Herbal Spotlight: Turmeric and Thyroid Health
Published July 22 2013
Turmeric is an herb which has many benefits. It has been used for thousands of years to help with numerous conditions. This herb can potentially benefit people with autoimmune thyroid conditions, and might be beneficial in some cases of thyroid cancer, as I’ll discuss in this article. Truth to be told, this is an herb that just about anyone can benefit from, and not just those people with thyroid and autoimmune thyroid conditions.
Turmeric is commonly used in cooking, and is what gives curry both its flavor and yellow color. It has been known for centuries that turmeric has anti-inflammatory activity, but recently there have been multiple studies which have shown that this is due to curcumin (1). This agent has been shown to regulate numerous transcription factors, cytokines, protein kinases, adhesion molecules, redox status, and enzymes that have been linked to inflammation (1).
Curcumin and Cardiovascular Disease. Numerous studies show that curcumin may have a protective role in cardiovascular diseases. And since cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death, one can make the argument that everyone should include turmeric in their diet, or perhaps take a turmeric supplement. One study discusses how the antioxidant effects of curcumin have been shown to attenuate adriamycin-induced cardiotoxicity and may prevent diabetic cardiovascular complications (2). The same study shows that the anti-thrombotic, anti-proliferative, and anti-inflammatory effects of curcumin and the effect of curcumin decreasing the serum cholesterol level may protect against the pathological changes occurring with atherosclerosis. Another study demonstrates how dietary curcumin is effective at inhibiting maladaptive cardiac repair and preserving cardiac function after ischemia and reperfusion (3). It also goes on to say that curcumin has potential as a treatment for patients who have had a heart attack.
Curcumin and Diabetes. This of course also ties into cardiovascular health, but there have been separate studies which show how curcumin can help with diabetes. One study involved people in a prediabetic population who were taking curcumin (or a placebo) for 9 months (4). The study concluded by showing that curcumin significantly lowered the number of prediabetic individuals who eventually developed type 2 diabetes. The same study also showed that curcumin appeared to improve overall function of beta cells. Another study concluded that curcumin supplementation could improve diabetes-induced endothelial dysfunction significantly (5). Yet another study demonstrated how curcumin attenuates diabetic neuropathic pain (6).
Curcumin and Asthma/Allergies. A few studies have shown that curcumin might be beneficial in people with asthma and allergies. One study showed that curcumin treatments markedly attenuated the inflammation in asthma by regulating T regulatory/Th17 balance (7). The findings supported the possible use of curcumin as a therapeutic drug for patients with allergic asthma. Another study showed that curcumin alleviates the pathological changes of chronic asthma, and might be a promising therapy for asthma in the future (8). Yet another study showed that there is a marked inhibition of allergic response in animals treated with curcumin, suggesting a major role for curcumin in reducing the allergic response (9). Another study demonstrated that curcumin attenuates the development of allergic airway inflammation and hyper-responsiveness, possibly through inhibition of NF-kappaB activation in the asthmatic lung tissue (10).
Curcumin and Skin Diseases. Curcumin can even help with certain skin conditions. One study discusses how curcumin protects the skin by quenching free radicals and reducing inflammation through nuclear factor-KB inhibition (11). The same study also mentioned how curcumin reduces wound-healing time, improved collagen deposition and increased fibroblast and vascular density in wounds thereby enhancing both normal and impaired wound-healing. The study concluded by suggesting that curcumin might be a potent nontoxic agent for treating skin diseases. Another study suggests that oral curcumin might be beneficial in the treatment of moderate to severe psoriasis (12), although it concluded by stating that large placebo-controlled studies are necessary before recommending oral curcumin as a psoriasis treatment.
Curcumin and Autoimmunity. To no surprise, because curcumin can help greatly with inflammation, this herb can be extremely valuable in the treatment of certain autoimmune conditions, including Graves’ Disease and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. One study shows that curcumin helps with autoimmune conditions by regulating inflammatory cytokines such as IL-1beta, IL-6, IL-12, TNF-alpha, and NF-kappaB signaling pathways in immune cells (13). Another study confirmed that curcumin has an inhibitory effect on the cytokines (14). Yet another study looked at the potential of curcumin to modulate CD4+ T cells-mediated autoimmune disease (15), and the results suggested that curcumin can impact both endoplasmic reticulum stress and mitochondria functional pathways, and thereby could be used as a promising therapy in the context of Th-1 mediated autoimmune diseases.
Does this mean that taking turmeric/curcumin is necessary to suppress the autoimmune response? Not necessarily, as when I followed a natural treatment protocol for my condition I personally didn’t take turmeric. And I’ve also had patients who did well on a natural treatment protocol without taking turmeric. There are many different nutrients and herbs which can help with inflammation. But turmeric is a very powerful anti-inflammatory herb.
Thyroid cancer is the most common type of cancer when it comes to the endocrine system. And while I don’t have a specific natural treatment protocol for thyroid cancer, a recent study reported that curcumin inhibits multiple metastasis steps of K1 papillary thyroid cancer cells (16). These findings showed that curcumin might be effective for the treatment of aggressive papillary thyroid carcinomas.
Other Benefits of Curcumin. There are even more potential benefits of taking curcumin. One study discussed how dietary curcumin is a strong candidate for use in the prevention or treatment of major disabling age-related neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and stroke (17). Another study suggested that curcumin has enormous potential in the prevention and therapy of cancer (18). Curcumin might also be useful as a treatment for ulcerative colitis (19), as well as benefit people with osteoarthritis (20).
Contraindications and Interactions
According to the book “Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy”, which was written by well-known herbalist Kerry Bone, there are no contraindications for turmeric other than allergic reaction, which is rare. With regards to interactions, because it has antiplatelet activity, Kerry Bone recommends that high doses should not be given to patients taking antiplatelet or anticoagulant drugs. In his book he also mentions how no adverse effects are expected at the recommended dosage during pregnancy and lactation.
In summary, turmeric has many different benefits, and while it can help people with thyroid and autoimmune thyroid conditions, many other people can benefit from taking turmeric. It can potentially prevent cardiovascular disease, help people who have diabetes, as well as those who have asthma and/or allergies. Curcumin might be able to benefit people with skin conditions, such as psoriasis. And since it also can inhibit pro-inflammatory cytokines it can be beneficial for people with autoimmune thyroid conditions such as Graves’ Disease and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.