A new randomised, controlled study suggests that taking curcumin supplements may help delay or prevent the development of type 2 diabetes in people at high risk (1).
Curcumin is a natural substance found in the Indian spice turmeric. It has been widely studied for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.
Around 7 million people in the UK have ‘ pre-diabetes’ (3). People with pre-diabetes also known as Impaired Glucose Regulation (IGR), have raised levels of blood sugar, and their cells have started to become resistant to insulin. Without proper care, pre-diabetes can lead to Type 2 diabetes. Some long-term damage may already be happening in the pre-diabetic state, including damage to the circulatory system, the heart and the eyes. For this reason it’s important to take action as soon as possible. Fortunately, the pre-diabetic condition can be reversed naturally with sensible dietary and lifestyle changes.
The randomized, double-blinded, placebo – controlled trial included 240 men and women who had been diagnosed pre-diabetic All subjects were randomly assigned to receive either curcumin or placebo capsules for 9 months. Those given the curcumin capsules received 6 capsules of 250mg curcumin daily. The researchers recorded changes in insulin resistance and anti-inflammatory cytokines. The function of beta cells, cells in the pancreas that store and release insulin, were also monitored. These measurements were taken at the beginning of the study, and then again and 3, 6 and 9 months.
After nine months, 19 of the 116 participants in the placebo group had developed type 2 diabetes. None of those who took the curcumin capsules developed the disease.
When compared with the placebo group, those who took the curcumin capsules also had better beta cell function, lower levels of insulin resistance, and high levels of anti-inflammatory cytokines.
So how exactly do we explain these results? In recent years, research has helped us to better understand the link between inflammation and diabetes. It seems that inflammation in the body can actually suppress insulin-signalling pathways, making the body less responsive to insulin. A natural anti-inflammatory substance such as curcumin may help to repair this damage and restore these pathways so that they can function normally again.
While the results of this study look promising, more research in this area is certainly needed to confirm these findings. In the meantime, the best strategy to avoid Type 2 diabetes is to follow a healthy diet with regular exercise.
As turmeric powder contains just 3% curcumin (4), the best way to obtain a therapeutic level of curcumin may be through a good quality supplement. Curcumin supplements should not be taken by those on anti-coagulant medications. There is certainly no harm in adding a little colour and spice to your cooking with a daily sprinkle of turmeric. As well as adding spice and colour to curries, turmeric also mixes well with scrambled eggs, lentil soup, tuna salad, and rice dishes. Try also adding a little black pepper, as the piperine in black pepper is believed to enhance absorption of curcumin.
Written by Nadia Mason, BSc MBANT NTCC CNHC
1. Chuengsamarn et al (2012) Curcumin Extract for Prevention of Type 2 Diabetes. Published online before print. 6 July 2012.
2. Aggarwal BB, Sundaram C, Malani N, Ichikawa H (2007) Curcumin: the Indian solid gold. Adv Exp Med Biol. 595:1-75.
3. ‘Prediabetes – preventing the Type 2 diabetes epidemic’ Diabetes UK 2009
4. Tayyem et al. (2006) Curcumin content of turmeric and curry powders. Nutr Cancer. 55(2):126-31.
5.Image courtesy of nksz