Monday, February 25, 2008

Could Curcumin Cure Congestive Heart Failure?

The February 2008 edition of the Journal of Clinical Investigation reports a study that suggests that eating curries and other foods including the antioxidant curcumin found in turmeric just might prevent or correct congestive heart failure.

Ayurvedic medicine has used turmeric to prevent scar formation for centuries. Scientists at the Canadian Insitutes of Health Research have found that, at least in mice, curcumin can prevent the production of scar tissue and help enlarged hearts return to normal pumping capacity.

This study shows that curcumin acts directly on the DNA of heart cells in animals, protecting it from unraveling under stress. The kinds of stress that cause DNA to unravel include both oxygen deprivation, when heart tissue is deprived of blood circulation because of a clot, and sodium infiltration, when heart cells are exposed to high levels of glucose or salt that keeps them pumping sodium out and pumping potassium in.

The study also shows that benefits of curcumin are not increased by eating more of it. Experiments showed that the test animal only needed just enough curcumin to turn off an "unraveling switch" in the DNA in heart cells that otherwise would be expected to develop into scar tissue. "Just enough" curcumin was also the maximum effective dose. In humans, there are some indications that just enough curcumin roughly corresponds to 1/2 to 1 teaspoon (2-4 grams) of turmeric a day.

What this study does not show is that curcumin will definitely prevent or cure congestive heart failure in humans (and you should not quit medications in hope it does), although it offers hope of a safe and inexpensive treatment for the tens of millions of people with enlarged heart and/or congestive heart failure. Lead researcher Dr. Peter Liu told reporters:

"Whether you are young or old, male or female, the larger your heart is, the higher your risk is for developing heart attacks or heart failure in the future. However, until clinical trials are done, we don't recommend patients take curcumin routinely." Dr. Liu goes on to remind people with congestive heart failure that lowering blood pressure and healthy eating remain essential even if curcumin is found to play a profoundly useful role in restoring the heart tissue damaged by heart attack.

You may also be interested in:

Curcumin and Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) for Congestive Heart Failure
Curcumin for Alzheimer's Prevention
Could Curcumin Prevent Cancer?
Curcumin and Cholesterol
Curcumin, Coumadin, Plavix
A New Ayurvedic Herb for Diabetes?
Coffee and the Risk of Heart Attack.

Li HL, Liu C, de Couto G, Ouzounian M, Sun M, Wang AB, Huang Y, He CW, Shi Y, Chen X, Nghiem MP, Liu Y, Chen M, Dawood F, Fukuoka M, Maekawa Y, Zhang L, Leask A, Ghosh AK, Kirshenbaum LA, Liu PP. Curcumin prevents and reverses murine cardiac hypertrophy. J Clin Invest. 2008 Feb 21 [Epub ahead of print].


  1. What about using both curcumin and fish oil for congestive heart failure?

  2. Not a good idea. The curcumin is OK, but the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil make "switch off" some heart cells. Since the problem in congestive heart failure is that the heart just can't pump hard enough, fish oil can make the problem worse, not better.

  3. Mr. Robert,

    I was just wondering if you could tell me some more about curcumin. I am very interested in this subject, so I would like to know what properties make curcumin act this way and why? What makes this element very special compared to all the other medicines and herbs that we have knowledge about. Does this actually affect the DNA of does it have other properties that can break down the fat that clogs the heart.


  4. Hello, Karthik!

    It might help to back up a little bit. Fat doesn't really clog the heart. Just a tiny part of the blood that passes through the heart is cholesterol, less than 1/10%. Once in a while, however, cholesterol gets "stuck" in the lining of arteries, especially where they bend. This isn't necessarily a problem, until the immune system sends out specialized white blood cells called macrophages to clean it up. And even that's not a problem unless the macrophages get stuck in the lining of the artery and die. Then more macrophages come along to remove the first macrophage, and so on, and eventually the whole mass can become calcified and clog. Intervening in the process at any point can make a huge difference. About 85% of the cholesterol in your body is made from other fats by the liver, and the kinds of fats that make the "bad" cholesterol that is especially likely to get stuck are actually storage forms of excess sugar. Cut back on EXCESS fat and sugar and you'll have less cholesterol of the kind that sticks in the lining of arteries. But it also helps if that first macrophage doesn't get stuck to the cholesterol. That's part of what curcumin can do. Free radicals (which are another effect of eating TOO MUCH sugar and fat) "flip the switch" that makes that first macrophage get stuck. Curcumin absorbs some of the free radicals that power this step.

    I'll post a little more about this later to answer the rest of your question. Thanks for stopping by.


  5. Thank you very much for answering my question!