Curcumin: A New Weight Loss Solution?

Curcumin is the active medicinal compound present in turmeric. A recent review in Korea examined curcumin’s role in reducing obesity. Reviewers also looked at its role in the treatment of obesity related metabolic diseases such as diabetes, hyperlipidemia, and cardiovascular diseases. They especially concentrated on studies exploring the mechanism of how curcumin acts. Most of the studies show that curcumin, through different complicated pathways, causes a reduction in cholesterol levels, in inflammation, and in blood glucose level in persons with diabetes.

The incidence of obesity is on an epidemic increase over the past two decades. According to a survey, more than 25 percent of Americans are currently obese. Obesity increases the risk of developing hypertension, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and stroke. Apart from this, obesity is responsible for 11 percent of the cancers of large intestine, 39 percent cancers of the uterus, and 25 percent cancers of the kidney. Inflammation is identified as a key component not only during the development of obesity, but also in various complications associated with obesity. The anti-inflammatory property of curcumin is well established. The turmeric herb has the potential to reduce obesity and also its associated co-morbidities. Curcumin has also been found to have beneficial effects in the physiology and metabolism of liver and adipose tissue. Confirmation of these findings by elucidating the mechanisms of actions of curcumin may help in adding a novel drug for the treatment of obesity. In this current review, researchers tried to review various studies carried out to explore the beneficial effects of curcumin.

Researchers retrieved from the internet studies conducted to investigate the effect of curcumin on obesity. Articles published between 2000 and 2010 were included in the review. The first set of articles focused on the mechanisms of anti-inflammatory effect of curcumin in obesity related metabolic diseases. The second set included studies on the effect of curcumin on fat cells and cells in the liver and pancreas. Articles on animal experiments were also included in the review. Finally, articles on studies conducted on human beings to measure the glucose- and lipid-reducing capacity of curcumin were reviewed.
Results/Key findings
* Curcumin decreases the levels of substances that promote inflammation, such as interleukins and tumor necrosis factor. Curcumin also blocks the receptors to which these factors bind to trigger inflammatory effects. Curcumin blocks various intracellular signaling pathways, which are involved in the genesis of complications of obesity.
* Curcumin prevents maturation of fat cells so that they are unable to store fats. It increases the glucose uptake by cells and thus decreases the levels of glucose in blood. It inhibits stellate cells in the liver, which are associated with nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, a condition involving fat deposition, liver inflammation and damage in obese people. Curcumin protects beta cells which secrete insulin in the pancreas.
* Animal experiments showed that curcumin enhances the capacity of the heart to withstand physiological disturbances. Less damage to blood vessels was found in rats that were fed curcumin.
* Studies on humans showed that curcumin is able to decrease glucose concentration and bad cholesterol levels in the blood. It is also useful in decreasing the symptoms of osteoarthritis and uveitis, a form of red eye.

Shortcomings/Next steps
Although previous studies have identified the beneficial effects of curcumin, there is a need to elucidate details about its absorption, metabolism, and excretion from the body. Further studies are also needed to identify any side-effects of this compound with long term use. If both these facts are clearly understood, curcumin can be used safely in the treatment of obesity.

This review has highlighted the beneficial effects of curcumin in reducing obesity and its associated complications. There is a rapid increase in the cost of health care in recent years. With the low price of the turmeric herb, curcumin may prove to be a safe and cheap alternative to the anti-obesity drugs being used at present. In conclusion, “these findings support the existence of direct and indirect molecular mechanisms by which curcumin inhibits several inflammatory pathways that are responsible for obesity and obesity-related metabolic diseases.” There is a need to confirm the beneficial effects of curcumin and identify its side-effects by doing larger systematic clinical trials.

For More Information:
New Mechanisms and the Anti-inflammatory Role of Curcumin in Obesity and Obesity Related Metabolic Diseases
Publication Journal: European Journal of Nutrition, March 2011
By Adeeb Shehzad; Taewook Ha
From the Kyungpook National University, Buk-ku, Daegu, Korea

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.

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