In recent years turmeric has gained increasing popularity as we continue to discover the huge health benefits it has. One current research topic of interest is whether the dietary addition of turmeric may help treat diabetes.
Turmeric comes from a plant called Curcuma longa. Its active ingredient is curcumin, which gives it that bright yellow colour. It has actually been used for years in ancient medicine to treat ailments like swelling and to improve digestion. Some studies show it may help prevent cardiovascular disease and kidney disease.
Turmeric and blood sugar in diabetics
Diabetes is the disease of dysregulated blood sugar. In many studies, adding turmeric has been associated with reductions in high blood sugar, or “hyperglycemia”, in rodents. One study, in particular, tested the effect of turmeric versus insulin on blood glucose levels in diabetics. One group was given one unit of insulin per day, another group was given a comparable amount of turmeric, and a third group was given a combination of one unit of insulin plus turmeric per day. There was a more significant reduction in blood glucose in the group given the combination of insulin and turmeric.1
These findings suggest that turmeric produces an additive effect on blood sugar level when combined with insulin. More research is needed to determine an effective ratio of insulin and turmeric for diabetic treatment.
Turmeric could help prevent the progression of diabetes
Diabetes is a growing epidemic; according to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Diabetes Statistics Report, 1 in 3 Americans have prediabetes.2 Similarly, one in three Canadians are living with diabetes or prediabetes according to the 2019 Diabetes Canada Cost Model.3
Turmeric may have the potential to prevent further progression of diabetes, which is one of the main reasons it has gained huge research interest.
In a 2012 study, the effect of curcumin (turmeric) on the development of type 2 diabetes was studied in at-risk individuals. In the group of individuals that did not receive curcumin, 16% had developed type 2 diabetes after nine months of observation. In contrast, no one in the group that received turmeric over nine months developed type 2 diabetes. The group given turmeric also showed reduced insulin resistance and improved function of beta cells, which release insulin.4
Another study looked at the effect of turmeric on beta cells. Beta cells, like many other cells in the body, risk becoming oxidized by free radicals, which can cause tissue damage and can play a role in decreased function. The study found that turmeric significantly decreased biomarkers of oxidative stress.1 It has been concluded from this study and many others, that turmeric exhibits antioxidant functions, which can help protect and improve the function of beta cells.
Incorporating turmeric into pre-diabetes care could be a promising way to maintain a healthy insulin response and prevent diabetic progression, however more research is needed.
Turmeric and diabetic nephropathy
An unfortunate common long-term effect of diabetes is kidney disease, also called nephropathy. The kidneys can become damaged over time due to increased exposure to high blood sugar levels and high blood pressure, damaging the blood vessels in the kidneys. On top of this, exposure to free radicals in the blood can contribute to further kidney oxidative damage. Turmeric may help to reduce blood glucose levels and have antioxidant properties that can help mitigate kidney damage most patients with diabetes experience. But exactly how much can turmeric help?
A 2013 study administered daily doses of curcumin every eight weeks to rats with type 1 diabetes. They measured the amount of a key kidney protein, nephrin, before and after the duration of the study, because low amounts of nephrin can indicate diabetic nephropathy.5 The type 1 diabetic rats that were given curcumin had significantly increased nephrin levels, almost reaching healthy levels.6
Turmeric and diabetes-induced cardiovascular disease
Diabetics are at a much higher risk for developing cardiovascular and heart disease than the general population. In fact, Diabetes Canada claims that those with diabetes may develop heart disease 15 years earlier than someone without diabetes.7
Along with high blood sugar, high cholesterol levels can lead to various forms of cardiovascular disease. Turmeric has actually been shown to reduce lipid levels in the blood. In one study, type 1 diabetic rats given turmeric had a significant reduction in fat in the blood and around the kidneys.6 Another study observed the effect of turmeric on those at risk for developing cardiovascular disease. The results showed that consuming turmeric was associated with significantly decreased LDL (bad cholesterol) levels and the overall amount of fat in the blood.8
How does turmeric compare to conventional diabetic medications?
A 2019 study looked at the effect of Metformin versus turmeric on blood glucose levels, cholesterol, and an oxidation marker called “TBARS” on diabetic rats. Although both turmeric and Metformin on their own produced a reduction in all categories, the combination of both metformin and turmeric produced an even more significant reduction.10 Combination treatment may be the key to reducing the amount of prescription medication taken by diabetics, and achieving a more natural treatment plan.
Combination therapy using antioxidants and insulin is also gaining popularity. With the use of more research and clinical trials, the use of antioxidants like turmeric could provide additional benefit to diabetics.
The benefits of turmeric are just beginning to be discovered, and more research is being done in this area to determine how much more turmeric has to offer for diabetics.
Individuals who are pre-diabetic or diabetic and struggling to manage blood sugar, cholesterol, or are at risk for cardiovascular or kidney disease, should ask their healthcare provider how to add turmeric to their diet. Many health companies have made incorporating turmeric easy, with recent developments of turmeric-infused teas, turmeric crackers, turmeric milk, and turmeric capsules. Always speak with your doctor before taking any supplements.
Gutierrez, V. O. et al. (2019). Curcumin improves the effect of a reduced insulin does on glycemic control and oxidative stress in streptozotocin-diabetic rats. Phytotherapy Research; 33(4): 976-988. Doi: 10.1002/ptr.6291.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Diabetes Statistics Report 2020. (2020). U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Diabetes Canada. (2019). The 2019 Diabetes Canada Cost Model. Accessed Mar. 26 2021. Retrieved from https://www.diabetes.ca/media-room/press-releases/one-in-three-canadians-is-living-with-diabetes-or-prediabetes,-yet-knowledge-of-risk-and-complicatio.
Chuengsamarn, S. et al. (2012). Curcumin Extract for Prevention of Type 2 Diabetes. Diabetes Care; 35(11): 2121-2127. Doi: 10.2337/dc12-0116.
Jim, B. et al. (2012). Dysregulated Nephrin in DIabetic Nephropathy of Type 2 Diabetes: A Cross Sectional Study. PLoS One; 7(5): e36041. Doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0036041.
Soetikno, V. (2013). Curcumin decreases renal triglyceride accumulation through AMPK-SREBP signaling pathway in streptozotocin-induced type 1 diabetic rats. The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry; 24(5): 796-802. Doi: 10.1016/j.jnutbio.2012.04.013.
Heart disease & stroke. (n.d.). Diabetes Canada. Accessed on Mar. 26 2021. Retrieved from https://www.diabetes.ca/managing-my-diabetes/preventing-complications/heart-disease—stroke#:~:text=People%20with%20diabetes%20may%20develop,or%20blocked%20by%20fatty%20deposits.
Qin, S. et al. (2017). Efficacy and safety of turmeric and curcumin in lowering blood lipid levels in patients with cardiovascular risk factors: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Nutritional Journal; 16(1): 68. Doi: 10.1186/s12937-017-0293-y.
McGovern, A. et al. (2017). Comparison of medication adherence and persistence in type 2 diabetes: A systemic review and meta-analysis. Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism; 20(4): 1040-1043. Doi: 10.1111/dom.13160.
Roxo, D. F. et al. (2019). Curcumin combined with metformin decreases glycemia and dyslipidemia, and increases paraoxonase activity in diabetic rats. Diabetology & Metabolic Syndrome; 11: 33. Doi: 10.1186/s13098-019-0431-0.
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