Turmeric: Friend or foe?
Everywhere you look... Whatever social platform you're visiting... there seems to be a post, an ad or an article about the wonderful benefits of turmeric, most particulalrly its most active compounds: curcumin.
Over the years, many people have resulted to taking turmeric extract on a daily basis to decrease the feeling of pain and other issues, believing they are inflammed and turmeric thei new weapon. And so, they take supplements containing curcumin without changing their diet or lifestyle, and for the most part, taking these supplements daily.
Most don't know what they are taking, because — as it stands — curcumin is poorly-absorbed by the body. Many manufacturers are also selling cheaper supplements in the hope to maximise income while 'the iron is hot', and these supplements are simply wasted. Not only because they are inefective but they may bring a worse outcome, because of the fillers (wheat, rice, etc.), binders and additives (sugar, artificial sweeteners) they also contain.
It is of the utmost importance to buy supplements from trusted companies, that have had their products backed by research. It is also important to read labels. You may be surprised to find ingredients that should not be allowed in any health supplements and so these create more problems than they solve.
Also, we NEED to distance ourselves from the 'one-pill-for-one-ailment' belief,
We have been formated by the pharmaceutical industry over decades to only trust our doctors and to pop a pill whenever needed, because it will solve all of our problems. And yet, we are sicker (and fatter) than ever, and pills come with a great cost to our health -- and, with an amazing long-list of side effects, that may be worse than the initial problem. Sometimes causing the very problem they are supposed to solve.
'Side-effects' is simply a clever term used to defined symptoms that the industry -- and so doctors -- is not interested in. But in fact, side-effects are DIRECT-effects of these pills. These don't represent a small risk, these are an assurance that you will have more problems taking them. All the while, because you are told about it, the laboratory can wash its hand from all that can happen to you as a result of taking their formulations, which are for the most part addicitive (e.g. painkillers like NSAIDs and antidepressants), because of the inevitable (and horrible) way we feel if we ever stop taking them.
It could not be more obviou... Greedy laboratories are after your money not so much about 'resolving' your health issues. Yet, most people continue on the same path, because 1) they don't know any better, 2) don't want to know, 3) want quick relief and shortcuts to feeling better, 4) simply do not care about their health and just want to be 'treated' for their extremely damaging dietary habits and lifestyle, and other bad choices.
Some of these people have changed course and instead seek answer from naturopathic nutritional medicine, with the same goal in mind. A quick fix.
But our body don't work this way -- all of our body's systems work in unison. Our cells communicate with each other and when something goes wrong, they ring the alarm, and energy is diverted to deal with the problem, energy that was supposed to be used for digestion, or brain function, for example.
Eating a bad diet and exposing our cells to a long-list of chemicals via the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe and what we apply on our skin, or put inside our bodies (e.g. drugs, antibiotics, and most damaging of all, sugar)
Let's get back to turmeric.
You have surely heard of 'Golden milk' or other superfoods made of turmeric (or curcumin). You have probably bought pills, powders and mixtures, becasue you thought they would make you healthier, or if it is the case, to reduce the feeling of pain — because turmeric is proven to be a remarkable anti-inflammatory plant product.
Indeed, turmeric can have wonderful effects on the human body (as an antioxidant-rich food) and the sensation of pain (as an active pain-killing property). It can be used as a painkiller, antidepressant, and general anti-inflammatory medicine. It can help with skin conditions and arthritis, which are symptoms that manifest from inflammatory responses — more often than not — occuring in the gut as a direct result of diet and lifestyle, stress or overwhem, or a combination of it all.
It is thus important to consider all of these factors before supplementing with any food, extract or drugs.
Because we are all different.
We have inherited the genetic make-up of both our parents, which inherited it from their parents, and every DNA mutations passed on to the next generation, while at the same time our world is increasingly polluted, our food processed and the water we drink a daily source of very toxic substances.
It wouldn't be so much of a problem, if a few SNPs (pronounced as 'snips', Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms) are present in our long DNA chain. SNPs are the most common type of genetic variation among people. Each SNP represents a difference in a single DNA building block, called a nucleotide. (see video above to understand the concept better).
But our genes are not are destiny, but in some case inherited traits can play against us...
And if we don't take preemptive measure, these traits may develop to a disease, to which they are associated.
A bit of genetics …
As a species, we are all humans, but we are all genetically different, even though we all share similarities -- we look mostly identical (2 arms, 2 legs, hair on top of our head), and also perhaps our body function in a similar way (digestion, immunity, brain function). But this doesn’t mean our bodies work in the exact same way. We are all unique.
As individuals, the genes we inherited from our parents, our environment and our special circumstances (mode of delivery, long-term use of antibiotics, particularly soon after birth, food allergies and sensitivities) make us different.
These differences influence how we react to different things, including the food we eat like carbs, fats, salt, caffeine, alcohol, the stuff with breathe in, apply to and absorb through our skin, or ingest, like toxicants, drugs, and more, and the way we feel and think, and behave (stress, anxiety, depression, addictions, etc.).
There’s a gene called CYP1A2 (cytochrome P450 1A2), which is responsible for producing a specific liver enzyme. The main function of enzymes, is to break down substances into active molecules, without changing themselves, and so can do repeat this action again and again, so that the pocess is continuous and uninterrupted.
For example, digestive enzymes, help break down larger particles of food into smaller, assimilable molecules, that are then able to be assimilated by the cells of the brush border of the intestines. Enzymes are found everywhere, in every of our cells, and most particularly in the cells of the liver, which assist with the breakdown and elimination of toxins, metabolic waste and microbial byproducts.
Glutathione is a well-known antioxidant enzyme our body relies upon to fight free radicals, which are naturally-produced via cellular respiration and energy production. Superoxide dismutase (SOD) constitutes another very important antioxidant defense against oxidative stress in the body. The enzyme acts as a good therapeutic agent against reactive oxygen species-mediated diseases (i.e. free radical-led diseases).(1), (2)
CYP1A2 is also responsible for the metabolism of estrogens and caffeine...
The action of a specific enzyme can be overriden -- increasing or decreasing the speed and result of the enzymatic processeses. In other terms, every enzyme has inducers (make the enzyme more active) and inhibitors (reduce the activity of the enzyme).
Another factor is heat. Enzymes are proteins and proteins are very sensitive to increased temperature (fever, port-exercising), and may change their shape, which make them unable to function.
But what about tumeric? Can any of its active molecules play the role of inhibitors or inducers on certain enzymes?
I like to imagine our set of genes (our DNA) as a steel chain, made of many links. We all have heard the saying, "a chain is as strong as it weakest link." Indeed, a chain is never perfect, and the weakest links in our chain of genes can positively or negatively play on our ability to fight free radicals and prevent damage, and so be healthy or develop diseases to which we may be predisposed.
But, these weaknesses can greatly impact on enzymatic function, at any level in our body. SNPs on this particular CYP1A2 gene means that there’s a weak link (a 'mistake' in the coding) in the chain at this gene. For some people, this is translated by weaker enzyme function, or for some other, a severe reduction in activity, and effect.
People without SNPs (the most majority, perhaps) can consume turmeric (or curcumin extract) without suffering at all — absence of side-effects or symptoms.
For people who do, the picture is entirely different. They may also be asymptomatic (symptom-free), but this is not to say that turmeric (curcumin) is not affecting enzymatic function in the liver. Turmeric is a CYP1A2 enzyme inhibitor. It makes this enzyme less effective.
Let's use a comparable image.
Lets say, you want to vacuum your carpets.
There could be two issues that could either make the process effortless or a real chore.
There could be a setting on your vacuum-cleaner to increase or decrease the speed of the fan, Turning the knob to high-speed would increase the speed (inducer) or if you turn the knob to the lowest setting, the suction will be greatly reduced (inhibitor). These two settings would be represented by particular SNPs on the CYP1A2.
But more players are involved. Imagine that the settings are on the maximum and yet, the suction is not optimal and you are vacuuming for hours instead of a few minutes. Something may be blocking the airflow. Diet, alcohol, smoking and other components play a similar inhibitory role on some enzymes. And, tumeric has a similar inhibitory effect on the CYP1A2 enzyme.
Remember that this enzyme is responsible for processing, and clear detoxified estrogen, and xenoestrogens.
Xenoestrogens are molecules that mimic and severely disrupt our own estrogens (levels and action). Xenoestrogens are everywhere — they are present in products also known as hormone-disrupters. In most cosmetic and personal care producst (makeup, shower gels, etc.), in plastics, household and industrial pesticides, artificial food colourings, preservatives…
People with SNPs on CYP1A2 enzymes may have a harder time clearing their own hormones (oestrogens), and struggling to cope with circulating xenoestrogens continuously added from the diet, beauty products, and food packaging. These people will struggle even more if they take trumeric (or cucumin extract).
The balance of oestrogens in the body is a very highly-regulated system, but when xenoestrogens are implicated, the process may come out of blance and many can develop what is called "oestrogen-dominance syndrome", which can manifest as breast cancer and reproductive system issues (inferitlity, endometriosis), an cancer.
But it is not solely a female problem. Many men are also more and more affected.
Regularly consuming large amounts of turmeric or supplementing with curcumin extract would only make matters worse and exacerbate symptoms of oestrogen disturbances but also of the effect of some drugs. Because the enzyme is also responsible for clearing out some drugs, if its function is inhibited, drugs may stay longer in the body and their efect multiplied, increasing the risk of side-effects and more problems on the long-term.
Therefore, there are three possible outcomes:
Except for the first, all other people should avoid taking turmeric or supplementing regularly, or at all.
1. Younus H. (2018). Therapeutic potentials of superoxide dismutase. International journal of health sciences, 12(3), pp. 88–93.
2. Pizzorno J. (2014). Glutathione!. Integrative medicine (Encinitas, Calif.), 13(1), pp. 8–12.
Registered Naturopath, Nutritional Therapist, Iridologist, Lecturer, NLP practitioner and Personal Performance Coach.
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