The humble spice that gives curry powder its characteristic yellow color may hold the key to helping people lower their cholesterol and fight heart disease naturally, research suggests.
The spice in question, turmeric, has a long history of use as a traditional medicine across Asia. In recent years, Western scientists have conducted numerous studies on turmeric and the trio of yellow pigments that it contains known as curcuminoids.
The curcuminoids -sometimes simply called “curcumin” after the most famous of the three – are antioxidant polyphenols known to function as potent anti-inflammatory agents.
According to a study published in the journal Atherosclerosis in 2004, turmeric extract may reduce the susceptibility of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol to oxidation, an important step in the development of atherosclerosis and heart disease. Turmeric extract also reduced overall LDL and total cholesterol levels. Notably, the study found turmeric extract most beneficial at a lower rather than a higher dose.
Another more comprehensive study was conducted by French researchers in 2008, presented at the American Heart Association’s Basic Cardiovascular Sciences Annual Conference in 2009, and published in the journal Molecular Nutrition & Food Research in 2012.
Mice predisposed to develop atherosclerosis were fed either a control diet or the same diet plus curcumin supplements for four months. At the end of this time, researchers found 26 percent fewer fatty artery deposits in the mice fed the curcumin-enhanced diet. Fewer atherosclerotic lesions were seen in these mice. In addition, the researchers found that curcumin seemed to actually change the expression of genes related to plaque buildup in arteries.
Turmeric outperforms cholesterol-lowering drugs?
Another study on mice predisposed to heart disease was conducted by researchers from Kyungpook National University in South Korea and published in the journal Molecular Nutrition & Food Research in 2011. In this study, the mice were fed a high cholesterol diet that was supplemented either with curcumin, the cholesterol-lowering drug lovastatin, or a placebo.
After 18 weeks, the researchers found that just like lovastatin, curcumin lowered blood levels of cholesterol, triglycerides and LDL cholesterol, while increasing levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol. It also led to changes in gene expression that could be expected to reduce the risk of artery damage and heart disease.
“Long-term curcumin treatment lowers plasma and hepatic cholesterol and suppresses early atherosclerotic lesions comparable to the protective effects of lovastatin,” the researchers concluded. “The anti-atherogenic effect of curcumin is mediated via multiple mechanisms including altered lipid, cholesterol and immune gene expression.”
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