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Turmeric for Heart Health: Benefits and Precautions
Nature is really smart. Nature has provided us with a myriad of wonderful, beneficial substances; phytochemicals, existing within the earth’s flora. Biologists have identified over 400,000 different species of plant life. There are, of course, many thousands more which, as yet, remain undiscovered.
One of these wonderful, beneficial substances is curcumin. Curcumin is the bright orange flavonoid (polyphenol) found within the popular Indian spice, turmeric. If you take a turmeric rhizome, and cut through it with a knife, you can see the glowing orange curcumin permeating the insides. It’s as if nature is shouting, “Pay attention to me. There’s something here you need, something that’s good for you.”
And it’s not just orange. Nature has created a bouquet of colorful plants, flowers, fruits, and vegetables, all displaying their native hues of green, red, blue, yellow, purple, and yes, orange. These colors are a feature of the flavonoids, the color-rich chemicals that distinguish the natural foods we eat. Flavonoids, in general, have been found to have significant health-related benefits, including anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-aging characteristics.
Turmeric has been in the human food chain for centuries. Archeologists have unearthed pots in excavation sites near New Delhi, India, which have residual amounts of turmeric still stuck to the bottoms. These pots were dated to circa 2500 BCE. An Egyptian papyrus, dated to approximately 1500 BCE, describes turmeric as being used as both a dye and a medicine. Ayurvedic literature describes turmeric as playing an important role as a food and medicine as early as 250 BCE.
A Chinese pharmacopeia, thought to have been written around 650 CE, describes turmeric’s use as a medicine. Written accounts of the famous Hanging Gardens of Babylon include descriptions of turmeric. Turmeric ultimately found its way into the diets of Africans, Europeans, and eventually, Americans. Turmeric has been around a long time…longer than humans, of course.
The Human Heart
The heart is not just a vital organ, it is the vital organ. Human life begins with the beating heart. Supporting the health of the heart is crucial to human life and well-being.
According to The National Center for Health Statistics, ‘diseases of the heart’ (cardiovascular disease) was the leading cause of death in the United States in 2017, causing about 650,000 deaths, or 23% of total deaths. Cancer came in a close second, causing about 600,000 deaths, or 21% of total deaths .
The category, ‘cardiovascular disease’, includes a number of often-related heart conditions, including:
Over thirty million Americans, or 12.1% of the U.S. population, have been diagnosed with heart disease. Heart disease is a complex group of heart-related ailments, which include;
- Atherosclerotic disease or coronary artery disease – heart problems stemming from narrowing artery size
- Arrhythmias or heart rhythm problems – abnormal heart beats
- Congenital heart problems – defects in the heart or its function that a person has from birth
- Dilated cardiomyopathy – weakened heart muscle
- Endocarditis – infections of the heart
Strokes or ‘Cerebrovascular Disease’
Nearly eight million Americans, or 3.1% of the total population, have experienced a stroke. Strokes account for nearly 150,000 deaths per year in the U.S.
Nearly one out of three U.S. adults over the age of 20 has been diagnosed with high blood pressure. About 35,000 people per year in the U.S. die from conditions directly related to hypertension.
Nearly 12 percent of U.S. adults over the age of twenty have been diagnosed with high blood cholesterol.
Risks Factors for Cardiovascular Disease
There are many factors which increase our risk for developing cardiovascular disease. Some of these factors we can control ourselves, but there are others that we have no control over. The ones we can’t control are:
- Gender – males are at greater risk
- Age – the older a person is, the higher the risk
- Genetics – does heart disease run in the family
- Post-menopausal women – they are in the higher risk group
There are also lifestyle-related factors that increase our risk level that we can control:
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Physical inactivity
- Anger and stress
How Does Turmeric Extract Benefit the Heart?
Turmeric extract (curcumin) has several important characteristics that support heart health.
- Improves blood flow in arteries and veins
- Helps regulate triglycerides
- Helps regulate cholesterol levels
- Helps regulate blood pressure
Research has shown that supplementation with curcumin improves blood flow in the heart and arteries by improving endothelial function . The endothelium is the thin lining of blood vessels within arteries. Endothelial cells release chemicals which contribute to several important circulatory functions, including blood vessel contraction and relaxation, blood clotting, platelet adhesion, and immune response. When this lining is healthy, blood flows normally.
However, when the endothelium becomes laden with white blood cells and platelets, this lining hardens and thickens. This in turn reduces blood flow and puts pressure on the heart. Factors which contribute to endothelium dysfunction include smoking, eating a high-fat diet, and living a sedentary lifestyle.
A recent 2019 study reviewed ten previous studies which investigated curcumin’s role in endothelial function and improving blood flow, or ‘flow-mediated dilation’. The study’s authors concluded, “We found a significant increase in flow-mediated dilation following curcumin supplementation…This meta-analysis demonstrated the beneficial effects of curcumin supplementation on FMD” .
Triglycerides are a type of fat, or lipid in the blood. More than one third of U.S. adults have high triglyceride levels. Research studies have linked high triglyceride levels with heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes. The correlation is especially high in people with low levels of the good cholesterol (HDL), and also in people with type II diabetes.
Having high blood lipid readings is often a sign of problems with the liver and pancreas. Since high triglyceride levels tend to appear along with other problems, like high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity, it’s difficult for scientists to isolate the degree to which triglyceride levels alone contributes to other heart-related problems.
A 2017 research review study investigated the safety and effectiveness of curcumin in lowering blood lipid levels in patients at risk for cardiovascular disease. Researchers analyzed the results of seven previously published studies. They concluded that turmeric extract (curcumin) may protect patients at risk of developing cardiovascular disease by lowering blood lipid levels, either used by itself, or in conjunction with conventional medicines .
Another review study, published in 2018, also looked at curcumin’s potential in moderating blood lipid levels. Statin drugs are prescribed for lowering cholesterol, but a side benefit of statins is that they usually help to lower triglycerides also. These researchers discovered that, when curcumin was administered to patients along with statins, that the curcumin/statin combination lowered triglycerides more effectively than statins alone .
Cholesterol bonds with proteins in the blood known as lipoproteins. These lipoproteins are of two types:
- Low-density lipoproteins, commonly referred to as ‘LDL’, make up the majority of the body’s cholesterol. Elevated levels of LDL cholesterol increase the risk for heart attack and stroke. When the body has too much LDL flowing through our blood vessels, it can build up on the vessel walls and increase plaque, which in turn narrows the vessels’ diameter. This narrowing causes the heart to work harder to pump blood. When blood flow is completely blocked, it cause a heart attack.<
- High-density lipoproteins, commonly referred to as ‘HDL’, are referred to as the ‘good cholesterol’. HDL cholesterol helps to absorb the LDL and carries it back to the liver where it can be flushed from the blood. High levels of HDL can help reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease and stroke.
Plants have their own form of cholesterol, known as phytosterols. Phytosterols have been shown to help reduce the body’s LDL cholesterol. A 2018 research study compared the effectiveness of phytosterols by themselves, and phytosterols combined with curcumin, in reducing LDL cholesterol in seventy healthy adult subjects. Their results showed that phytosterols were significantly more effective in lowering LDL when combined with curcumin .
High blood pressure, also referred to as hypertension, is caused primarily by the reduction of blood vessel diameters, usually resulting from a build-up of plaque on vessel walls. This, in turn, causes the heart to work harder. Hypertension usually develops gradually over the course of several years. Most people don’t realize that their blood pressure is high because they have no symptoms. High blood pressure can help to damage, not only the heart, but also the brain, eyes, and kidneys.
A recent 2019 review study, which examined eleven previous studies, explored the potential effectiveness of curcumin on the regulation of blood pressure. They concluded that subjects who supplemented their diets with curcumin for longer than twelve weeks had significantly lower blood pressure readings, especially their systolic blood pressure reading (SBP) .
Antioxidants and Heart Disease
Free radicals are compounds that are harmful to the body, especially if their levels are too high. If they become too high, free radicals can contribute to a number of diseases, including diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. Antioxidants are compounds that help to neutralize the harmful effects of free radicals. The body can produce its own antioxidants. We can also increase our level of antioxidants through the foods we eat and through dietary supplementation.
Ideally, we should have balanced amounts of free radicals and antioxidants. When free radicals outnumber our antioxidants, it results in a condition known as oxidative stress. Oxidative stress can damage DNA and our cells, and accelerate the aging process.
There is good scientific evidence showing that oxidative stress is a contributor to atherosclerosis , which in turn puts people at risk for cardiovascular diseases. Antioxidants, therefore, are believed to be essential to maintaining a healthy heart.
Curcumin is a powerful antioxidant that has been shown in numerous studies to neutralize free radicals [9,10]. Curcumin also boosts the body’s production of its own antioxidant enzymes .
Cardiovascular Disease and Inflammation
The natural process of inflammation helps protect us from injury and against pathogens, like bacteria and viruses, through the activity of white blood cells and compounds that are produced by them. But inflammation can become a problem when it becomes chronic and attacks our tissues and organs inappropriately. Medical researchers have concluded that chronic, low-level inflammation plays a role in nearly every chronic illness, including cancer, metabolic syndrome, Alzheimer’s disease, and cardiovascular disease.
When the body detects an injury, or some unwanted substance, the immune system sends out white blood cells that surround the target, usually causing swelling. When responding to pathogenic substances in the blood, the effect of this inflammation, and subsequent build-up of white blood cells within blood vessels, contributes to atherosclerosis—the buildup of fatty, cholesterol-rich plaque on vessel walls.
The body then perceives the plaque as an abnormal invader, so the immune system responds by trying to wall off the plaque from blood flow. This plaque then mingles with the blood, forming a clot. These clots become the cause of most heart attacks and strokes.
Curcumin is one of nature’s most potent anti-inflammatory substances. When studied alongside pharmaceutical anti-inflammatory medicines, it has been demonstrated to be comparable in effectiveness with no side-effects . One of the mechanisms used by curcumin to reduce inflammation is on a cellular level. Curcumin blocks a molecule (NF-kB) that activates genes within cells that trigger inflammatory response . Curcumin fights inflammation on a molecular level .
Anyone who has been prescribed blood thinning medications, or anticoagulants, should avoid both turmeric spice and turmeric extract. Curcumin’s powerful anti-inflammatory properties magnify the effects of these anti-blood clotting medicines.
Since turmeric extract can also lower blood pressure, anyone who has been prescribed a blood pressure medication should consult with their doctor prior to supplementing with turmeric.
There are some other prescription and non-prescription medications that when taken by themselves (without turmeric), can put someone at risk for heart disease. These include:
- Pain medications (NSAID’s), like ibuprofen, naproxen, and COX-2 inhibitors, like Celebrex. These help the body retain sodium, causing a fluid increase, which causes the heart to work harder.
- Diabetes medications, like Avandia, can increase the risk for heart failure.
- Some chemotherapy drugs, like Cytoxan, are known to weaken the heart muscle.
- Calcium channel blockers, like Verapamil and diltiazem, weaken the heart muscle.
You can learn more about the side effects of turmeric by reading this article:
Turmeric Lead Contamination
A 2019 Stanford University-led study has discovered that Bangladeshis have elevated levels of lead in their blood. The same researchers were also able to confirm that the lead-containing pigment which is added to the turmeric crop each year is the source of the lead in this population’s blood.
The turmeric sold in Bangladesh contains up to 500 times the lead concentration allowed by governmental regulations in their own food products. The researchers detected lead-contaminated turmeric in seven of the nine Bangladesh turmeric-growing districts.
Lead increases the risk of developing diseases of the heart and brain in adults and interferes with the brain development of children. Researchers discovered that 30% of pregnant women living in rural areas of the country had elevated levels of lead in their blood. This powerful neurotoxin is capable of causing early births and miscarriages. It can also result in child developmental issues. Physicians normally advise new mothers who have high levels of lead in their blood, not to breastfeed.
Choose Your Turmeric Supplement Carefully
Not all turmeric supplements are created equally. Anyone who is shopping for turmeric, should consider the following:
- It is very important to buy turmeric from a reliable company who tests all of their supplement ingredients for contamination, especially heavy metals like lead.
- Raw turmeric powder is for cooking. Concentrated turmeric extract is developed for use as a dietary supplement. Those who use turmeric extract as a supplement should look for a 95% concentration of curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric.
- No turmeric extract supplement is complete without piperine, or BioPerine® (black pepper extract). BioPerine increases the bioavailability of turmeric extract by 2000%.
Nearly one quarter of the people in the U.S. will eventually succumb to some form of heart disease. Whether or not we are counted in those numbers is, to a large extent, within our own control. We have control over our dietary choices, our dietary supplement choices, how much we exercise, how much rest and sleep we get, and to what extent we engage in stress managing activities. As a reminder, before beginning any supplementation protocol, we should always consult with our health care provider.
Active Atoms Turmeric Extract can help to supplement your healthy lifestyle with 750 mgs of turmeric extract and 5 mgs BioPerine® per capsule making it one of the most powerful antioxidants available. We always send our turmeric to an independent lab to test for lead with the safety of you and your family on our mind. Give it a try today.