Turmeric and Liver Disease

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Research Updates

Recent research indicates that turmeric may be somewhat effective in preventing alcohol-related liver diseases, of which there are three main varieties: steatosis, or fatty liver, in which fat builds up on the hepatocytes (liver cells); hepatitis, which is characterized by liver dysfunction and complicated by jaundice and other conditions; and cirrhosis, a condition in which nodules developing on the liver can lead to end-stage liver disease and death.

Turmeric is a distinctive yellow spice from the ginger family (Zingaberaceae), which has long been a primary ingredient in South Asian cuisine. Moreover, it has always held an important place in traditional medicine, largely because of its anti-inflammatory properties. However, a variety of uses has been proposed for turmeric. Once confined to use by alternative or holistic health practitioners, turmeric is increasingly attracting attention from the mainstream medical community, which hopes to determine its efficacy in treating a wide range of diseases, including those of the liver.

Recently, a team of researchers at Helsinki University Central Hospital conducted a study wherein they fed rats large amounts of fish oil to which either ethanol or dextrose had been added to simulate heavy alcohol consumption. Some of the rats were fed diets containing curcumin, a yellow pigment and the active ingredient in turmeric, while others received no supplements. The curcumin-fed rats did not develop fatty livers or any of the other conditions associated with consistent alcohol abuse. This is believed to be due to turmeric’s ability to block the activation of a molecule called nuclear factor kappa B (NFkB). NFkB is largely responsible for inflammation and tissue death, and is activated by stimuli such as endotoxins, which are bacteria-related. When people drink heavily, these endotoxins escape the intestines into the bloodstream and make their way to the liver. The liver is essentially a filtering system, which means that the more toxins it encounters, the harder it must work to rid the body of them. If too much stress is put on the liver through alcohol abuse, then the liver is more likely to fail.

This study appears to support longstanding claims regarding turmeric’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which could prove useful in treating a variety of disorders and chronic conditions that may not respond to conventional treatments. While turmeric may well aid in reversing the symptoms and complications of certain diseases of the liver, whether alcohol-related or viral (such as hepatitis), its real value is in its versatility. Because its curative properties are general, it has numerous possible applications. Not only does it have the potential to target specific illnesses when ingested in medicinal quantities, it can also, when used as a supplement, contribute to a more general good health regimen.

 

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