In the last few years there is abundant new information on the role of antioxidants to protect the heart, specifically the turmeric root and its main active ingredient curcumin. Turmeric is an ancient Indian spice that has been used for centuries to flavor and preserve food. Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, is a powerful antioxidant that has been studied extensively for its many potential health benefits.In addition to antioxidants, turmeric also contains a significant amount of manganese, copper, iron, and vitamin B6 that are beneficial for general health.
Curcumin is the main chemical component that gives turmeric its bright yellow color and pungent flavor. It also gives turmeric potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties which may help to prevent or treat various medical conditions including heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Our focus today is its role in reducing heart disease.
What keeps a heart healthy and what leads to heart disease?
The heart is the muscle responsible for pumping blood to all the cells and tissues within the body. It is continuously working every single second of our lives, and we can not live without it. Heart health should be focused on maintaining the strength of the heart muscle and also to ensure it can restore itself. One major cause of heart disease is high blood pressure. High blood pressure is one of the results of fat buildup in the blood vessels within the body, requiring the heart to use more energy to pump blood to the various parts of the body. High blood pressure increases the workload of the heart, tiring the muscles out much quicker and needing more cell regeneration and nutrients. The heart is also working hard daily to pump blood with many components so if the blood becomes thicker through fat and others, the more difficult it is to pump as well. Poor blood circulation can also create clots that can block blood flow and can lead to heart muscle death and stroke. Considering the important job of the heart and its constant work, reducing fat buildup in blood vessels and reducing blood clotting should be the two main focuses when it comes to heart health.
One way to maintain and protect the heart is through frequent exercising and maintaining a healthy diet. Regular cardiovascular exercises are also important for keeping your metabolism running smoothly and reducing your risk of other health problems like diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol. A curated diet that aims to supply the heart with good nutrients to maintain its health. Heart cells are continuously regenerated, providing the heart with targeted nutrients will increase its restorative strength and reduce any potential injuries.
How Curcumin protects the heart from injuries and prevents heart disease
When there is an injury to the heart or other muscles, inflammation follows. Inflammation is an immune response within the body to increase blood flow to an area and bring healing components to the area. However, in cases of gradual injury, such as sustained higher workload on the heart, the increased blood flow to the tissue can worsen the condition of the cells over time leading to heart muscle hypertrophy, or muscle enlargement. Blood vessels can also suffer from inflammation causing lesions and buildup. Both chip away at heart health and increase the chance of a heart attack.
Curcumin has been shown in both animal and human studies to reduce the rate of inflammation in the heart tissues in cases such as heart attack. Also when curcumin is taken a couple hours prior to heart surgery, it showed signs of improving post surgery healing. It all connects together that curcumin can reduce excessive inflammation of the heart muscle cells and blood vessels that can help in preventing heart injuries such as heart attacks, but also protect and help heal the body when surgery is needed.1
Curcumin and Reducing Bad Cholesterol
Another major contribution to heart disease is atherosclerosis, or cholesterol buildup on the blood vessels and within the blood flow. Both can slow down blood flow to the body’s cells and also increase workload on the heart muscle requiring more nutrients. Studies saw a decrease in blood cholesterol levels within 7 days of taking curcumin orally. Even those already with high blood cholesterol or diagnosed with atherosclerosis, saw an improvement within 28 days when taking curcumin. These past studies show great promise for curcumin to be both preventative and protecting the heart when it comes to cholesterol within the body.1
Protective role of curcumin
Combining all of the potential benefits of curcumin, it is clear curcumin can have a protective role when it comes to heart health. Its antioxidant capabilities can help heart cell regeneration. Its anti-inflammatory characteristics can lower blood pressure and reduce healing time. It contributes to lowering blood cholesterol to reduce blood vessel buildup. Most important is its safety, it has reported low toxicity and wide availability, and high doses can be tolerated. As always, consult your doctor before starting any new medications or food additives intended for therapeutic effect.
How to take Turmeric
After seeing all the amazing potential effects of turmeric and curcumin, how can you safely add curcumin to your diet and how much should you add? Many of the studies cited above are using doses of 2 or more milligrams per day. However, the curcumin content of turmeric is not that high. It’s around 3%, by weight. It would be difficult to use enough turmeric spice in your food daily to receive its full effects. A supplement is your best choice to enjoy the full benefits of turmeric and curcumin, always check the label to make sure it has significant amounts of curcumin. A second consideration is absorption of curcumin, which by itself is not easily absorbed by the bloodstream. Black pepper which contains piperine does increase curcumin absorption by 2000%, so choose a turmeric supplement that also has piperine. Lastly curcumin is fat soluble so you can further help absorption by having some fatty food or meal together with your supplements.2
Precautions to taking turmeric
As with all food supplements, evaluate your personal health and consult your doctor if you have specific questions regarding your own health and how food supplements can help you. Despite turmeric and curcumin’s long history within Eastern Medicine, there aren’t many studies on safety during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Always consult your doctor if you have any specific questions or concerns.2
Likewise, when considering turmeric’s effects on decreasing blood clotting and blood pressure, those who are concurrently taking medications that can reduce clotting and blood pressure need to take note and monitor if adding any turmeric to your diet.
1. Pubmed- The protective role of curcumin in cardiovascular diseases
2. Healthline- 10 Proven Health Benefits of Turmeric and Curcumin