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Scientists Respond to Coverage of Curcumin

February 7, 2017

Mini-perspective intended to assess viability of curcumin as a drug candidate.

Botanical scientists have taken issue with mainstream media coverage that has “misinterpreted” an article published in January in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry titled “The Essential Medicinal Chemistry of Curcumin” Mini-perspective. The authors of the article offered an overview of the clinical trials and drug development effort regarding curcumin, and stated several conclusions and opinions based on their personal interpretation of previous research.
According to American Herbal Product Association (AHPA) Chief Science Officer Maged Sharaf, PhD, the article was misinterpreted by several publications, including TIME magazine, the Smithsonian and Medical Daily. Dr. Sharaf criticized the headlines that "misinform the public about turmeric and turmeric-based ingredients."
"This mini-perspective has been misinterpreted to create inaccurate headlines and articles that misinform the public about turmeric and turmeric-based ingredients,” he said. “It should not be interpreted that turmeric or its metabolites provide no health benefits. The mini-perspective simply states that anyone trying to develop the chemical curcumin into a drug must use well-designed research protocol. There are dozens of published clinical studies showing that turmeric and its constituents impart significant health benefits, and misinterpreting this paper discussing curcumin viability for drug development to discount those benefits does a disservice to human health."
Ajay Goel, PhD, director of the Center for Gastrointestinal Research at the Baylor Scott & White Research Institute, Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, TX, said the media has reacted with only “a superficial understanding of this scientific article, which has led to confusion and misinformation about this extremely beneficial botanical, including mainstream media stories condemning curcumin’s medical promise.”
Curcumin is a compound extracted from turmeric, a potent plant of the ginger family. According to Dr. Goel, about 2-5% of turmeric is curcumin, which is extracted to deliver a more concentrated dose.
According to estimates from Nutrition Business Journal (NBJ), sales of turmeric reached $196 million in 2015, up 20% from the previous year, and are projected to reach $433 million by 2020. Turmeric was the top-selling ingredient in the herb and homeopathic category for 2016, according to SPINS data, earning about $42.2 million in the natural channel, up 36.7% from 2015.
“Curcumin is the primary member of a family of compounds called curcuminoids, which also includes demethoxycurcumin and bisdemethoxycurcumin. Although it is not technically correct, in common language curcumin is often used to refer to the full family of curcuminoids,” said Dr. Goel. “Full spectrum, natural ‘curcumin’ supplements contain all three compounds from the curcuminoid family. The authors of this article state they are exploring only curcumin—meaning a single curcuminoid removed from its family.”
An article in TIME stated that, "A new review of scientific literature on curcumin, the most well-known chemical in turmeric, suggests that the compound has limited, if any, actual health benefits."
In response, Dr. Sharaf informed the editors and reporters, "Turmeric has long history of human use both as a food seasoning and a health remedy, and its benefits are well-documented. Curcumin is one of many compounds in turmeric and is considered a secondary metabolite, constituents which are present in small amounts and in mixtures. It is already well known that curcumin by itself is not well absorbed by the human body, but effects of other constituents of turmeric and those present in the gastrointestinal tract shouldn't be ignored, nor should the fact that companies have developed patented formulas to improve bioavailability of turmeric-based ingredients."
Dr. Sharaf concluded, "The mini-perspective is a good resource for those conducting research on curcumin and related curcuminoids to develop drugs because it provides hypotheses that could explain their biological activity and various strategies to avoid potentially problematic research approaches and/or misinterpretation of outcomes." 
Dr. Goel noted that one of the stated reasons for the article published in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry was to explore the likelihood of curcumin as a drug candidate, with the initial conclusion being that curcumin is not a good candidate, as there is not a straightforward way to create an analog for a specific therapeutic effect.
“It is my opinion that curcumin cannot be reduced to a few chemical structures that behave in a singular fashion,” said Dr. Goel. “There is a vast array of physical targets that are touched by the natural compounds in curcumin that cannot be duplicated by a synthetic drug. My own scientific research, and the research of other esteemed scientists around the world, has confirmed that curcumin is a powerful and clinically documented intervention that has provided health benefits to hundreds of thousands of people around the world.”

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