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Turmeric For Acne – Is It A Myth Or Reality?

In 1997, the US Patent Office did something rarely seen in its scope of functions. It revoked a controversial patent granted two years earlier, to two researchers from University of Mississippi Medical Center. The subject in the midst of this was the source of sundry goodness – Turmeric.

Turmeric for acne is usually used in the form of paste and applied to areas which that are prone to acne in order to destroy P. acnes bacteria that causes inflammation.

Turmeric has for ages1 been used in traditional Indian medicine based on Ayurveda. It is as ubiquitous in the country’s cuisine and culture as fish in the sea. No wonder then, the opposition to the Turmeric Patent before the US Patent Office also came from India.

One of the most common properties attributed to turmeric in Indian and South Asian culture and medicine is its anti-inflammatory function, and is commonly used as a bruise healer and improves skin, both as food and as medical pastes and face packs.

In this era of global communication and traveling, Western populations and researchers have started experimenting with different Asian cultural elements, considered beneficial for health. Similar to Yoga, turmeric has also started making its presence felt in the mainstream, and is receiving a general thumbs up all around. Although the scientific world was well aware of turmeric, as the scores of studies done on the root shows, popular culture and health and nutrition experts have only now opened up to its immense benefits the markets are awash with face masks, teas, pastes, ointments etc. made of or including turmeric in some form.

Turmeric plant belongs to the South Asian Zingiberaceae family of plants. This plant family also includes the other popular root used as food – ginger. Similar to ginger, the part of Turmeric actively used and consumed is its root portion which is herbaceous. Its origins are believed to lie in Southern and South Western India and South East Asia. In these regions, the turmeric root is used very extensively in common everyday cuisine and also to produce medicines and therapeutic substances.

In some southern and south western parts of India even turmeric leaf is cooked and eaten and also used for wrapping the substance being cooked.

The immense beneficial properties of turmeric have been found to come from one of its constituents – Curcumin. Curcumin is also the substance responsible for the characteristic yellow tinge to Turmeric.

Let us explore this valuable component some more.

Curcumin – The Superhero Of Turmeric

Netizens and online nutrition experts it seems are a bit late to the party. Scientists and researchers have already conducted many studies on turmeric and particularly curcumin. Up till now, it has been found that curcumin may have well over six hundred immensely valuable uses for improving our health and especially skin health. Curcumin has repeatedly been found by researchers to be immensely effective2 in battling inflammation and therefore speeding the relief from pain, wounds and definitely acne!

Apart from that, it has also been found very effective against oxidants and viruses, very likely safeguard from Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, stroke, metal toxicity and even cancer.

Let’s Take a Look At Some Of Curcumin’s Most Widely Accepted Benefits

Curcumin Fights Acne

This is of one its most common uses. Acne is caused and/is or aggravated majorly by inflammation, oxidation and hormonal imbalance. Curumin, being both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant helps fight both these causes of acne. For those who wish to support and boost their efforts at controlling inflammation – diet control, avoiding inflammation causing foods etc. – curcumin can act as an effective dietary addition which can complement this hard work. Inflammation adds to and worsens acne and other skin disorder. Therefore, apart from cutting out of inflammation increasing foods like processed food, fish oil, refined processed sugar, vegetable oil, cod liver oil etc., it is important to supplement one’s diet with foods like turmeric which actively work to reduce, end and preclude unwanted or excessive inflammation in the body.

Another example of curcumin’s effectiveness in dealing with inflammation can be seen in its effect on arthritis. Previous studies have demonstrated3 that a regular dietary intake curcumin led to a great relief from Arthritis in experimental rats.

Curcumin Trumps Chemical Anti – Inflammatory Meds

Curcumin has also increasingly revealed itself to be a very good alternative to western allopathic pharmaceuticals, even by western scientists and pharmacists. It might just be the alternative needed to avoid the grizzly, dangerous and potentially fatal side effects of conventional drugs. A study has already been conducted4 to successfully depict how curcumin works as a far more powerful anti-inflammatory agent than both aspirin and ibuprofen. And the best par was the absence of the side effects of these drugs affecting the heart and other human body systems.

Curcumin Can Check ‘Radio Dermatitis’

Curcumin has also been found to be comparatively much better as part of an ointment or balm to combat the skin burns5 incurred as a result of radiation therapy among cancer patients, called radio dermatitis. In fact applying a topical paste containing curcumin on the exposed skin before the radiation procedure saved the skin from burning during the process, and prevented radio dermatitis, bringing much relief to the patient. This curcumin-based cream fared much better than chemical pharmaceutical drugs in the experiment, revealing the possibility of a much needed alternative.

Benefits In Other Diseases

Curcumin’s anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and even antibacterial qualities have been found to aid, and enhance recovery from bruises, fractures, and many other diseases including problems of the digestive system, teeth, gums and the mouth, diseases of the cardiovascular system and even the prostate. Its antioxidative properties especially make it very beneficial for skin-related problems6 and skin health in general.

Coming Back To Acne

As discussed above, the defensive action of curcumin against inflammation, inflammatory agents, free radicals, and even bacteria, makes it an ace fighter against acne. It works in both dietary and topical methods, though to a much better extent as a dietary product than through topical applications.

Anti – Inflammatory Effects

Inflammation is essentially a mechanism of the body to fight against harmful foreign bodies and repair injuries. The body has its own complex mechanisms of analyzing when and how much different areas of the body need an inflammatory response. It subsequently also switches off this response when the required effect has been achieved. The problem arises when this inflammatory activity gets out of hand or magnified due to hormonal imbalance, a weak immune system, and/or oxidative stress. This then causes problems like joint pain, severe arthritis and causes and worsens acne and redness of skin Some foods like processed foods, or foods rich in omega – 6 fatty acids that initiate inflammation like fish and cod oil, vegetable oils etc. contribute to this extraordinary inflammation. While it is definitely recommended to reduce and control the intake of such foods, consuming curcumin through turmeric can help one even more. It will act as an anti-inflammatory agent which will act positively to stop excessive inflammation in the body.

Antioxidative Effects

Oxidation of lipids in the body, called lipid oxidation is caused by harmful agents called free radicals. When oxidation becomes severe in the body due to the presence of a large number of free radicals, it is a source of much agony to the body because it causes severe oxidative stress. This is one of the root causes of acne. In fact, acne acts as an early sign of increasing oxidative stress. While free radicals are anyway naturally present in our body, intake of certain foods like processed foods can increase their quantity more. Apart from acne, oxidative stress is very dangerous for the intestinal lining, and has even been found to cause DNA mutations, apart from being a causative agent of tumors, and hardening of arteries.

Here, turmeric can help very much due to the anti – oxidative effects of curcumin. Curcumin helps in two ways – as a result of its chemical composition, it can essentially neutralize the dangerous free radicals so they do not react with other compounds in the body. Apart from this curcumin help in enhancing the levels of a natural antioxidant, glutathione, which is found naturally in our bodies.

Antibacterial Effects

Curcumin is capable of acting against bacteria in two ways in our body – on the skin surface and in our guts.

Benefits For The Skin

A certain kind of bacteria, P. acnes, is already present on the human skin naturally. These do not cause any major problem by themselves, but eruption of acne, excessive sebum, skins dead cells or other skin problems can provide them with an environment conducive to their further growth and proliferation. The waste matter created by these bacteria then adds to the patient’s woes and can disrupt normal skin functions and harm its outermost layer by encouraging inflammation. This damage can even harm the fat layer of the follicles in the skin.

Most doctors today try to address the problems created by the proliferation of P. acnes with the use of topical ointments that effectively kill of these bacteria. However, that is never a permanent solution to the problem of acne, as the P. acnes bacteria are naturally occurring and will reappear again as per our biological make up and mechanism. Coupled with that, the topical ointments containing ingredients like benzoyl peroxide, and azelaic acid cannot solve the issues of excessive inflammation, sebum production, dead cells and dirt clogging the skin pores.

Curcumin can rescue the day as it has been revealed in previous that at least in controlled environments curcumin was found to reduce the growth7 of P. acnes bacteria by up to ninety six percent.

Healthy Gut Function

Where curcumin especially helps us in the fight against acne is in the guts. It is a highly potent tool for reducing the action of gut-harming pathogens8. Our guts already have colonies of good bacteria that aid digestion and are crucial to maintaining the right and balance ‘environment’ required to keep the intestines healthy. The inclusion of pathogens through contaminated water or food can severely harm this balance. This then leads to improper digestion and improper absorption of nutrients, which unfortunately causes the immune system to weaken. These pathogens and a weak immune system means that the semi – permeable membrane of the intestines malfunctions and inflammatory and otherwise also harmful materials like gluten or foreign bodies are also absorbed.

All of these problems can collectively become the cause of sickness, excessive inflammation, hormone imbalance and serious health issues.

Curcumin has been found to be very beneficial in curbing the growth of pathogens in our system. It has been found in earlier studies as capable of exterminating the harmful bacteria so that the gut friendly, digestion aiding good bacteria can proliferate and maintain gut health. Coupled with its anti – inflammatory properties, curcumin can aid digestion and thereby prevent acne and a host of other diseases.

Therefore, it is advised to focus more on increasing the consumption of turmeric to receive the goodness of curcumin by introducing it into one’s digestive system, as compared to topical use to regulate P. acnes bacteria.

Getting Rid Of Impediments To Intake Of Curcumin

So, it has been established that turmeric helps fight acne due to its potent ingredient curcumin. However, there are some minor obstacles to increasing one’s intake of curcumin right away.

Low Availability – The first issue arises that curcumin is not easily available even in the natural world. It forms only two per cent of the total weight of turmeric, the most important source of curcimin commercially available and easily usable. One tablespoon of turmeric can provide the consumer with only around 136 mg worth of curcumin. Also, while curcumin shows very good results in the controlled laboratory experiments and studies, it does not convert to exact same results in the practical, real life application. The usefulness of curcumin does not reduce but decreases in proportion as against the lab measurements. For an average human body to really exploit the benefits of curcumin it would require almost four thousand milligrams.

Low water solubility-decreased absorption – In addition to this problem of low bio – availability, curcumin is also not soluble in water and therefore, is not easily absorbed by the digestive system’s efforts. Most of the curcumin ingested through turmeric in our body is prone to being thrown out of the system along with other waste, without being absorbed, along with excreta because it does not dissolve in water which is essential for digestion and assimilation. However, curcumin is soluble in fats and this provides us with an alternate method to ensure that at least some curcumin is ingested. It would be preferred that acne patients strictly utilize only healthy fats like olive oil for this purpose and stay clear of junk food. Otherwise, the whole purpose of sourcing and consuming turmeric would be rendered useless; and the advantageous properties of curcumin would be lost.

Unreliable Supplements – A common solution usually applied for increasing the intake of difficult to absorb nutrients is to ingest them in the form of supplements. Supplements are basically the useful ingredients like vitamins, or minerals etc., extracted from their natural sources, for example fruits, vegetables, animals, and sold in almost pure or in a compound form. This way, any impediment to their bio – availability is removed as now the body does not have to work around the complete structure of the food source to reach the nutrient and digest it.

However, extracting the main ingredient can often be a daunting task especially in case of low bio availability like that of curcumin. On top of that, despite the plethora of studies done on turmeric and curcumin extolling their benefits, there are not many reliable studies depicting similar, and no –dangerous effects of using curcumin as a supplement for a long time. While research has revealed that short term use has not caused any issues, long term effects are yet unknown. A problematic example is of alpha-tocopherol. The former is found in vitamin E and is the most effective and desired part of the vitamin. Extracting it for use as a supplement has backfired because the direct dose of extracted alpha-tocopherol is too much for the body to handle. As part of Vitamin E, it gives us various benefits, but as a supplement it became an overdose and caused problems like fatigue, nausea, cramps in the abdomen, gas, bleeding and even hemorrhage.

Presently, in the absence of long term clinical or practical studies showcasing the safety of curcumin use as a supplement, it is difficult to pronounce it as a safe and viable option to increase curcumin intake. In fact, some experiments have shown that a massive consumption of curcumin might actually lead to9 diarrhea, nausea, and skin rashes. Therefore, a controlled and balanced intake of this beneficial ingredient is always preferable to experimenting with one’s health, especially when suffering from gut dependent problems like acne.

There are a few methods to help overcome these impediments to some extent, such as –

  • Black Pepper and Turmeric Combination – when consuming turmeric through food dishes and mixed with water, milk or other liquids, one can add a little black pepper to the mix. It has a useful ingredient called Pipeline which is known to raise the absorption of curcumin by 2000 per cent, apart from many other nutrients too. Black pepper can also be substituted with ginger. Ginger is from the same family of plants as turmeric. Like the pipeline found in black pepper, ginger has something called Gingerly, which functions similarly and aids absorption of curcumin.
  • Boiling Turmeric – One of the major impediments to curcumin’s absorption in the digestive tracts is its insolubility in water. This problem can be solved to a great extent by boiling turmeric root in water before its usage. Doing so has been known to increase its solubility.
  • Mixing with Fat – Another way of ensuring proper absorption of curcumin is to cook and mix turmeric with fats, as curcumin is actually fat soluble. To avoid inflammation and increase in acne, make sure to mix it with healthy fats like coconut oil or milk, olive oil, avocado etc. and avoid vegetable oils.
  • Turmeric powder – Indian cuisine has included turmeric since ages, however, to avoid time and effort involved in peeling, cutting and grating turmeric, usage of dry turmeric powder has become the norm. It is a swift and easy method to include curcumin in one’s diet and the powder should be mixed in as many meals as possible throughout the day to ensure an adequate amount is consumed.

However, it is still advisable to consume fresh turmeric to get the maximum benefits possible.
Fresh turmeric can easily be found next to or around ginger in stores selling Indian spices and Indian cuisine ingredients, Organic produce and most probably in wholesale store for consumables. Turmeric powder is an extremely common Indian and Asian spice and can be sourced from either brick and mortar stores or online stores specializing in Asian food ingredients. Further, to include turmeric in one’s diet, any of the following methods can be found useful.

One can include more Indian dishes in their meals as per their taste as majority of Indian dishes involve the use of turmeric in some form, whether powdered or fresh turmeric.

Turmeric can be included in regular dishes, soups, stir fry and broths along with ginger and black pepper to increase its intake and effectiveness. It is a very friendly ingredient to use in dishes as apart from the bright yellow color it adds only a slight pungent taste and smell to the dish. It does not dramatically alter the taste, and flavor of the dish and its characteristic smell can be easily overpowered by the use black pepper.

A warm turmeric drink with ginger and lemon, similar to warm winter concoctions from India and Asia can be a very soothing and beneficial drink. It can help one start the day when drunk on an empty stomach, especially when there is a nip in the air. It is very useful in clearing and soothing a sore throat. In summers, the drink can be made with just water, lemon and turmeric.

Turmeric powder or grated or pound turmeric root dissolved in milk or boiled in water is an old and useful concoction to help ease pain and hasten recovery after an injury. It is very commonly used all over India and many.

Final Thoughts

Apart from these, many other recipes either involving the use of turmeric or depending on turmeric alone can be found by a simple search online. With the growing popularity of turmeric in the West, many innovative western chefs and bloggers are publishing recipes tweaked a little to include turmeric in popular western dishes. By utilizing the above methods, one can ensure a healthy and steady consumption of curcumin which would fight inflammation, reduce oxidative stress and ensure the growth of good gut bacteria, all of which lead to healthier and clearer skin.

References:

  1. Benzie I.F.F., Wachtel-Galor S., editors. Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects, 2nd edition (Chapter 13). CRC Press/Taylor & Francis. 2011.
  2. Hewlings S.J., Kalman D.S. Curcumin: A Review of Its Effects on Human Health. Foods. 2017;6(10).
  3. Zheng Z., Sun Y., Liu Z., Zhang M., Li C., Cai H. The effect of curcumin and its nanoformulation on adjuvant-induced arthritis in rats. Drug Design, Development, and Therapy. 2015;9:4931-42.
  4. Takada Y., Bhardwaj A., Potdar P., Aggarwal B.B. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents differ in their ability to suppress NF-kappaB activation, inhibition of expression of cyclooxygenase-2 and cyclin D1, and abrogation of tumor cell proliferation. Oncogene. 2004;23(57):9247-58.
  5. Palatty P.L., Azmidah A., Rao S., Jayachander D., Thilakchand K.R., Rai M.P., Haniadka R., Simon P., Ravi R., Jimmy R., D’souza P.F., Fayad R., Baliga M.S. Topical application of a sandal wood oil and turmeric based cream prevents radiodermatitis in head and neck cancer patients undergoing external beam radiotherapy: a pilot study. The British Journal of Radiology. 2014.
  6. Panahi Y., Fazlolahzadeh O., Atkin S.L., Majeed M., Butler A.E., Johnston T.P., Sahebkar A. Evidence of curcumin and curcumin analogue effects in skin diseases: A narrative review. Journal of Cellular Physiology. 2019;234(2):1165-1178.
  7. Liu C.H., Huang H.Y. In vitro anti-propionibacterium activity by curcumin containing vesicle system. Chemical and Pharmaceutical Bulletin. 2013;61(4):419-25.
  8. Clark A.K., Haas K.N., Sivamani R.K. Edible Plants and Their Influence on the Gut Microbiome and Acne. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. 2017;18(5):1070.
  9. U.S. National Institutes of Health. Turmeric. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (Website). Accessed 2019.
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