Is curcumin a waste of money?
Q. You occasionally receive letters about the alleged benefits of turmeric and its active ingredient, curcumin. There is a lot of nonsense out there about turmeric, and lots of money is being made selling it to gullible people.
Attached is a link to a paper in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry. It is an exhaustive review of curcumin studies that, in summary, finds no benefit at all to curcumin use. I suggest you read it and broadcast these findings in your column.
A. We found the article you sent fascinating (Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, Jan. 11, 2017). The authors conclude that curcumin is not a promising compound to be developed into a drug. That is partly because it is chemically unstable and poorly absorbed. They contrast these properties to those of drugs developed from other natural products, such as the cancer drug Taxol from the Pacific yew or the malaria drug artemisinin from Artemisia.
The suggestion that scientists are wasting their time on curcumin or turmeric might be premature, however. Turmeric is a plant that contains a wide range of active compounds in addition to curcumin.
Some animal studies appear promising, such as one demonstrating that turmeric oils added to curcumin ease the inflammation of experimentally induced colitis (Scientific Reports, April 11, 2017). A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials in people with ulcerative colitis concluded cautiously that curcumin might be able to help maintain remission (Acta Medica Indonesiana, October 2017). A recent placebo-controlled trial suggests that curcumin slows bone loss in people with spinal cord injury (World Neurosurgery, March 19, 2018).
Trying to turn turmeric into a drug might be challenging. Perhaps people should try adding it to their food instead, as people in India have been doing for thousands of years.
Q. I had read that PPIs like the Nexium I take could lead to magnesium deficiency. Upon reading the symptoms, I recognized them in myself.
I started taking magnesium supplements, and I am feeling and sleeping much better. I take naproxen occasionally for arthritis flare-ups, and those tend to be constipating. The magnesium helps with that and also prevents nighttime leg cramps. For me, taking the supplement has been a win-win situation.
A. You are right that long-term use of proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) like esomeprazole (Nexium), lansoprazole (Prevacid) and omeprazole (Prilosec) can deplete magnesium in the body.
Magnesium supplements may help some people sleep better. A small controlled trial concluded that 500 mg of magnesium improved sleep in older people (Journal of Research in Medical Sciences, December 2012).
Q. I cut my finger badly and put ground black pepper on it. It stopped bleeding instantly, with no scar or anything the next day. I am on warfarin, but that made no difference to pepper’s ability to clot an open wound instantly.
A. We first learned about putting ground black pepper on a minor cut to stop bleeding over 20 years ago. Since then we have heard from many readers who have found this remedy effective. Your results are especially impressive because you are on an anticoagulant.