Curcumin: Not all brands are created equal!

Curcumin: Not all brands are created equal!

What is Curcumin? Curcumin is the yellow pigment in the spice turmuric. It’s derived from the root of the plant Curcuma longa, the root of which looks like this: Aside from it’s orange color, it looks almost exactly like another spice you are more familiar with; indeed it is from the plant family Zingiberacea:

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the Ginger family. Why we love curcumin It belongs to a family of molecules called polyphenols, which happen to confer some special health benefits. Polyphenols increase the activity of our bodies’ natural detoxification system (specifically something called Phase II detoxification), and decrease inflammation in the body. The reason I first became interested in curcumin is because it seems to help prevent Alzheimer’s disease, which Western Medicine has no useful treatment for (and which my grandfather died from). Take a look at the picture below. On the left is a slice of rat brain with the amyloid plaques from Alzheimer’s disease visible as orange dots. On the right is the brain from a rat treated with curcumin: As you can see, the amyloid plaques are greatly diminished in the rat treated with curcumin. This is what is so exciting about it’s potential in preventing or even treating Alzheimer’s. Below is another slide, with a view

of those same plaques (stained red) along the blood vessels of the brain. Again, as you can see, in the slide on the right, they are greatly diminished after treatment: And curcumin is a promising treatment for more than just Alzheimer’s. Curcumin fights inflammation, and inflammation is central to many disease processes, cancer among them. In fact, curcumin is able to impact every stage of cancer: the first aberrant cell that starts to multiply out of control, the growing tumor trying to stimulate the growth of new blood vessels to feed itself, and the mass that invades adjacent tissue and metastasizes. Curcumin can impact all of these areas because they are all affected by a transcription factor (something in the cell that binds to DNA) called Nuclear Factor kappa B (or NFkB for short). The picture below shows the various signaling molecules that NFkB impacts which cause the growth and ultimately the metastasis of

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a tumor: Curcumin inhibits NFkB, and is thus able to greatly impact cancer progression. Take a look at this CAT scan from a patient with liver cancer who had already failed chemotherapy:

Dillon N, Aggarwal BB, Kurzrock R. Phase II Trial of Curcumin in Patients With Advanced Pancreatic Cancer Clin Cancer Res 2008; 14(14) July 15, 2008

Notice in the slide on the left, the lower left corner has a large round tumor in the liver, which is essentially gone in the slide on the right. That is an amazing result—so why aren’t all cancer patients taking curcumin?? The problem with curcumin is that it’s very poorly absorbed. The patient whose CAT scan you see above had to take 8 grams (not milligrams) a day, which is a massive amount. Most people cannot tolerate that. In fact, the researchers who did the cancer study above are currently working on a formulation for intravenous use. For purposes of daily prevention, though, we need something you can take by mouth. All ‘standard’ curcumin supplements — even by reputable manufacturers– are so poorly absorbed that they aren’t worth taking at all. In a 2004 paper, Garcea et al gave 3.6 grams per day to patients with liver cancer, and concluded:
“The results suggest that doses of curcumin required to furnish levels [in the liver] sufficient to exert pharmacological activity are probably not feasible in humans.”1

The reason is, curcumin’s structure is such that it doesn’t cross the intestinal wall intact… it gets broken down into metabolites first. And yet, it has been noted that in India, curcumin is eaten in greater quantities than in any other population—sometimes more than two grams a day—and people in India have almost negligible rates of Alzheimer’s disease! Is curcumin the reason? And if so, how is it that they are able to absorb it? One theory is that the way that Indians prepare curcumin– heating with butter or oil– creates “liposomes” of a sort: little capsules of fat that carry the curcumin, which are then able to get across the intestinal wall. There have therefore been a number of attempts to emulate this mechanism. A few have had some success. In my opinion Longvida (sold by Verdure Sciences) is the best choice for Alzheimer’s prevention (in addition to all of curcumin’s other benefits), and that is the brand that we are using in the PhysioAge Premium Packs and NeuroPack. Trying to understand whether a particular brand of supplement provides blood levels that are clinically relevant is where things become interesting for me (and generally indecipherable for the typical consumer). Remarkably, in a few instances this process reveals that out of dozens of companies selling a supplement, only one brand may be worth using! In the case of curcumin, at present only one or two have shown evidence of clinical relevance. (Lipoic Acid is another example of a supplement that has many vendors but only one that I am willing to use at present.) Those who would like to know the (somewhat painstaking) details about how we separate hype from reality and decide which brand of a supplement should be used, click on the following questions:

      To be clear: PhysioAge has no stake in Longvida or any other supplement company, and neither do I. If Meriva or Curcumall comes out with data showing their superiority, we will happily switch brands for our Supplement Packs. This is precisely why I don’t want to be tied to any one company: we are free to mix and match brands to get the best possible end product!   10/28/13 CURCUMIN UPDATE: PLEASE SEE THIS POST FOR AN UPDATE ON LONGVIDA, AND THIS ONE FOR A DISCUSSION OF THERACURMIN.