Early in 2017 a series of typical sensationalist style articles written by journalists (not scientists or even scientific journalists) have appeared online claiming that turmeric has been proven to be useless and a scam. Interestingly the article they are quoting from has not yet been published in a peer reviewed journal for peer review. Instead it gets reviewed and interpreted and shared by sensationalist journalist using it for “click bait” first.
Since the articles have excluded a lot of really important information to make room for controversial headlines I figured it would be good to track down the unpublished paper and have a look and see what it actually says in the 20 papers as opposed to the one page summaries.
The article was NOT on Turmeric
In 2016, Kathryn Nelson and friends at the University of Minnesota conducted a review of the published papers studying Curcumin. Now we need some perspective. The goal of this manuscript is to review curcumin extracted from turmeric (not review turmeric) for the purpose of looking for new drug candidates to make drugs.
So, what is curcumin?
Turmeric has the botanical name Curcuma longa. Curcumin is only about 5% of turmeric and it is only one of over a thousand curcuminoid analogues that are components of turmeric.
Relax, Turmeric still works
There is no controversy around the beneficial effects of Turmeric (Curcuma longa) the science behind turmeric is so abundant and impressive that people started to investigate how and why it is so good. Plus no one can patent and own turmeric so the race is on to discover the secret behind how turmeric works so they can find something to own and patent.
What is the controversy?
This article demonstrates that yes turmeric works; it is safe and effective; but we still do not know exactly how it works.
This is where the typical pharmaceutical model was employed to isolate active constituents and screen them to find a part of turmeric that does all of the work.
The typical pharmaceutical / drug model works on the concept that you need systemic absorption and delivery of isolated single compounds (e.g. from your gut to every cell of your body) to find and interact with a therapeutic target and force things to change in a healthy body does not always apply to natural medicine for so many reasons.
(I will write up another article to explain how and why drugs and natural medicines work differently and require different types of studies to show how they work).
Confirmation of a Holistic Theory
This article when read by a scientist for scientific purposes is absolute gold. In Science, we learn just as much from failure (often more) than from success. This paper highlights that most of curcuminoids do not have systemic delivery and activity. The major effects of these particular parts of turmeric are required within the gut, mucosa (MALT and GALT), enterohepatic circulation, liver and within the regions that it moves naturally. In these places, it can modulate immunity (80% of immune system is in the gut mucosa), anti-inflammatory and antioxidant NRF2 gene activation mainly occurs in these locations (this is our number 1 defence gene needed for survival and resilience to so many stressors), nervous system interactions to balance parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems can all occur at these local sites around the digestive tract.
You don’t need bioavailability and you don’t need black pepper
The article also confirms what we have been saying here at ATP forever is that using things like black pepper to enhance the absorption of curcuminoids to bypass the above-mentioned targets to improve bioavailability actually stops it from working. Adding Black pepper actually counteracts one of its major detoxification functions in the liver and gut. Glucuronidation is induced by NRF2 gene activation by turmeric to help detoxify things like xeno estrogens, estrogen and other pollutants, plastics etc. but black pepper blocks it so turmeric can sneak past the digestive system, mucosa and liver. But this is pointless because that is how and where it works.
Hook into turmeric while we still can
Don’t throw away your supplements, abuse an Indian, spit out your golden turmeric latte or anything drastic yet. Turmeric works. The only problem highlighted in this article is that the big pharma boys haven’t worked out how to make a patentable drug out of it yet.
The fact that there is over 9000 publications and 500 patents on turmeric and its constituents shows how hard the pharma industry is working to find the secret behind the magic is a fair indication they can see gold in turmeric. (that was a brilliant pun. Admit it. I bet you laughed a little)
Now none of the articles I read or that were sent to me had a reference list or link to the full text article for further reading so I had to track it down from the pieces of info I could find. If you want to read the full article it hasn’t yet been published but you can read it “ahead of print” here http://pubs.acs.org/doi/pdf/10.1021/acs.jmedchem.6b00975