Name that chemical: “Curcumin”


You should never take health advice from some random dude sitting in a beach chair, especially if he has potato chip crumbs on his shirt. But, don’t worry, I’ve got no advice to give, just a few observations about something called turmeric and a related chemical, curcumin.

Turmeric is a spice that’s supposed to be good for you. It’s yellow and it’s what gives curry its color. It is related to the ginger plant and, in fact, the word for turmeric in Chinese is “yellow ginger.”

It is said to reduce inflammation. We’re apparently vulnerable to inflammation without even knowing it. So we might look OK on the outside, but our gizzards, or whatever internal workings keep the lights on, can be inflamed anyway. Many serious health problems are said to be rooted in chronic inflammation.

Now, you’re probably going to ask me, “Said by whom?” Well, I will answer that. It was said by some guy I once heard on a late-night radio show. And he wasn’t just any guy. He was, as a matter of fact, a very convincing guy.

I forgot all about that particular convincing guy for a while, but I soon noticed that normal, everyday people were talking about turmeric. It’s got quite a following as an herbal health supplement. Well, if the smart, sophisticated folks were buying this stuff, typically as 1-lb. tubs of ground turmeric root, I sure didn’t want to get left behind. So I bought a tub of the stuff, too.

Thus began my turmeric regimen. And thus ended it, too. I never figured out a way to conveniently consume the stuff. Just stir it into a cup of something, they said. Well, I insist on keeping coffee just that, coffee, but I did try turmeric in my tea. I have lots of tea, because I prefer coffee. People give me tea, because I prefer coffee. So this turmeric things was an excuse to balance my inventory. Unfortunately, this experiment didn’t do either the tea or the turmeric any favors.

Now what? Put it in soup, they said. Egads, we’ve gone from being a mere supplement to being a driving force behind meal planning. No, thanks.

I do have a practical solution, though: doughnuts. If Winchell’s could mix turmeric into a doughnut, the problem would be solved.

After my 1-lb. container of turmeric found its way to the nook of the pantry where I keep spare faucet washers and a 22-year-old jar of pimentos, an article in Forbes crossed my desk. Forbes mentioned that UCLA had done a study related to turmeric, so I looked up some of UCLA’s Web postings.

The active ingredient of turmeric, or at least the main active ingredient, is something called “curcumin.” According to UCLA, only 5 percent to 10 percent of turmeric is curcumin. UCLA had very positive things to say about the health effects of curcumin.

There are various issues pertaining to “absorption” and “ bioavailability” of curcumin. Just because you eat it doesn’t mean your body is going to make full use of it. Since UCLA’s scope of interest here was brain health, bioavailability is a tougher nut to crack, because our brains are well-filtered from the usual junk circulating in our bodies. So the University of California Regents and Veteran’s Affairs developed and patented a technique to improve curcumin’s bioavialability for the brain. They licensed this process, called “Longvida,” to an outfit called Verdure Sciences.

How this specific context meshes with the general health context is an issue I’ve yet to resolve. Would a Longvida-process curcumin capsule be a better general supplement than a teaspoon or two of turmeric powder? I don’t know. It’s certainly an option for those so inclined, and I’ve noticed that several brands of curcumin capsules are on the market.

Anyway, that’s where we are with the turmeric and curcumin thing.

If you’ve got any wisdom, you can send it along. With you, UCLA, and, hopefully, Winchell’s on the case, I know this matter is in very good hands.

In the meantime, as you can see, I’ve still got a half-bag of potato chips to keep me occupied. Here, have a few. As the French say: “A Sante!” To health!

Ed Stephens Jr. | Special to the Saipan Tribune
Visit Ed Stephens Jr. at His column runs every Friday.

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