Turmeric has been used for medicinal purposes in Asia for thousands of years but recently scientists have been investigating its potential benefits for Alzheimer’s, cancer and arthritis. Like other members of the ginger plant family – ginger root, cardamom, galangal – turmeric is known for its anti-inflammatory properties. And now scientists from Chiang Mai University, Thailand, have found that curcumin – an extract of turmeric – could help patients recover more quickly after bypass surgery.
With the knowledge that inflammation is not only an important factor in the risk of heart disease but also in the body’s ability to heal after an operation, researchers decided to assess the effects of curcumin. Studying 121 patients, all of whom had had non-emergency bypass surgery, the researchers gave half of the participants a one-gram curcumin pill four times a day. They took the pill three days before the surgery and then five days afterwards. The other group also took pills but these were placebos. After the surgery 30% of the placebo group had a heart attack, compared to only 13% of the curcumin group. When the researchers adjusted the data for pre-surgery differences, they found that the curcumin lowered the risk of heart attack by 65%.
Although this study was relatively small in scale, the researchers believe the results will be duplicated when further studies are done. It’s likely, they say, that the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of the curcumin helped keep the patients healthy – limiting heart damage and thereby facilitating better recovery. The next steps will not only be to find out if the study results can be repeated, but also at what dosage the curcumin should be given. Although turmeric is used in cooking, there hasn’t been research into the potential side-effects of taking high doses of curcumin and over the long term.