Can Turmeric Help In Thalassemia?

Thalassemia is an inherited blood disorder.

It is characterised by the defective formation of hemoglobin.

Hemoglobin is a protein that enables red blood cells to carry oxygen from the lungs to other parts of the body.

The abnormal hemoglobin produced impairs oxygen transport in the body and leads to the 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.

Hemoglobin 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

turmeric rootLittle research has been conducted on the 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 an iron chelator.

1. Curcuminoid supplementation improves the 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 the 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 the 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 the 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 as superoxide dismutase, malonyldialdehyde indicated the presence of oxidative stress in thalassemic patients.

Curcuminoid administration restored these enzymes to normal levels.

Improvement in antioxidant defenses and the 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 hemoglobin

Researchers in Thailand have identified curcuminoids and related compounds that could serve to be therapeutic in beta- thalassemia.

As mentioned earlier, the hemoglobin protein is made of 4 chains. Deformities in alpha globin chain and beta globin chain.

Production of gamma globin chain can help in reducing the severity of disease since it combines with alpha globin to form fetal hemoglobin.

Fetal hemoglobin is different from adult hemoglobin since it binds to oxygen with greater affinity. It is present in the fetus during gestation and is replaced 6 months after birth.

This form of hemoglobin is said to alleviate the severity of thalassemia.

The study demonstrated that curcuminoids, especially bisdemethoxycurcumin and its related compound induced the 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.

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 transferring 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.

Animal studies show that by binding to iron, curcumin facilitates removal of excess iron and protects the organs such as the heart from iron-induced damage.

What does this mean?
Curcumin’s iron chelating activity can help to mitigate iron overload and iron induced organ damage in thalassemia.

Dosage

turmeric powderThe 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.

Here are some ways to use The Golden Paste. Turmeric Milk is another excellent option.

Also, you could add turmeric to your diet. Start including it in your salads, soups, smoothies, rice preparations etc.

Research Studies

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Study 1: Curcuminoids Supplements Improves Anti-Oxidant Status in Thalassemia Patients

A year-long study was conducted to ascertain the effects of Curcuminoids on β-thalassemia patients.

The study highlights the hematological, oxidative stress and anti-oxidants effects of curcuminoids on these patients.

What happened in this study?

In this study 21 β-thalassemia major patients were selected. Each of them was under a medicinal regime of 2 capsules of curcuminoids (250mg each capsule) intake per day for 12 months; that is 500mg daily consumption curcuminoids for a year.

To monitor the effects of curcuminoids on the patients, their blood was tested at an interval of every 2 months throughout the regime; that 6 times at an interval of 2months for a year.

To compare the effects of curcuminoids with those without curcuminoids treatment, a control set up was also developed. For this, the patients’ blood was tested 3 months after the drug was withdrawn.

Several blood parameters were tested in these blood tests.

This includes the general blood count, non-transferrin bound iron (NTBI) present in the serum, the percentage malonyldialdehyde (MDA), superoxide dismutase (SOD), glutathione peroxidase (GSH-Px), reduced glutathione (GSH) in red blood cells (RBC).

Most of these are enzymes involved in the maintenance of our natural antioxidant status. The first 2 characteristics are pivotal yardsticks to monitor in thalassemia.

NTBI or non-transferrin bound iron is due to iron overload in the body which leads to iron deposition in various tissues like cardiac tissues.

This is a principal blood parameter observed in thalassemia patients. Its antagonist is any compound or complex (drug or natural molecule) which chelates this iron and prevents its deposition, thereby making iron available in the bloodstream.

What were the results?

During the treatment regime, a drastic change was noticed in the oxidative stress level of thalassemia patients.

In thalassemia patients, an increase oxidative stress level is seen; characterized by high NTBI levels in serum, high levels of malonyldialdehyde (MDA), Glutathione peroxidase & super-oxide dismutase (SOD) and a lower level of reduced glutathione (GSH).

In the treatment phase all these parameters showed significant improvement; especially a decrease in the non-transferrin bound iron (NTBI) level of the serum.

3months after the end of the treatment regime and stopping curcumin supplementation, all the parameters started declining and reached closer to the baseline found in thalassemia patients.

This proves curcuminoids improves the oxidative stress level in thalassemia patients by increasing the antioxidant parameters of RBCs &serum.

How did this occur?

Curcuminoids reduce the oxidative stress level in thalassemia patients.   The presence of labile iron in RBC is a major symptom in thalassemia.

This iron deposition in the inner and outer cell surfaces makes the cells more prone to the attack of reactive oxygen species like superoxide ion. This causes damages in the cell.  This phenomenon is called oxidative stress.

Curcuminoids improve the oxidative stress level in thalassemia patients in the following ways:

NTBI is found in the blood plasma of thalassemia patients and is the major cause of iron deficit in them. Curcuminoids chelates plasma

NTBI and lower their levels. Thus resulting in greater iron availability for hemoglobin. It lowers the iron accumulation in cardiac tissues.

Curcuminoids have anti-oxidant property. It lowers the level of plasma (malonyldialdehyde) MDA in RBC and prevents its accumulation in cardiac tissues.

Curcuminoids regulate the gene expression of various anti-oxidative enzymes like SOD, MDA, glutathione peroxidase and reduced glutathione. Curcuminoids favorably regulate the level of these enzymes to reduce oxidative stress.

Curcuminoids strike a balance by regulating this genetic expression. It increases the level of reduced glutathione (reductive enzyme) and decreases the level of other SOD, glutathione peroxidase, MDA (oxidative enzymes).

What does this mean?

This study clearly illustrates that the major effects of thalassemia can easily be improved by curcuminoids. A regular dose of 500mg of curcuminoids is effective in altering the effects of thalassemia. It is a viable natural alternative for a genetic disease like thalassemia.

However, it only improves the condition of the patients – decreasing the symptoms. It doesn’t completely cure. Thus, turmeric the primary source of curcuminoids should be incorporated in our diet, to lessen the symptomatic burden of thalassemia.

Read the full study at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19900435

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Precautions

Turmeric in the 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.

Conclusion

Turmeric as an antioxidant and iron chelator can benefit in thalassemia. Overall turmeric also functions as an immune booster and can help combat fatigue associated with this disease.

Turmeric in diet can hold multiple benefits in thalassemia.

About the Author

Shruti (BE Biotech. & PGD Clinical Research)

Turmeric for Health's writer team consists of passionate writers from the fields of biotechnology, pharmacy, nutrition, Ayurveda & microbiology.Our writers are highly qualified with many having Ph.D., M.Tech & MSc degrees while others having B.Tech, BSc, B.Pharm. Our differentiation lies in researching and presenting ONLY FACTUAL SCIENTIFIC information. We spend 10s of hours to write a single article. Info of our articles is sourced from reliable scientific sources which are also provided as a link alongside for readers to refer if they want. You can read more about our team in the " About us" section.

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5 Comments

  1. My husband’s father, uncles, and some brothers have hemochromatosis (H). VA has tested him; he does not have H, and does have normal levels of serum ferritin, however, he does have hemoglobin levels that usually run around 16-18. When he had a stroke five years ago, hemoglobin levels were 19 or 20, even 21 once. Since the stroke, he donates blood every eight weeks, which the maximum allowable, but would turmeric help him? What might it do?

    1. Turmeric can help as antioxidant and iron chelator- curcumin in turmeric binds to excess iron and excretes it. Reducing the iron load is one of the primary treatment goal of hemochromatosis. So yes it can help in hemochromatosis and in protecting and preventing stroke. If he is on blood thinning medications like warfarin or aspirin, then he might have to exert caution while taking turmeric or even consult a doctor before taking it.
      A therapeutic way of taking turmeric is Golden Paste. Start with small doses such as 1/4-1/2 tsp and if you see no side effects then increase the dose gradually to 1-2 tsp 2-3 times a day over a few weeks. Best taken with food to avoid acid reflux. Avoid taking it at the same time when you take other meds.
      https://www.turmericforhealth.com/turmeric-recipes/how-to-make-turmeric-paste-or-golden-paste

  2. Are people of Greek ancestry affected by thalassemia? I have a friend of Greek ancestry who has a daughter with some type of blood disorder and I was wondering if that was it.

    1. I’m half Italian, and I would say it’s likely, but her mom should ask a doctor! I’m not diagnosing a child I just heard about, but Thalassemia is often called Mediterranean anemia.