There’s been a lot of research done on curcumin in recent years. Curcumin is found in turmeric, a spice that’s one of the key components of curry powder. It has powerful anti-inflammatory properties and has been used to make traditional medicines for thousands of years.
Studies have shown curcumin can help relieve serious skin inflammation, reduce stroke damage, control ulcerative colitis and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. The compound also has shown the potential to fight a variety of cancers, including blood cancer, stomach cancer, prostate cancer and lung cancer.
As if these health benefits weren’t enough, it may also help protect the health of another vital organ — your liver.
The spice that fights liver disease
Researchers at Saint Louis University (SLU) discovered curcumin could potentially prevent or treat damage caused by an increasingly common advanced form of fatty liver disease.
The in-vitro laboratory study identified curcumin as having promise in staving off nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), a liver disease connected with obesity and weight gain.
You may be more familiar with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). About 25 percent of adults in the U.S. have NAFLD, and of those, about 20 percent have NASH (five percent of adults). NASH can lead to liver fibrosis and potential cirrhosis, liver cancer and death.
Dr. Anping Chen, director of research in SLU’s pathology department, notes his laboratory is studying the molecular mechanism of liver fibrosis and searching for natural ways to prevent and treat it.
“While research in an animal model and human clinical trials are needed, our study suggests that curcumin may be an effective therapy to treat and prevent liver fibrosis, which is associated with non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH),” he says.
Human patients with obesity and type 2 diabetes commonly have high levels of leptin, glucose and insulin in their blood, all of which could contribute to liver fibrosis caused by NASH. The researchers found high levels of leptin activate hepatic stellate cells, causing them to overproduce a type of collagen protein that’s a major feature of liver fibrosis.
During the SLU study, researchers discovered curcumin kept leptin from activating these hepatic stellate cells, interrupting the development of liver damage.
A separate study of curcumin in mice with NASH found it also reduced the level of fibrosis and fat retention in the liver and significantly reduced several inflammatory markers. In addition, treatment with curcumin stopped NASH from progressing to liver cancer in the mice.
Getting your body to absorb curcumin
For all its excellent benefits, curcumin has one big drawback. It’s difficult for the body to absorb because it’s fat-soluble rather than water-soluble. Researchers are working on developing nanoparticle formulations of curcumin, which can increase absorption rates anywhere from 100 to 400 percent.
For now, one way to increase its bioavailability is to consume it with piperine, a compound in black pepper. Many supplements already combine curcumin with piperine or black pepper to increase the effectiveness of the curcumin.
It also helps to take curcumin with healthy fats such as those found in avocados, olive oil or coconut oil. One delicious way to get your daily dose of the golden spice is to whip up a golden milk latte containing turmeric, black pepper and coconut oil. Another is to have an Indian curry dish for lunch or dinner, since curry is often made with both turmeric and black pepper, as well as a fat, like yogurt, coconut milk or cream.
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Spice in curry could prevent liver damage — ScienceDaily
Curcumin ameliorates liver damage and progression of NASH in NASH-HCC mouse model possibly by modulating HMGB1-NF-κB translocation — International Immunopharmacology
What is fatty liver disease — LiverFoundation.org
Authentic Indian Curry Recipes — The Spruce Eats