What is curcumin?

Most people will be familiar with a spice called ‘turmeric’ as it is a staple spice in cuisine and often used when cooking curry. Turmeric’s original form is that of a flowering plant which belongs to the ginger family of Zingiberaceae.

Curcumin is the yellow pigment found in a turmeric plant and it has many uses for which it is sold, such as being a herbal supplement, cosmetics ingredient and food colourant.


What are the medical benefits of curcumin?

Curcumin has a ton of potential health benefits, many of which have been extensively researched and proven. In the health industry, curcumin is primarily used as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, however it’s also beneficial for cardiovascular health, bone health, joint health, cognitive health, brain function and general health.

There is strong evidence to support that curcumin plays a notable role in increasing the following:

  • An individual’s anti-oxidant enzyme profile
  • Functionality in elderly or injured individuals
  • An individual’s nitric oxide levels

Multiple studies also show that curcumin plays a notable role in decreasing the following:

  • Symptoms of depression
  • Inflammation
  • Physical pain
  • Symptoms of osteoarthritis

Along with the above, there is also evidence which proves that curcumin can have a minor effect on the following:

  • Reducing symptoms of anxiety
  • Decreasing blood pressure
  • Decreasing C-reactive protein
  • Reducing general oxidation
  • A decrease in lipid peroxidation
  • Increased blood flow
  • A reduction in cell adhesion factors
  • Reduced risk for colon cancer
  • Improved kidney function
  • Reducing symptoms of ulcerative colitis

Evidence has also shown that curcumin has no significant effect on the following:

  • Total cholesterol levels
  • LDL-C levels
  • Blood glucose levels
  • Heart rate
  • Liver enzymes


Two significant studies

Let’s take a closer look at two of the numerous studies which have been done to prove the health benefits of curcumin supplementation.


Study 1: The effects of curcumin on the health of healthy people

The Department of Human Nutrition at The Ohio State University conducted a study to test whether a low dose of a lipidated curcumin extract could have any effect on the general health of healthy people – not just those with existing health problems.

The study was done over a four-week period on healthy, middle aged individuals (40 – 60 years old) whereby the subjects were either given a low dose of 80mg of curcumin per day, or placebo. Before and after the four period, saliva and blood samples were taken and analyzed. 

It was found that curcumin had a variety of potentially health-promoting effects on the healthy, middle aged individuals who took part in this study. Some of these effects included a decrease in plasma triglyceride values, decreased salivary amylase levels, increased salivary radical scavenging capacities, an increase in plasma myeloperoxidase without increased c-reactive protein levels, and an increase in plasma nitric oxide levels.

Here are 3 graphs depicting some notable effects of curcumin, based on this study:

  • Figure 1 depicts the effects of curcumin on plasma triglycerides and cholesterol concentrations (mg/dl).
  • Figure 2 depicts the effects of curcumin on plasma concentrations of nitric oxide (μM x 10) and soluble intercellular adhesion molecule (sICAM)(ng/ml).
  • Figure 3 depicts the effects of curcumin on saliva activities of amylase (U/L) and antioxidant status (μM of copper reducing equivalents)


Figure 1

Figure 2

Figure 3


Study 2: The effects of curcumin and saffron as a treatment for major depression

The School of Psychology and Exercise Science at Murdoch University in Perth, Australia conducted a study to test the effects of curcumin and saffron as a treatment for major depression.

This study was conducted on 123 random individuals, between the ages of 18 and 64 years old, with major depressive disorder. The subjects were treated with one of four conditions for a period of twelve weeks:

  • Placebo
  • Low-dose curcumin extract (250mg b.i.d)
  • High-dose curcumin extract (500mg b.i.d)
  • Combined low-dose curcumin extract plus saffron (15mg b.i.d)

The Inventory of Depressive Symptomatology self-rated version (IDS-SR30) and Spielberger State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI) were the outcome measures for this study.

The results showed that STAI-state ad STAI-trait scores were significantly improved in the subjects who were treated with curcumin, as well as the curcumin plus saffron treatment. It was also found that the treatments containing curcumin resulted in greater improvements in depressive symptoms, compared to placebo. There was no difference found in the effectiveness of low-dose curcumin extract versus either high-dose curcumin extract or the combined low-dose of curcumin extract plus saffron.

The conclusion of this study was that depressive and anxiolytic symptoms in people with major depressive disorder were effectively reduced by treatments comprising of curcumin and/or a combination of curcumin and saffron.


In Summary

Curcumin has been shown to have numerous health benefits for individuals of all ages with various mental and physical health problems, as well as individuals who are generally healthy to begin with.


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