We all know that exercise cannot be replaced by anything. However, turmeric extract seems to do a pretty good job of producing some of the same cardiovascular health benefits, most particularly in women undergoing age-associated adverse changes in arterial health.
Although conventional medical practitioners express a general lack of interest in turmeric’s role in preventing heart disease, there is a lot of published research on its remarkable cardio protective properties.
There is a study, published in the American Journal of Cardiology, which found turmeric extract to be able to reduce post-bypass heart attack risk by 56%. And there’s also another amazing study from 2012, published in the journal Nutrition Research, which revealed that curcumin, the primary polyphenol in turmeric which gives it its golden hue, is as effective in improving vascular function in postmenopausal women as a moderate aerobic exercise training regimen.
The study lasted 8 weeks and involved 32 postmenopausal women who were assigned into 3 groups: a non-treatment control, exercise, and curcumin. The researchers ascertained the health of the inner lining of their blood vessels (known as the endothelium) by using ultrasound to measure flow-mediated arterial dilation, a well-known indicator of arterial elasticity and therefore endothelial function. A disturbance of the endothelial function is considered a crucial cause of the development of atherosclerosis. Therefore, anything that can prevent, reduce or reverse endothelial dysfunction may reduce morbidity and mortality associated with cardiovascular disease.
The women in the curcumin group received 150 mg turmeric extract per day, for 8 weeks, supplying 25 mg of colloidally dispersed nanoparticle curcumin. Their habits, regarding their diet and exercise, were unchanged during the study period.
The women in the exercise group went through an aerobic exercise training more than 3 days per week (2-3 supervised sessions and additional home-based training). In the course of the 8 weeks, their exercise program involved cycling and walking for 30-60 minutes per session, ranging in intensity from 60% of their individually determined maximal heart rate in the initial phase of the trial, to 70-75% maximal heart rate in the latter half.
After eight weeks, flow-mediated dilation increased significantly in both exercise and curcumin, compared to the control. The researchers concluded:
“The present study showed that regular ingestion of curcumin or regular aerobic exercise training significantly improved endothelial function. The magnitude of improvement in endothelial function to the same extent, suggesting that curcumin may prevent the age-associated decline in endothelial function in postmenopausal women.”
This study absolutely encourages people who already use turmeric in their diet, or perhaps take a curcumin supplement to ward off a wide range of potential ailments. However, it should be clearly noted that exercise shouldn’t, and can’t be replaced with a supplement. Nor can exercise replace the critical role that turmeric plays in human health and disease. Of course, if one incorporates plenty of regular exercise with regular culinary doses of turmeric, the synergy of the health benefits would most likely far exceed exercise or turmeric taken alone. This study didn’t look at the effects of a combined use of turmeric and exercise, but it’s commonsense that we shouldn’t sit around and wait for another clinical trial before we employ this obviously optimal strategy.
Another interesting study was published by the same research group in 2012 in the American Journal of Hypertension. It observed the combined effect of curcumin and exercise in postmenopausal women in improving heart muscle stress tolerance. It found that “regular endurance exercise combined with daily curcumin ingestion may reduce LV [left ventricular] afterload to a greater extent than monotherapy with either intervention alone in postmenopausal women.” Chronic heightened left ventricular afterload can contribute to pathological hypertrophy of that region of the heart, and is linked with elevated blood pressure and aortic valve disease. These findings clearly show that combining exercise with turmeric (or curcumin) will produce the most benefit.
Another ‘side benefit’ of using turmeric with exercise is the fact that it is a great remedy for reducing exercise-associated inflammation and pain. It has already been found very effective in relieving symptoms linked with osteoarthritis. You can find the details of this study here: Turmeric Extract Puts Drugs For Knee Osteoarthritis To Shame.