Thalassemia is an inherited blood disorder. It is characterised by defective formation of haemoglobin.
Haemoglobin is a protein that enables red blood cells to carry oxygen from the lungs to other parts of the body.
The abnormal haemoglobin produced impairs oxygen transport in the body and leads to destruction of red blood cells. Reduced oxygen leads to fatigue and anemia.
Individuals present with cold hands and feet, shortness of breath, pale skin, bone deformities and delayed growth.
One of the complications associated with thalassemia is iron overload. This arises either due to the illness itself or due to blood transfusion.
Excessive iron deposits cause damage to organs like liver, heart and endocrine system.
Individuals with thalassemia are susceptible to infections, heart problems, bone deformities and spleen enlargement.
Haemoglobin structure is made of four chains- based on which chain is deformed there are types of thalassemia such as alpha-thalassemia and beta-thalassemia.
60-80 million people in the world carry beta thalassemia genetic trait. It is more prevalent in tropical countries.
Medications involve iron chelation therapy or agents that bind to iron and enable its excretion.
This is essential as multiple blood transfusions can cause iron overload; but they cause multiple side effects.
People with moderate to severe disease require transfusions every 4 months, while in severe cases they may require at a frequency of 2-4 weeks.
Bone marrow transplant and surgery are other treatment options. Though this disease can’t be cured, science is exploring ways of making the condition manageable.
3 Benefits Of Turmeric In Thalassemia
Little research has been conducted on benefits of turmeric in thalassemia. Turmeric’s bioactive ingredient is curcumin and other compounds related to curcumin found naturally in turmeric are curcuminoids.
Curcumin and curcuminoids are excellent antioxidants. Antioxidants as well as iron chelators are found to be therapeutic in thalassemia.
They help in getting rid of oxidative stress (imbalance between antioxidants and oxidants) and rid of excess iron.
Curcuminoids are proven antioxidants and also curcumin is a iron chelator.
1. Curcuminoid supplementation improves antioxidant status of thalassemic patients
A clinical trial was conducted in March 2013 to investigate the effects of curcuminoids supplementation on different proteins expressed in thalassemic state.
10 individuals suffering from beta-thalassemia were treated with 500 mg curcuminoids daily for 12 months.
It was observed that proteins involved in maintaining iron balance and responsible for coagulating activity of platelets were less in the plasma of thalassemic patients.
Treatment with curcuminoids raised the level of these proteins. This in turn reduced iron load.
Reduction in oxidative damage and improvement in antioxidant enzymes was also observed.
Another clinical trial demonstrated the efficacy of curcuminoid in thalassemia.
21 beta thalassemia patients were treated with two 250mg capsules of curcuminoids for 12 months and regular blood tests were conducted to assess the effects.
Increase in level of certain enzymes such superoxide dismutase, malonyldialdehyde indicated the presence of oxidative stress in thalassemic patients.
Curcuminoid administration restored these enzymes to normal levels.
Improvement in antioxidant defences and removal of excess iron was facilitated by curcuminoids. However on cessation of treatment the parameters went back to what it was prior to treatment.
What does this mean?
Curcuminoids reduce oxidative stress and facilitate removal of excess iron in thalassemia.
2. Curcuminoids may help in forming haemoglobin
Researchers in Thailand have identified curcuminoids and related compounds that could serve to be therapeutic in beta- thalassemia.
As mentioned earlier, haemoglobin protein is made of 4 chains. Deformities in alpha globin chain and beta globin chain.
Production of gamma globin chain can help in reducing severity of disease, since it combines with alpha globin to form fetal haemoglobin.
Foetal haemoglobin is different from adult haemoglobin since it binds to oxygen with greater affinity. It is present in foetus during gestation and is replaced 6 months after birth.
This form of haemoglobin is said to alleviate severity of thalassemia.
The study demonstrated that curcuminoids, especially bisdemethoxycurcumin and its related compound induced formation of gamma globin ; thereby suggesting its therapeutic efficacy in beta-thalassemia and related disorders.
What does this mean?
Early evidence shows that curcuminoids like bisdemethoxycurcumin can help in formation fetal haemoglobin, a type of haemoglobin that reduces severity of thalassemia.
3. Curcumin takes care of iron overload in thalassemia
Iron overload is a common side effect of multiple blood transfusions. Iron chelators like desferrioxamine or deferiprone are prescribed but they are not successful in removing all forms of bound iron.
Non transferrin bound iron is part of the iron that is not bound to the protein transferrin and deposits on various organs causing damage. Transferrin is a protein that stores iron for later use.
A study demonstrated that curcumin binds to iron and forms a complex that can be excreted.
Curcumin was found to be less effective than conventional iron chelators but when combined with deferiprone (an iron chelator) it increased rate of iron chelation.
What does this mean?
Curcumin’s iron chelating activity can help to mitigate iron overload and iron induced organ damage in thalassemia.
The easiest way to take turmeric is The Golden Paste. This is a therapeutic version of dietary turmeric.
The black pepper and oils in this recipe take care of better absorption of turmeric in the body.
You could start with ¼ to 1 teaspoon a day and slowly build to 1 teaspoon or more 1-3 times a day based on how it suits you.
Also you could add turmeric in your diet. Start including it in your salads, soups, smoothies, rice preparations etc.
Turmeric in diet is absolutely safe. You might face gastric problems initially but they fade away. But excess doses can cause gastrointestinal upset; so always practice moderation.
Turmeric supplements should be avoided in pregnancy and lactation. Discontinue supplements 2 weeks prior to surgery. If suffering from gall bladder problems, it is advisable to avoid turmeric supplements.
Turmeric supplements could interact with blood sugar lowering medicines, blood thinning medications, stomach acid reducing drugs and certain antidepressants.
Consult a doctor before opting for turmeric supplements.
Turmeric as an antioxidant and iron chelator can benefit in thalassemia. Overall turmeric also functions as immune booster and can help combat fatigue associated with this disease.
Turmeric in diet can hold multiple benefits in thalassemia.