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You are here: Skin & Nutrition >

Curcumin may help spice up your regimen for disease prevention, longevity and healthy skin.

Many people feel that if a treatment or preventive remedy is inexpensive it can't be seriously effective. Perhaps this feeling comes from a subconscious belief that good things are supposed to cost good money, i.e. you get what you pay for. Or perhaps we have been hypnotized by clever marketers. Either way, this belief is often unfounded. Inexpensive remedies can be effective. For example, regular exercise costs next to nothing yet improves cardiovascular health. Cutting calories and simple carbohydrates may prolong life while saving you money at the same time. Curcumin appears to be another good case in point - at least as far as disease prevention and anti-aging are concerned.

Curcumin is a yellow pigment found in turmeric, a common Eastern spice also known as curry. It has been consumed by hundreds of millions of humans for over two thousand years, apparently without detriment. It is inexpensive and widely available. Turmeric is primarily used as a spice but it is a traditional healing remedy as well. As far as safety record goes, few drugs even come close. However, such good safety record is of interest only because curcumin appears to have an array of health benefits, some more proven than others.

Curcumin exhibits many potentially beneficial properties (including anticancer, antioxidant, antiarthritic, anti-amyloid and anti-inflammatory), which appear to translate in preventive and therapeutic action against a number of degenerative diseases.

First, there is reasonably strong evidence that curcumin is a neuroprotector and, in particular, reduces the risk of Alzheimer's disease and other types of senile dementia. Many animal and tissue culture studies demonstrated strong neuroprotective effects of curcumin. Also, senile dementia appears to be much less prevalent in populations consuming large amount of curry. In India, where curry use is particularly common, Alzheimer's is unusually rare (less than 1% of people over 65 are affected). Second, curcumin seems to reduce several types of inflammation and is possibly useful in treating arthritis and other inflammatory conditions. Third, curcumin also appears to be modestly useful in preventing some types of cancer and perhaps cardiovascular disease.

Could these proven and potential benefits of taking curcumin translate into longer lifespan? Comprehensive studies are lacking. One study in mice demonstrated an about 10-15% increase in average and maximum lifespan. Further research is needed to confirm that and determine whether curcumin has any overall longevity benefits in humans. However, considering its extensive record of safe, long-term use in many human cultures, it may worth a try as a general preventive measure even before more human studies are completed.

People who do not consume a lot of curry in their diet could use supplements of the standardized turmeric extract containing 95% of curcuminoids. Doses up to 2,000 mg of such extract rarely cause any side effects except possibly a gastro-intestinal upset. To avoid any GI discomform, it is best to take curcumin with food, especially considering that fat in the food enhances the absorption of curcuminoids. Some studies used even higher doses, up to 8,000 mg of curcumin a day, but such doses often cause diarrhea and their long-term safety is unknown.

Unfortunately, the absorption of curcumin from the GI tract is low albeit it is somewhat increased by food, especially food containing oil or fat. Notably, some newer curcumin formulations appear to provide a much higher absorption rate by employing absorption enhancers or nanoparticulation. We discuss the benefits, risks and optimal use of various types of curcumin supplements in Longevity In a Pill Infopack.

Curcumin for skin rejuvenation

If you asked a dermatologist or skin care scientist what features they would want in a beneficial skin care ingredient, the answer may include the ability to neutralize free radicals, reduce inflammation, modulate abnormal cell growth, reduce UV damage, and inhibit accumulation of age-related pigments. Interestingly enough, curcumin's resume matches all of the above quite well. Also, considering that skin is a lipid rich tissue (just as the brain is), curcumin may turn out to be not just neuroprotector but skin protector as well.

That said, the research into the effects of curcumin on skin aging is scant or absent (depending on where you draw the quality line). There is some evidence that topical curcuminoids reduce the incidence of skin tumors in mice as well as partly prevent UV damage. However, realistic human clinical studies are required to assess practical skin benefits of curcumin, if any.

Considering good safety profile of curcumin, you may decide not to wait for research studies and try to reap its potential skin benefits today. You could simply take curcumin supplements for the sake of overall health and hope to get skin benefits as well. You could also (or instead) try curcumin topically. However, there are two potential problems with topical approach. First, optimal use of topical curcumin has not been researched. A few skin creams with various forms of curcumin are available on the market, but optimal concentrations, co-actives and vehicles remain unclear. Second, sufficiently concentrated curcumin may give your skin a yellowish tint that you may not like. The tint can be avoided by using a colorless curcumin metabolite, tetrahydrocucumin, instead of curcumin itself. Tetrahydrocuccumin appears to possess many of benefits of curcumin (antioxidant, anti-inflammatory) albeit it is unclear whether it can replace curcumin in every respect. Notably, tetrahydrocucumin has been found to inhibit the synthesis of the skin pigment melanin and, therefore, may have skin-lightening effect. Unfortunately, as of the time of this writing, good skin care products with tetrahydrocucumin are at least as hard to find as those with curcumin.


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