Contrary to decades of hype, curcumin alone is unlikely to boost health

January 11, 2017, American Chemical Society
Credit: American Chemical Society

Curcumin, a compound in turmeric, continues to be hailed as a natural treatment for a wide range of health conditions, including cancer and Alzheimer's disease. But a new review of the scientific literature on curcumin has found it's probably not all it's ground up to be. The report in ACS' Journal of Medicinal Chemistry instead cites evidence that, contrary to numerous reports, the compound has limited—if any—therapeutic benefit.

Turmeric, a spice often added to curries and mustards because of its distinct flavor and color, has been used for centuries in traditional medicine. Since the early 1990's, scientists have zeroed in on , which makes up about 3 to 5 percent of , as the potential constituent that might give turmeric its health-boosting properties. More than 120 clinical trials to test these claims have been or are in the process of being run by clinical investigators. To get to the root of curcumin's essential medicinal chemistry, the research groups of Michael A. Walters and Guido F. Pauli teamed up to extract key findings from thousands of scientific articles on the topic.

The researchers' review of the vast curcumin literature provides evidence that curcumin is unstable under physiological conditions and not readily absorbed by the body, properties that make it a poor therapeutic candidate. Additionally, they could find no evidence of a double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial on curcumin to support its status as a potential cure-all. But, the authors say, this doesn't necessarily mean research on turmeric should halt. Turmeric extracts and preparations could have health benefits, although probably not for the number of conditions currently touted. The researchers suggest that future studies should take a more holistic approach to account for the spice's chemically diverse constituents that may synergistically contribute to its potential benefits.

Explore further: Cures and curcumin: Turmeric offers potential therapy for oral cancers

More information: Kathryn M. Nelson et al. The Essential Medicinal Chemistry of Curcumin, Journal of Medicinal Chemistry (2017). DOI: 10.1021/acs.jmedchem.6b00975

Abstract
Curcumin is a constituent (up to ∼5%) of the traditional medicine known as turmeric. Interest in the therapeutic use of turmeric and the relative ease of isolation of curcuminoids has led to their extensive investigation. Curcumin has recently been classified as both a PAINS (pan-assay interference compounds) and an IMPS (invalid metabolic panaceas) candidate. The likely false activity of curcumin in vitro and in vivo has resulted in >120 clinical trials of curcuminoids against several diseases. No double-blinded, placebo controlled clinical trial of curcumin has been successful. This manuscript reviews the essential medicinal chemistry of curcumin and provides evidence that curcumin is an unstable, reactive, nonbioavailable compound and, therefore, a highly improbable lead. On the basis of this in-depth evaluation, potential new directions for research on curcuminoids are discussed.

Related Stories

Cures and curcumin: Turmeric offers potential therapy for oral cancers

April 24, 2015
Turmeric—the familiar yellow spice common in Indian and Asian cooking—may play a therapeutic role in oral cancers associated with human papillomavirus, according to new research published in ecancermedicalscience.

Curcumin may help overcome drug-resistant tuberculosis

March 24, 2016
New research indicates that curcumin—a substance in turmeric that is best known as one of the main components of curry powder—may help fight drug-resistant tuberculosis. In Asia, turmeric is used to treat many health ...

Turmeric enhances mood in depression research trial

September 26, 2014
The antidepressant benefits of the Indian spice turmeric have been supported by the results of a trial run by a Murdoch University researcher.

Plant compounds give '1-2' punch to colon cancer

July 22, 2016
The combination of two plant compounds that have medicinal properties - curcumin and silymarin - holds promise in treating colon cancer, according Saint Louis University research published in the June 23 issue of the Journal ...

Enhancing absorption and bioavailability of curcumin and turmeric

August 13, 2015
Few natural products have demonstrated the range of protective and therapeutic promise as have turmeric and its principal bioactive components, the curcuminoids. Success in translating this potential into tangible benefits ...

Curcumin proved effective at combating cancer

March 16, 2015
WA scientists have helped re-affirm that curcumin, a chemical compound found in turmeric, is a safe and promising treatment for most cancers and other inflammation-driven diseases.

Recommended for you

Study compares athlete and truck driver, identical twins

July 20, 2018
When it comes to being fit, are genes or lifestyle—nature or nurture—more important? Researchers at San Francisco State University, CSU Fullerton and Cal Poly, Pomona removed the nature part of the equation by studying ...

Secondhand smoke causing thousands of still births in developing countries

July 20, 2018
The study reveals that more than 40% of all pregnant women in Pakistan are exposed to secondhand smoke—causing approximately 17,000 still births in a year.

Eating iron-fortified grain improves students' attention, memory

July 18, 2018
Adolescent students in a rural school in India who consumed an iron-biofortified version of the grain pearl millet exhibited improved attention and memory compared to those who consumed conventional pearl millet, according ...

Sugar improves memory in over-60s, helping them work smarter

July 18, 2018
Sugar improves memory in older adults – and makes them more motivated to perform difficult tasks at full capacity – according to new research by the University of Warwick.

Vaping tied to blood clots—in mice

July 18, 2018
A new study involving mice raises another concern about the danger of e-cigarettes in humans after experiments showed that short-term exposure to the device's vapors appeared to increase the risk of clot formation.

Lowering hospitals' Medicare costs proves difficult

July 18, 2018
A payment system that provides financial incentives for hospitals that reduce health-care costs for Medicare patients did not lower costs as intended, according to a new study led by Washington University School of Medicine ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.