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Febraury 25,1999

Antioxidant composition from turmeric


THE aromatic spice, turmeric (Curcuma longa), a member of the Zingiberaceae or ginger family, has been used for ages as a food additive to improve palatibility, storage and presentation. Its brilliant yellow colour has made it a favoured choice as a colouring agent for items like cotton, silk, paper, wood, foodstuffs and cosmetics.

Known in Sanskrit as"Haridra", turmeric has numerous applications in the ancient medicinal system of Ayurveda as well as traditional household remedies.

Internally, it is used as a tonic for the stomach and as a blood purifier; externally, in the prevention and treatment of skin ailments. Turmeric has been prescribed for liver diseases, particularly for jaundice, as well as urinary tract diseases.

The inhalation of fumes of burning turmeric gives relief in chronic catarrh and coryza. Turmeric with hot milk and sugar is a popular household remedy for colds.

However, the significance of turmeric in medicine has changed considerably in the last two decades since the discovery of anti- oxidant properties of naturally occurring phenolic compounds.

The concerns over toxicity of synthetic phenolic anti-oxdants such as butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) and butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) have further stimulated interest in natural phenolics.

Turmeric is a rich source of a group of phenolic compounds called curcuminoids. It has three main curcuminoids: curcumin, demethoxycurcumin and bisdemethoxycurcumin. All three impart the characteristic yellow colour to turmeric.

Laboratory and clinical research indicates that these curcuminoids have potent anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties as well as potential for prevention of cancer and treatment of AIDS.

But first, a brief explanation about why anti-oxidants are needed. Oxygen is crucial to the body for its metabolism.

However, oxygen utilisation also results in the generation of oxidative products. These oxidants can cause collateral damage to tissues and organs.

In fact, inflammation in the body, as is encountered in the course of certain diseases (such as arthritis) or wound healing, is nothing more than such collateral damage.

Another source of oxidants produced by the body is what are called cytochrome enzymes, which are abundantly present in the lungs and the liver, organs that protect the body against toxins entering from air, water and food.

The activity of these detoxifying enzymes invariably results in the generation of oxidant byproducts.

The body is also subject to oxidant damage from external sources like nitrogen oxide present in smog and cigarette smoke or an excess of metals like iron and copper and their salts in food and drinks.

Examples of the most common forms of oxidants generated by the body during normal functioning are superoxides, hydrogen peroxide, hydroxyl peroxide, hydroxyl radicals and lipid molecules.

The so-called "singlet" oxygen molecules are an example of an oxidant generated by the body in the course of a defense reaction.

Such oxidants are often referred to as "free radicals" because they are "radical" as opposed to the stable molecules and "free" to initiate a chain reaction in the body that will destabilise or make "radical", molecules from surrounding cells.

This process, if not stopped, leads to tissue and organ degeneration that will eventually result in clinically manifested conditions such as chronic inflammation, heart disease, accelerated ageing and disorganised cell growth leading to cancer.

The human body has built-in mechanisms to counteract free radicals. Unfortunately, these anti-oxidant defense mechanisms are gradually overwhelmed by ageing, disease or both.

Hence the need for external agents like vitamins, minerals, phenolics, flavonoids and carotenoids which have the ability to counteract free radical damage by scavenging or neutralising them.

Cucuminoids, unlike many other anti-oxidants, are capable of both, prevention of free radical formation and intervention to neutralise existing free radicals.

Because of this broad mechanism of action, curcuminoids may be aptly referred to as "bioprotectants". It is the para hydroxy groups in the curcumin molecules which are responsible for the anti-oxidant activity of curcuminoids.

A number of researchers have provided convincing evidence that curcuminoids effectively inhibit potent oxidants such as superoxide and hydroxyl radicals.

The Keto groups and carbon double bonds in the curcumin molecules are instrumental in preventing lipid peroxidation, which also generates free radicals.

Inflammation is known to be associated with increased levels of lipid peroxides and free radicals, which are generated by the liver as well as by inflamed tissues in the body.

A recent research report showed that curcuminoids are many times more potent than vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol), a well-known anti- oxidant, in inhibiting lipid peroxidation.

In chronic inflammation, cytokines induce the production of nitric oxide that is converted into DNA damaging and carcinogenic peroxynitrite and nitrite.

In recent studies on mouse peritoneal cells it was observed that curcumin decisively inhibits lipopolysaccharide (LPS) and interferon.gamma (INF.gamma) induced nitrite production.

Further research by Sabinsa Corporation, a New Jersey-based producer of phyto-chemicals and pharmaceuticals promoted by an NRI scientist, Dr. Muhammed Majeed, showed that the naturally occurring complex of three curcuminoids in turmeric is superior in anti-oxidant properties to any individual curcuminoid.

Dr. Majeed and his co-researchers, Dr. Vladimir Badmaev and R. Rajendran, have recently been granted a US patent for a unique process of preparing the C3 complex comprising 75-81 per cent curcumin, 15-19 per cent demethoxy curcumin and 2.2-6.5 per cent bis demethoxy curcumin which is to be used for prevention of formation and neutralising of free radicals in a patient.

The effective dosage for an adult wll be between 50-500 mg/ three times per day. The composition can be administered alone or mixed with a pharmaceutically acceptable carrier or diluent, depending on the mode of administration (oral or parenteral).

The patented process is novel for the following reasons:

  • the process coml;exes cucuminoids selectively;
  • the ratio of solvents used in the process is specific for complete complexation;
  • the pH of the reaction is specific for quantitative isolation of the complex and stability for the isolated complex;
  • the purity of the complexed curcuminoids is higher than curcuminoids alone, which may account for more potent biological activity.

The patent has been assigned to the Bangalore-based subsidiary of Sabinsa - Sami Chemicals & Extracts Ltd., which will be soon producing the complex bioprotectant for export.

N. N. Sachitanand,