I do not need to even discuss how common heart disorders have become today. Blame it on our diet or lifestyle heart diseases constitute major chunk of deaths across the world today. What is more concerning is that it is no more an ‘old age’ disease. More young and middle aged population is suffering from heart disease today than ever before in history.
Before I go ahead and discuss how turmeric can benefit here, I would just like to write a bit about heart disease itself, what they are, causes, types, etc.
Atherosclerosis : Atherosclerosis hardens and clogs arteries leading to the heart, brain, arms and legs. When it affects the arteries of the heart, it causes coronary artery disease which can result in chest pain, weakness, perspiration, shortness of breath and heart attack.
This slowly progressing disease is the cause of nearly 75% of all heart-related deaths. Excess fat, calcium, cholesterol and other substances buildup deposits on arterial walls forming plaque. When plaque hardens, the arteries become hard and inflexible. Risk factors of atherosclerosis include high cholesterol, high blood pressure, smoking, obesity, lack of exercise, eating a diet rich in saturated fats, females after menopause etc.
Stroke : Blood supply to the brain can get disrupted due to a blood clot or when a blood vessel bursts spilling blood into gaps in the brain cells. The first is called an ischemic stroke and the second hemorrhagic stroke. This prevents nutrients and oxygen from reaching the brain, or bleeding around the brain and causes cell death. Strokes can cause permanent or temporary neurological impairment.
Turmeric for the Heart and Stroke
Okay, so where does turmeric fits in here? According to studies (some of them I have mentioned below) turmeric helps in maintaining heart health by – reducing cholesterol oxidation, reducing plaque build-up, clot formation, reduce bad cholesterol (LDL), reduce pro-inflammatory response, etc.
I have collected and summarized results of studies conducted across the world which talk about the above benefits of turmeric in scientific manner. Here they are:
Turmeric and Plaque Build-up
Both heart attacks and strokes are caused by atherosclerotic plaque buildup or high cholesterol levels. This plaque buildup leads to blood clots being formed and when a single clot breaks off from arterial walls and travels to the brain or heart, it can cause a stroke or heart attack. Studies have found that turmeric could reduce the adhesive abilities of blood platelets, thereby preventing them from forming clots. It can also relax blood vessels and minimize heart damage after suffering a heart attack.
Several other studies conducted on the benefits of turmeric suggest the same – that it could prevent buildup of plaque, therefore preventing onset of atherosclerosis leading to blocked arteries, stroke or heart attack. In laboratory studies on animals, it was found that turmeric extracts could lower levels of LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol from building up in the arteries. This could stop platelets from bunching together and could also reduce risk of clots being formed on arterial walls. However, in another study, it was found that 4g of curcumin taken daily did not drastically improve cholesterol levels.
Another study pointed out that curcumin prevents cholesterol oxidation that is the main reason for plaque buildup, destruction of blood vessels and heart attacks or strokes. Curcumin has vitamin B6, essential in maintaining optimal homocysteine levels, excess of which could cause plaque buildup and blood vessel damage. In a study on 10 healthy patients given 500mg curcumin for 7 days daily, their oxidized cholesterol levels in the blood reduced by 33%, total cholesterol by 11.63% and HDL cholesterol had a 29% increase.
Turmeric for LDL / bad cholesterol control
A study was conducted on rats being fed a diet rich in saturated fats and low in fiber or a diet that also included curcumin in it for 8 weeks. In the rats fed the curcumin diet, serum triglyceride levels reduced by 27%, LDL cholesterol by 56% and total cholesterol by 33.8% as compared to the group fed the high fat diet. Their low-density lipoprotein levels also reduced and they had 20% less blockage in their arteries indicating the benefits of turmeric in preventing plaque buildup and heart disease or stroke.
Curcumin in the blood sends signals to the liver cells commanding them to produce more mRNA the messenger proteins. These create more LDL cholesterol receptors and help liver cells to clear out the bad cholesterol from our bodies. This results in reduction of bad cholesterol and prevents plaque buildup. Liver cells that received 10 microM of curcumin were able to demonstrate a 7-fold increase in production of mRNA as against cells that did not receive any curcumin.
Turmeric is a powerful antioxidant and has anti-inflammatory capabilities too. It can work in two ways by suppressing COX enzyme that causes pro-inflammatory signals to be created in the body and it also inhibits the gene that increase production of all pro-inflammatory molecules. The antioxidant properties of turmeric are similar to vitamin E and C. its antioxidant abilities are not degraded by cooking. A study on rabbits fed a high-fat diet and a turmeric diet found that curcumin reduced damage by free radicals and triglyceride and cholesterol levels.
Turmeric and Stroke
A stroke can affect the brain also and animal studies find that a drug made using turmeric could regenerate cells of the brain after a stroke. In a study on rabbits, it was found that curcumin drugs could reduce motor deficits caused by a stroke. This hybrid curcumin compound CNB-001 is said to quickly cross the blood-brain barrier and moderate mechanisms vital to neuronal survival. CNB-001 acts by repairing damage caused by strokes and it does not attack the blood clots themselves. The repair is done at the neuron level. Turmeric on its own does not get absorbed so easily and you require very high concentrations to provide any therapeutic benefits. This means that in an emergency stroke situation, turmeric may not be as effective. This is why CNB-001 seems a better choice for it gets absorbed and distributed very quickly. It can repair damage to 4 major pathways to the brain.
Studies have been conducted on the benefits of turmeric for hemorrhagic strokes at the Medical College of Georgia. Usually patients who suffer from such strokes are treated for nausea, headaches and other symptoms and not for the stroke itself. Often invasive surgery is done to remove the clots. However, some patients might not be able to undergo such surgery. Therefore, laboratory animals mimicking hemorrhagic strokes were injected a solution of curcumin with corn oil in the abdomen thrice over three hours. It was found that the size of the clots reduced although the reason was not known. It was thought to be the combination of the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric. IV curcumin seems the most beneficial and it could also prevent a stroke from occurring. Curcumin capsules may also protect those at risk from suffering a stroke. Further studies are required.
Curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric that is said to have powerful anti-platelet activity in several preliminary studies. For dosage for atherosclerosis, you are recommended to check the label instructions. The usual recommended dosage of turmeric powder capsules is 400-600mg thrice daily. I strongly feel that this would vary a lot from case to case.
Precautions with turmeric
Turmeric is not known to have any side effects as such. Turmeric has blood-thinning properties. Hence, anyone taking blood-thinning medications like warfarin must consult their doctor before taking turmeric for heart or stroke.
Apart from this, those taking drugs to reduce stomach acid, pregnant and breast feeding women and diabetic patients must be cautious when taking turmeric supplements. Turmeric spice used in food is usually safe for anyone to consume. Excess consumption could cause diarrhea or ulcers in extremely rare cases.