020
Originally Published: March 29, 2018