Integrative Medicine: Curcumin may aid diabetes fight

09/20/2012 12:00 AM

09/19/2012 1:36 PM

Type 2 diabetes, also known as adult-onset diabetes, occurs in epidemic proportions in the West and is also becoming a huge problem in other parts of the world that have adopted our Western diet.

The diabetes epidemic is expected to add a huge burden to the cost of health care in the United States, so anything that helps curb the incidence of diabetes is of great interest to health care professionals and the public these days. A recent study suggests that turmeric, the spice used in Indian curries, may help to prevent diabetes.

In this study from the American Diabetic Association, 240 people with pre-diabetes (mildly elevated blood sugar) were randomized to receive either 1,500 mg of curcumin every day in divided doses or a placebo for nine months.

Curcumin is felt to be the primary active ingredient in turmeric. At the end of the study, none of the people who was taking the curcumin capsules had developed diabetes, compared with more than 16 percent of those taking the placebo pills. The cells of the pancreas, which produce insulin, were also healthier at the completion of the study.

Turmeric has been used in Ayurveda, the traditional health system of India, for thousands of years. It seems to reduce inflammation and has traditionally been used to treat arthritis and digestive ailments. It has also been studied for numerous other medical conditions, including inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis and cancer.

The curcumin in turmeric is not absorbed well when taken on an empty stomach. Black pepper, also known as piperine, inhibits the breakdown of curcumin; when curcumin is taken with both black pepper as well as fat, absorption is significantly increased. Some curcumin supplements are formulated with pepper so you don't have to take them separately. If you are taking curcumin for heartburn, however, it might be best to take it on an empty stomach so it stays in the gut.

Curcumin supplements are generally well tolerated, but can cause gastrointestinal upset, especially if taken in high doses. They may also interfere with blood clotting, so they should be used with caution in anyone taking blood thinners; they should also be discontinued prior to surgery.

Turmeric can also stimulate the gallbladder, so it should be avoided by those with gall- stones. Safety has not been established for pregnant or breastfeeding women, or for children, so it should be avoided in these groups, too.

Finally, some turmeric products in the past have been contaminated with lead. To obtain reliable information on safe and effective dietary supplements, consider subscribing to ConsumerLab.com; a one-year subscription is $33.

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