[ed. note: Michael Jorrin, who I like to call Doc Gumshoe, is a longtime medical writer (not a doctor) who writes about non-financial health and medical issues for us a couple times a month. Like all of our authors, he chooses his own topics and his words and opinions are his alone. Enjoy!]
We’re talking about curcumin, of course. The hype, which comes at us in all directions like no-see-‘ems in hot sticky weather, would have us believe that it’s a cure for every disease under the sun and every other celestial body. The actual scientific backup for these claims is skimpy and insubstantial. I don’t think I would have risen to the bait proffered by this particular lengthy over-the-top promotion, except that it provides an opportunity to delve into at least three potentially interesting questions, to wit:
One, what is really known about the potential benefits of curcumin/turmeric, other than as a pleasing seasoning in many Asian dishes?
Two, is there really a single common pathology that accounts for the harms caused by – in the words of the particular promotional piece that came to my attention – “all 619 known diseases?”
Three, is it the case that, given the insufficiency of micronutrients in our diets, “supplementation is mandatory?” This last injunction comes from a comment to the recent Doc Gumshoe piece about diets, and, although it had nothing to do with the particular micronutrients (if any) in curcumin, it does have specific – if somewhat tangential – relevance.
For Gumshoe denizens who have been paying attention to other perhaps more important matters, such as the fate of the nation and the world, curcumin is a yellow substance in the rhizomes of the turmeric plant, Curcuma longa. Those rhizomes, which are sort of root clumps like ginger, are cooked, dried, and used as spices in many Asian curries. Curcumin is used in cosmetics mostly because of its color, and has recently become one of the darlings of the supplements industry, as per the promotion we’re looking at.
Just to show you what this particular spiel looks like, here’s how it leads off:
You notice that right off the bat it claims to be a pill for every disease – and to have no side effects. Now, you might quibble that it doesn’t actually claim to be a cure for every disease. But wait – there’s more!
“Studies have documented its ability to cure 619 diseases — virtually everything that affects your health.
Kills 16-times more cancer cells than the leading chemo drug Eloxatin — without harming healthy cells (International Journal of Oncology)
“‘It’s 400-times more potent than the diabetes drug Metformin’ — reports Auburn University researchers (Journal of Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications)
“Performs better in memory tests than the drug Aricept (the most widely prescribed Alzheimer’s drug)— Salk Institute for Biological Studies
“More effectively treats Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) than Prozac — without Prozac’s devastating side effects, according to a randomized, controlled study.
“Lowers cholesterol and triglyceride levels better than the statin drug Lipitor (Journal of Drug Research and Development)
“Treats chronic uveitis — a leading cause of blindness — better than corticosteroids... the only available prescription treatment (Journal of Phytotherapy Research)
“Beats Celebrex for relieving knee arthritis pain (Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine)
“Relieves rheumatoid arthritis pain better than Ibuprofen (Journal of Phytotherapy Research)
“‘Therapeutic effects are comparable to pharmaceutical NSAIDs… but with a major difference in that this compound is nontoxic and free of side effects.‘ – Vanderbilt and University of Pittsburgh researchers (Journal of Surgical Neurology International)
“‘Could enhance erectile function with more efficacy and more prolonged duration of action than Viagra’ (International Journal of Impotence Research)
“‘More effective in stopping the protein fragments from forming than many other drugs being tested to treat Alzheimer’s’ – UCLA Alzheimer’s Department and Veterans Affairs researchers (Journal of Biological Chemistry)
“Destroys more colon cancer stem cells than FOLFOX (one of the most widely prescribed chemotherapy protocols) – Baylor University researchers”
And then, to tie it up in a neat bow, this quote:
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“This shows promising effects to prevent and cure every chronic disease including cancer.”
— Biochemist Dr. Bharat Aggarwal, PhD, former researcher at MD Anderson Cancer Center
Where to start the sleuthing process?
Unfortunately, Dr Aggarwal is not the ideal choice to endorse this “cure.” Perhaps you notice that he is a “former researcher” at MD Anderson. As it happens, Dr Aggarwal has been charged with fraud, and is no longer at MD Anderson. He is