Background: The world suffers a tsunami of chronic diseases, and a typhoon of acute illnesses, many of which are associated with the inappropriate or exaggerated activation of genes involved in inflammation. Finding therapeutic agents which can modulate the inflammatory reaction is the highest priority in medical research today. Drugs developed by the pharmaceutical industry have thus far been associated with toxicity and side effects, which is why natural substances are of increasing interest.
Methods: A literature search (PubMed) showed almost 1500 papers dealing with curcumin, most from recent years. All available abstracts were read. Approximately 300 full papers were reviewed.
Results: Curcumin, a component of turmeric, has been shown to be non-toxic, to have antioxidant activity, and to inhibit such mediators of inflammation as NFkappaB, cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2), lipooxygenase (LOX), and inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS). Significant preventive and/or curative effects have been observed in experimental animal models of a number of diseases, including arteriosclerosis, cancer, diabetes, respiratory, hepatic, pancreatic, intestinal and gastric diseases, neurodegenerative and eye diseases.
Conclusions: Turmeric, an approved food additive, or its component curcumin, has shown surprisingly beneficial effects in experimental studies of acute and chronic diseases characterized by an exaggerated inflammatory reaction. There is ample evidence to support its clinical use, both as a prevention and a treatment. Several natural substances have greater antioxidant effects than conventional vitamins, including various polyphenols, flavonoids and curcumenoids. Natural substances are worth further exploration both experimentally and clinically.