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Just like a well-used machine, our bodies change with age, requiring a little extra love and care. One of these changes is a process coined by scientists as inflammaging, or accelerated and deleterious aging driven by inflammation. It is natural for our bodies to have some increases in inflammation as we age—a result of a lifetime of living in a human body—but our modern lifestyles (poor food choices, little to no exercise, excessive alcohol consumption, exposure to pollution and other toxins) add insult to injury and increase that inflammatory burden. This chronic, systemic inflammation contributes to age-related decline, chronic disease, and negatively affects our “healthspan,” or the period of life in which we are healthy and thriving.1 2
But we have a powerful ally in the spice turmeric, and its most active compound, curcumin, to minimize inflammaging and maximize healthspan.
Turmeric has stood the test of time in practice and in studies for its ability to affect almost all aspects of health—targeting inflammaging at its root—and, in turn, maximizing healthspan. From healthy brain aging to keeping our tickers in tip-top shape to maintaining our mobility and active life, turmeric is a tried-and-true supplement that supports a timeless, thriving you, no matter your age or stage of life!
Turmeric is the whole herb and curcumin is the most abundant bioactive compound found in turmeric. Most studies use standardized extracts that contain mostly curcumin. Both are beneficial for health.
Of the more than 1,000 published studies on the effects of curcumin on health, a large portion of them have investigated curcumin’s effect on brain health, age-related cognitive decline, and Alzheimer’s disease (AD).3 Some of the factors that lead to mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and AD are chronic inflammation in the brain, oxidative damage to brain cells, and the formation and depositing of beta-amyloid plaques in the brain.4 5 Curcumin has the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier, where it inhibits amyloid formation, impairs the production of pro-inflammatory molecules, and reduces oxidative damage.6 7
You don’t have to be diagnosed with MCI or AD to reap the brain benefits of curcumin. A study published from Ohio State University showed that a low-dose curcumin supplement of just 80 mg/day reduced plasma levels of beta-amyloid, as well as markers of inflammation, in healthy subjects 40 to 60 years old.8 Additional studies confirm that curcumin can significantly decrease oxidative stress and systemic inflammation in the brain.9
According to the results of a separate study conducted at UCLA, curcumin not only improved memory, but also improved mood and attention in people with mild, age-related memory loss. In this double-blind, placebo-controlled 18-month-long study, they found that adults without Alzheimer’s between ages 51 and 84 saw an improvement in memory and overall cognitive function after taking a 90 mg curcumin supplement twice a day in comparison to the placebo group.10
“Exactly how curcumin exerts its effects is not certain, but it may be due to its ability to reduce brain inﬂammation, which has been linked to both Alzheimer’s disease and major depression,” said Dr. Small, the study’s co-author and director of geriatric psychiatry at UCLA’s Longevity Center. “The people who took curcumin experienced significant improvements in their memory and attention abilities, while the subjects who received the placebo did not,” Small said.11
Two major underlying factors in the development of cardiovascular disease are inflammation and oxidative damage—curcumin reduces both, and targets other risk factors as well. Various studies in both humans and animals have proven curcumin’s powerful impact on reducing cardiovascular disease risk, including atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), stroke, and even heart failure.12
In addition to reducing inflammation and oxidation, curcumin also supports healthy levels of cholesterol and triglycerides. A 2014 study showed that supplementing with 1,000 mg/day of curcumin for eight weeks resulted in significant reductions in LDL and total cholesterol, reductions in triglycerides, and significant increases in HDL cholesterol.13
Curcumin also supports the structure and healthy functioning of the endothelium, the innermost layer of cells that line our arteries. Healthy endothelial function is intricately tied to cardiovascular health.14 15 In a 2017 study of healthy middle-aged and older adults, 2,000 mg/day of curcumin supplemented for 12 weeks resulted in improved artery endothelial function by increasing nitric oxide (important for healthy blood pressure) bioavailability and reducing oxidative stress.16 In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study of healthy post-menopausal women, even a low-dose (150 mg/day) of curcumin taken for eight weeks was found to be as effective at improving endothelial function and reducing blood pressure as aerobic exercise, whereas no changes were detected in the subjects taking only a placebo.17
Curcumin directly impacts cardiovascular health in those with type-2 diabetes: A 2010 double-blind, placebo-controlled study examined the effectiveness of curcumin on the reduction of blood sugar, HBA1c (a measure of long-term blood sugar), triglycerides, and insulin resistance, with favorable outcomes in those taking 500 mg of curcumin three times a day for six months. They found that those in the curcumin-supplemented group experienced reductions in insulin resistance, triglycerides, and both visceral fat (fat stored around the organs) and total body fat levels—all factors representing major reductions in overall cardiovascular risk.18 19
Curcumin also reduces the formation of advanced glycation end products (AGEs), “age- accelerating” compounds that are formed when excess blood sugar reacts with proteins and causes structural damage to body tissues, like the arteries. This damage isn’t exclusive to diabetics either—AGEs are created even when blood glucose levels are at the high end of normal.20
If the idea of falling apart as you age has you dreading the future, or if you’re living with that reality now, there’s hope in turmeric and curcumin! It’s no wonder it’s a go-to supplement for the physically active looking to maintain their mobility and boost their recovery time, or for those who experience joint discomfort and pain, either due to activity, inactivity, injury, or joint disease.
Various studies evaluating curcumin also point to its effectiveness in relieving joint pain, modulating the inflammatory response, and providing joint-health benefits to enhance mobility, even in the short term. Fifty patients with knee osteoarthritis took part in a double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical study for eight weeks. Those taking 180 mg of curcumin each day reported significantly lower knee pain scores and saw a reduction in the dependence on a prescribed nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), in comparison to the placebo group.21
According to a separate four-month study, the combination of curcumin and glucosamine (one tablet daily containing 500 mg curcumin + 500 mg glucosamine) was more effective for supporting joint health in those with osteoarthritis than the common pain-reliving combination of chondroitin and glucosamine. Furthermore, the walking distance on the treadmill was significantly higher in the curcumin-glucosamine group than the chondroitin-glucosamine group after just one month.22
Digestive disorders are increasingly prevalent in Western populations, with more than 60 million people affected in the United States alone.23 While many turn to conventional treatments, such as pharmaceuticals and over-the-counter (OTC) medications, mounting scientific evidence shows that turmeric extract and curcumin can also provide much needed relief.
Turmeric is one of those standout herbs that shines as a digestive prebiotic, digestive aid, and anti-inflammatory compound that protects the gut.24 25 A 2019 study demonstrated that turmeric extract acts a prebiotic (or food) for beneficial bacteria, such as Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Bifidobacterium animalis, and also supported the growth of these bacteria even after 72 hours. Turmeric extract also acts as an anti-inflammatory in the gut, in part by directly modulating bacteria that cause inflammation.26 27
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common digestive disorder affecting an estimated 10 to 15 percent of the population worldwide. Furthermore, stress-related disorders, including depression and anxiety, often exist simultaneously with IBS, as well as a decrease in the feel-good brain chemical, serotonin. One animal model of IBS showed that curcumin directly impacted the gut-brain axis by reducing abdominal pain and decreasing the frequency of bowel movements. It also increased serotonin levels in the brain.28