Michael Turner, a 47-year-old construction worker and father of two, didn’t often get around to scheduling an annual physical with his doctor. After all, he wasn’t overweight, had a fair amount of energy, and apart from seasonal allergies felt perfectly fine. Besides, who had the time? In fact, he had gone more than three years without seeing his GP before his wife finally broke down one day and made the appointment for him.
“I don’t know, I guess I thought I’d have symptoms or something,” he said as he looked up from his lab report. “Doc said she’s been seeing more and more of this lately,” he added. Indeed, with a cholesterol reading of 221 and new diagnosis of hypercholesterolemia, Mike is definitely not alone.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 102 million American adults have total cholesterol levels at or above 200 mg/dL, which is above healthy levels. Unlike Mike, however, many of these people find out only after an adverse event such as a heart attack or a stroke. Like blood pressure, which can creep up without any symptoms until it’s too late, elevated cholesterol has come to be known as another “silent killer.”
As Mike soon realized, if he wanted to avoid a lifetime of heavy medications like statins he had some major changes on the horizon. He listened intently as his doctor explained the effect of his mediocre diet, lack of exercise, and long-time smoking habit on his cholesterol. She went on to explain that, on average, diet and exercise can lower LDL cholesterol by about 10% and that certain supplements are showing some promise when it comes to naturally lowering cholesterol levels.
An Internet search later that evening turned up something that surprised him: turmeric.
If you’ve ever had a curry, you’ve likely eaten turmeric. With its faintly aromatic and spicy odor and pungent, bitter taste, turmeric is best known in the culinary field as a major component of curry powder (Yance, 2013). As one of the most heavily-researched natural products in the world, turmeric has been shown to help with everything from adrenal health to Zika, and nearly every health condition in-between – including high cholesterol.
What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a type of lipid (fat) that our bodies use to make cell membranes, hormones, the bile acids needed to digest fats, and Vitamin D (Harvard). Cholesterol is so crucial to our body’s functioning, in fact, that “the liver and intestines make it from scratch.”
Although high levels of it have been linked to cardiovascular disease (CVD), there are actually opposing theories about its role (Balch, 2010). Some medical professionals believe that high cholesterol has little to do with heart disease and that a direct correlation has never been established while some regard it as a train wreck just waiting to happen. Others insist that what’s inherently “bad” isn’t the substance itself but how much of it is in our bloodstream.
One thing that is known for certain, however, is that the body packages cholesterol into two main particles: one of which can be extremely dangerous (low-density lipoprotein/LDL, the so-called “bad” cholesterol), the other of which can be downright life-saving (high-density lipoprotein/HDL, the so-called “good” cholesterol ) (Harvard). And it’s having too much of the former, LDL, that wreaks havoc by creating “plaques” that ultimately end up lining the arteries, blocking the natural flow of blood, resulting in angina (chest pain with exertion or stress), heart attacks, and strokes (Healthline).
What is Turmeric Extract?
Turmeric has multiple uses and has been used for centuries in Indian traditional medicine (Ayurveda) and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), as well as an inexpensive and everyday spice. It is used to flavor delicious food, as a food preservative, and as a coloring agent in items as diverse as pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, yellow mustard, and hair dyes.
However, to unleash turmeric’s full power, it is helpful to know that using turmeric on its own as a spice in the kitchen is nowhere near as powerful as taking it in more concentrated form such as in a root extract, which contains 95% curcuminoids vs. the 4-6% curcuminoids found in the turmeric powder we keep on our spice rack.
Turmeric Extract Benefits for Cholesterol
Turmeric comes from the root of Curcuma longa, a member of the ginger family, Zingiberaceae. Turmeric contains many substances, but one group, curcuminoids, have been shown to have the greatest health-promoting benefits. Bright yellow curcumin, in particular, has been well-studied and is known for its positive effects on many of the body’s functions, including maintaining healthy cholesterol levels.
It has been found to lower lipids, elevate HDL cholesterol while lowering LDL cholesterol, further boost the cholesterol-lowering effects of phytosterols in hypercholesterolemic individuals, and even reduce both total cholesterol level and LDL cholesterol level in patients with acute coronary syndrome (ACS).
Turmeric also improves blood flow as much as exercise; is antiatherosclerotic (meaning it actively works against the clogging of blood vessels); and inhibits platelet aggregation, plaque formation, and lipid oxidation. All of this spells very good news for our blood vessels and for helping us to maintain a healthy cholesterol level.
What is the Link Between Chronic Inflammation and Cholesterol?
When high levels of cholesterol occur in the bloodstream, excess LDL begins to seep into the inner wall of the artery, triggering an inflammatory response, which speeds up the accumulation of cholesterol in the artery wall. This produces even more inflammation, and a vicious cycle begins.
Researchers have argued that inflammation, not cholesterol, is the cause of most chronic diseases. Although cholesterol is associated with cardiovascular diseases, inflammation is the true underlying mechanism for many of the illnesses that plague our society including heart disease and high blood pressure.
You can learn more about the benefits of turmeric extract for high blood pressure by reading this article:
What are the Anti-Inflammatory Properties of Turmeric Extract?
Turmeric extract, due to its high concentration of curcumin, exhibits a broad range of beneficial activities and is a potent anti-inflammatory agent, fighting inflammation at the molecular level by inhibiting an inflammatory signaling molecule called NF-kB. In fact, it is so powerful that it matches the effectiveness of some anti-inflammatory drugs, without the side effects.
Several studies have compared turmeric extract to Ibuprofen and Diclofenac, both anti-inflammatories with negative side effects that include an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Turmeric extract had similar benefits for pain, inflammation, and improving function in a group of people with knee arthritis equally to the benefits of those two anti-inflammatory drugs.
In addition, turmeric is shown to help with other inflammatory conditions such as dementia, Alzheimer’s, Crohn’s, diabetes, cancer, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, and others.
You can learn more about the optimal dose of turmeric for inflammation by reading this article:
Turmeric Extract is a Potent Antioxidant
Antioxidants are molecules which fight and neutralize free radicals in our body. Free radicals are compounds that can cause harm if they build up in high levels but, fortunately, our bodies have their own built-in mechanisms for keeping them under control. Antioxidants are also found in food, especially colorful fruits and vegetables and in plant-based whole foods in general. Several vitamins – such as C and E, for example – are known to be powerful antioxidants in their own right, as are flavonoids, a diverse group of phytonutrients (plant chemicals) found in almost all fruits and vegetables.
A growing body of evidence suggests that ingesting natural antioxidants in the form of herbs and spices such as turmeric can play an important role in preventing the oxidation of cholesterol and even reversing heart disease, currently the nation’s No. 1 killer.
Perhaps not surprisingly, curcumin has been demonstrated to protect against free radical damage because it is a potent antioxidant. Researchers have found that extracts of turmeric and its curcumin component exhibit strong antioxidant activity, comparable to vitamins C and E.
What are Additional Benefits of Turmeric Extract?
As if that weren’t enough, turmeric extract has been shown to alleviate stiff and achy joints, fight cancer, improve brain function, fight viruses, detoxify heavy metals, prevent diabetes, improve skin, and even block the progression of multiple sclerosis, among many other things.
Chronic inflammatory conditions are positively influenced by turmeric extract when taken at high doses. These therapeutic benefits are provided by the extract, not powder. Turmeric powder only contains a fracture of the anti-inflammatory compounds that are abundantly found in Turmeric extract.
You can learn more about the benefits of turmeric extract for specific health conditions by reading articles and watching videos in our Learning Center here:
What are Potential Side Effects of Turmeric?
According to WebMD, turmeric usually does not cause serious side effects. Mild side effects, especially when taken in higher doses, can sometimes happen and include stomach upset, nausea, dizziness, or diarrhea.
Note, however, that although turmeric appears to be generally safe and effective for a wide range of ailments and diseases, several potentially dangerous side effects can occur.
For example, people with bleeding problems or clotting disorders, especially those on “blood thinning” medications such as warfarin, are strongly advised to exercise caution when it comes to turmeric supplementation because taking turmeric may slow blood clotting and increase the risk of bruising and bleeding. Similarly, anyone with an upcoming surgery scheduled should not take turmeric supplements for at least two weeks before the procedure.
In addition, people who are pregnant, have gallbladder problems, diabetes, GERD, hormone-sensitive cancers, iron deficiency, or male infertility can experience unwanted side effects from taking turmeric.
In general, because we don’t always know when we have an underlying health problem that could be complicated by a dietary supplement, it is recommended that anyone wanting to start turmeric supplementation do so only after discussing it with their physician.
You can learn more about the side effects of turmeric by reading this article:
Among turmeric’s myriad benefits is its ability to promote healthy cholesterol levels. If you have high cholesterol or would like to prevent it, consult your doctor about supplementing with curcumin.
Never start supplementing with any nutraceutical before talking with your doctor. The importance of ruling out undetected health problems cannot be overstated.
And never forget that your most powerful defense against chronic illness is the one that is most wholly within your power: leading a healthy lifestyle. A high-quality diet, lots of movement, fresh air, natural sunlight, plenty of relaxation, restful sleep, and a solid stress-management plan is your best bet for leading a long and happy life. Get started with your first bottle of Active Atoms Turmeric Extract today.
Dr. Shari Youngblood | Shari is a Doctor of Clinical Nutrition (DCN) & Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) who writes on all manner of nutrition topics, particularly those related to natural foods, food cultures, nutraceuticals, integrative health, and functional medicine. You can find her at www.nutritionwriting.com | April 18, 2020