Aging, which can be defined as the ‘time-related deterioration of the physiological functions necessary for survival and fertility’, is a process most people would like to slow down. Some of its main causes include accumulated cellular damage caused by free radicals and the shortening of telomere. Through research, scientists have identified a large number of substances that have anti-aging properties. Curcumin is one such a substance and its nutraceutical properties are now widely accepted in modern medicine.
Curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric, a spice widely used in Ayurvedic- and Chinese medicine. Its role in wound healing, arthritis, and inflammatory bowel disease, amongst other things, has been well researched. Lately it has also come under the spotlight for its anti-aging properties, whether in the fight against age related disease or simply in skin aging.
How does Curcumin promote longevity?
The role of curcumin in cellular senescence.
Cellular senescence occurs when cells stop dividing. As aging progresses senescent cells accumulate, which is believed to accelerate aging and disease progression. Research demonstrates that curcumin activates certain proteins, including sirtuins and AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) which helps delay cellular senescence and promotes longevity.
The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant role of curcumin.
It is well known that inflammation plays a key role in aging. Curcumin can counteract the pro-inflammatory state which is believed to participate in many age-related diseases. Unlike synthetic drugs, which typically work against only a single inflammation pathway, natural curcumin reduces inflammation through its effects on multiple inflammation targets.
Several studies have highlighted the positive impact of curcumin supplementation in metabolic diseases such as diabetes, neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, or cancers, the main common phenomenon of which is inflammation.
A recent study in animals with Alzheimer’s disease showed the binding of curcumin to A-beta, thus preventing the formation of amyloid plaques and the development of chronic inflammation.
Other studies have been interested in the modulation of pro-inflammatory molecules, such as certain enzymes (phospholipase, lipo-oxygenase, cyclo-oxygenase 2) and cytokines (TNF-alpha, IL-1, IL-6…), by curcumin and are equally conclusive.
Curcumin and gene regulation.
Cancer can be considered an age-related disease because the incidence of most cancers increase with age. It can also be described as a disease of altered gene expression. Curcumin has the ability to modulate gene expression—both by destroying cancer cells and by promoting healthy cell function.
Curcumin has the most evidence-based literature of any nutrient supporting its use against cancer, including vitamin D, which also has a robust base (Biswas et al., 2010; Bar-Sela et al., 2010). Curcumin has the ability to modulate gene expression—both by destroying cancer cells and by promoting healthy cell function. It also promotes antiangiogenesis, meaning it helps prevent the development of additional blood supply necessary for cancer cell growth.
Several studies have shown the effectiveness of curcumin on three common types of cancer: colon, lung and prostate. In all studies, tumour size was significantly reduced and post-treatment survival was increased up to three times. The most common explanation for this effect is that curcumin is able to regulate the expression of certain pro-cancer proteins by binding onto the genes encoding them.
Towards an extension of life?
Telomeres are the caps at the end of each strand of DNA that protect our chromosomes. Almost like the plastic tips at the end of shoelaces. Without the coating shoelaces become frayed until they can no longer do their job, just as without telomeres, DNA strands become damaged and our cells can’t do their jobs.
Telomere shortening is involved in all aspects of the ageing process on a cellular level. Telomere length represents our biological age as opposed to our chronological age. Many scientific studies have shown a strong connection between short telomeres and cellular ageing. Telomeres act as the ageing clock in every cell.
In the context of neurodegenerative diseases, a study examined telomeres and their regulation by curcumin. It seems that it affects telomerase, the enzyme that repairs the telomeres so that they do not become progressively shorter. By increasing telomerase expression, telomeres are preserved longer, thus increasing the lifespan of our cells https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/jcb.24466
Curcumin is involved in cellular signalling and gene regulation mechanisms that allow it to act on the overall aging of our bodies.