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TheSouth African Journal of Natural Medicine conducted an interview with Dr Binu Kuruvilla from Arjuna Natural Extracts in India, the manufacturers of BCM-95 (bio-available curcumin), to find out what makes this compound tick and which health benefits it offers.
What exactly is curcumin?
Curcumin, along with two other related compounds (collectively called curcuminoids), is present in the curry spice turmeric (Curcuma longa). Curcumin is the main and the most biologically active constituent. The other active compounds present in turmeric are the seven sesquiterpenoids – compounds present in nearly all essential oils. The biological activities of the curcuminoids depend on various chemical signals via Michael acceptor functions (which perform chemical reactions) and the phenolic groups (phenols are organic compounds). Michael acceptors have potential antitumour activity. Many drugs used clinically are natural products or compounds derived from natural products. The phenolic groups provide antioxidant activity.
What are some of the major benefits of curcumin?
Published research records reveal that curcumin is beneficial for virtually every human ailment. Curcumin is also free of toxicity, and side effects are usually limited to minor gastrointestinal irritations.
How effective is curcumin as an anti-inflammatory and how does this compare to traditional pharmaceuticals for inflammation?
The complex process of inflammation is an obligatory component of most, if not all, chronic diseases, the most common of which include rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, psoriasis, coronary artery disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and even obesity. Inflammation is brought about by the interplay of a number of mediators in the process of immune response. The only drugs in clinical use which come close to controlling all these diverse factors are the corticosteroids. For this reason, these drugs continue to be the mainstay in managing inflammatory diseases such as bronchial asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), rheumatoid arthritis, etc. despite their known severe side effects. One molecule which can potentially modulate all these factors is curcumin. However, compared to regular drugs, the activity of curcumin is weaker.
An often unappreciated factor in inflammation treatment is that inflammation and oxidative stress coexist. They have an intimate relationship, one inducing the other. So, to be completely effective, an anti-inflammatory should also be an antioxidant. No drug in clinical use has this attribute. Even steroids develop resistance in patients over prolonged use. Curcumin scores here by being both an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. A viable treatment option appears to be a combination of low-dose steroid with curcumin. Curcumin may reduce the toxic side effects of steroids.
What are some of the conditions you believe would highly benefit from the use of curcumin?
Conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, Alzheimer’s disease, major depression, colon cancer and other cancers (in combination with standard drugs), and liver diseases could benefit from curcumin treatment.
There are many different types of curcumin extracts on the market. What is the difference and how does one decide on which is the best option?
Different formulations of curcumin are available commercially, most containing additional components in attempts to improve the bioavailability of curcumin. In these formulations, curcuminoids constitute only 15 to 20% of the composition, so one is compelled to take these additional components even though their long-term safety is unknown. Improved bioavailability is claimed on the basis of curcumin metabolites (and not free curcumin) estimated in blood plasma. Such claims are scientifically not valid. The only two products without these additives are BCM-95 and C3 complex where BCM-95 has seven-fold more bioavailability compared to regular curcumin while C3 complex has no such claims of enhanced bioavailability.
Are there studies supporting the use of curcumin?
As per data available from PUBMED, there are more than 8 200 research reports available as of now. In 2014, 1 005 reports appeared and in the current year the figure has already exceeded this number and may reach a figure of 1 500 – in other words four reports on average a day.
How safe is using curcumin in both the short and long term?
Absolute safety is another significant attribute of curcumin. Up to 12 g per day of curcumin has been tried out in cancer patients without serious side effects. However, this conclusion may not be true with formulations containing other additives.
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