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Turmeric for Heart Health: Benefits and Precautions

heart health

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

Blood Flow

Research has shown that supplementation with curcumin improves blood flow in the heart and arteries by improving endothelial function [2]. 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” [3].

Triglycerides

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 [4].

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 [5].

Cholesterol

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.
good and bad cholesterol , health risk , vector design

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 [6].

Blood Pressure

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) [7].

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 [8], 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 [11].

Turmeric Precautions

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:

What are the side effects of Turmeric supplements?

Make a healthy choice for your heart

Nearly 25% 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.

Consider adding a turmeric supplement like Active Atoms Turmeric to support your active lifestyle and promote a healthy heart.

Active Atoms contains 750 mg of Turmeric Extract per capsule containing what we believe is the highest concentration of curcumin per capsule on the market. Many other brands only contain 50 mg of Turmeric Extract and they fill their capsules with Turmeric Powder which is less beneficial than Turmeric Extract.

Since most studies suggest approximately 500-1500 mg of Turmeric Extract per day, taking 1-2 capsules of Active Atoms per day is an excellent option to boost your cardiovascular wellness.

As a reminder, before beginning any supplementation protocol, you should always consult with your health care provider.

About Dr. Marc Robinson, PT, DPT, Cert. MDT