A new study from Thailand suggests that taking curcumin supplements may help delay or prevent the development of type 2 diabetes in people at high risk. Curcumin, which has been studied for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, is the primary active ingredient in turmeric, the spice that gives curry its distinctive flavor. The nine-month Thai study included 240 men and women, all of them diagnosed as pre-diabetic (based on abnormally high blood sugar levels). The participants were divided into two groups and randomly assigned to take either curcumin or a placebo. All participants took six capsules per day. The active capsules contained 250 mg of curcumin; the inactive capsules looked the same as the active ones, but contained no curcumin. After nine months, 19 of the 116 participants in the placebo group had developed type 2 diabetes; none of those who took the curcumin capsules developed the disease. The study was published online on July 6, 2012 by Diabetes Care.
My take? Turmeric is emerging as a promising disease-preventive agent, and its benefits are likely due to curcumin’s potent anti-inflammatory activity. A growing body of published scientific literature suggests that turmeric may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis and some types of cancer. Turmeric has been used traditionally in India as a treatment for diabetes, so the results of the Thai study do not come as a complete surprise. The Thai researchers noted that curcumin seemed to promote the function of beta cells in the pancreas that release insulin and suggested that its anti-inflammatory effects were responsible for the improvement. We’ll need more studies to confirm these promising findings. In the meantime, a proven strategy - diet and exercise - can help those at risk of type 2 diabetes avoid the disease.