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Curcumin, also known as diferuloylmethane, is a photochemical found in the spice turmeric. It is a powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, and may help prevent the development of a variety of conditions related to oxidative and free-radical damage, including cataracts, heart disease, and cancer.

Laboratory studies have shown that curcumin inhibits the production of lipoxygenase and cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2), two enzymes that are involved in promoting and maintaining inflammation in the body. By reducing the effects of these enzymes, curcumin may help relieve inflammation symptoms of arthritis sufferers. Indian researchers found that turmeric (the spice in which curcumin naturally occurs) was as effective as prescription nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) when used to treat joint pain and swelling in people with arthritis, without side effects such as abdominal bleeding or stomach upset commonly associated with prolonged use of NSAIDs.

Curcumin is currently being studied for its possible use in preventing or slowing the progression Alzheimer’s disease. (It has been theorized that Alzheimer’s may be caused, at least in part, by inflammation in the brain.)

Curcumin helps prevent the DNA mutations that can lead to cancer. In one study, smokers that took just 1 teaspoon of turmeric each day for 30 days had lower levels of cancer-causing mutagens in their urine. Researchers at the University of Chicago found that curcumin also inhibits the growth of H. pylori, a bacteria believed to cause stomach and colon cancer.

Curcumin keeps the heart healthy by preventing a plaque build-up in the arteries, which can lead to atherosclerosis. In one study, participants taking just 500 milligrams of curcumin each day significantly reduced their cholesterol levels in as little as 10 days. Preliminary research indicates that curcumin may also help lower blood pressure and prevent blood clots.

A natural detoxifier, curcumin helps protect the liver from the damaging effects of alcohol, toxic chemicals, and even some pharmaceutical drugs. It also stimulates the production of bile, which is needed to digest fat, and kills salmonella bacteria and protozoa that can cause diarrhea. Commission E, a group of experts that evaluates the safety and efficacy of herbs for the German government, approves the use of turmeric for indigestion.

Both tumeric and curcumin supplements are also available in capsule and liquid extract form. However, curcumin supplements have been found to be more effective for treatment of arthritis. Follow dosage instructions on the packaging.

No toxic side effects have been linked to the use of curcumin, but people taking blood thinners should not use this herb medicinally, as it may increase the action of these medications.

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