Curcumin is considered the primary active component of turmeric, a popular spice used around the world. Curry is a food that is rich in turmeric, and consequently, curcumin, and in countries where curry is a popular food disease related to inflammation are rare. One example of this is India. Curry is a regular part of the menu in India, and statistics show that India has among the lowest rates of inflammatory disease in the world. Particularly notable in this regard are the extraordinarily low rates of brain degenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease. Many neuroscientists, or those who study brain function, think that this low rate of Alzheimer's disease in India is related to the high consumption of curry. When viewed from a molecular perspective, this makes sense. Cell studies have shown that if you can get enough curcumin into the brain, it will act to both prevent and remove the two primary abnormal proteins associated with Alzheimer's disease, namely beta-amyloid-42 and Tau. Indeed, curcumin has been shown to be one of the only natural substances capable of accomplishing this biological feat. Since the rate of Alzheimer's disease is expected to grow in the coming years with the aging of Baby Boomers, whether curcumin can provide a preventive effect against Alzheimer's and other diseases is important to know. Hundreds of studies have been published attesting to the potent anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin. But many of these studies have involved either in vitro or isolated cell studies or animal studies. But there are many human studies that show beneficial effects from ingesting curcumin or turmeric from foods such as curry.
Still, curcumin remains controversial for a number of reasons. For one, it is a very difficult substance to orally absorb. Animal studies suggest that less than 1% of an oral dose reaches the blood. Another problem is that orally ingested curcumin is rapidly degraded in the liver. In this respect, curcumin is similar to another popular supplement, resveratrol. Although there are hundreds of studies showing that resveratrol provides beneficial health effects, other studies show that when ingested orally the liver degrades it into compounds that may or may not have biological activity in the body. The jury is still out on this question. Interestingly, the same pathway that the liver uses to change curcumin into other compounds is the same one used to process oral testosterone. This explains why ingesting testosterone in pill form that isn't manipulated to resist premature liver breakdown (as is the case with anabolic steroid drugs) would provide little or no anabolic effects, since it would simply be converted into a water-soluble form in the liver, then excreted through the kidneys. But if the liver degrades curcumin soon after oral digestion, how does that explain how people in India, who consume curry rich in curcumin can stave off diseases such as Alzheimer's disease? Surely it . . .