Spice it up: Curcumin found to boost exercise performance in mice with heart failure

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03 Dec 2018 --- Popular cooking and nutritional ingredient curcumin may improve exercise intolerance – a hallmark of chronic heart failure – when taken by people who have experienced the condition, a study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology has found. The researchers note that based on these findings, and previous studies, more targeted drugs should be formulated, and the consumption of foods that are rich in nuclear-factor E2-related factor 2 (Nrf2) activators should be encouraged.

“These data suggest that activation of Nrf2 in skeletal muscle may represent a novel therapeutic strategy to improve the quality of life in people with heart failure with reduced ejection fraction,” the researchers note.

“These data have implications for all metabolically mediated muscle disorders including disuse atrophy, so more targeted drugs need to be developed,” Lie Gao, MD, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Cellular and Integrative Physiology, University of Nebraska Medical Center, tells NutritionInsight.

Heart failure affects more than 6 million people living in the US. People with heart failure have a reduced function of the left ventricle – the chamber of the heart that pumps blood out to the rest of the body – called reduced ejection fraction. A decreased ability to exercise (exercise intolerance) is another significant characteristic of heart failure. 

It was thought that reduced levels of Nrf2 – a protein that regulates the expression of antioxidant enzymes – may contribute to the impaired exercise performance. Curcumin is known to promote the activation of Nrf2, and so the researchers sought to examine the effects of curcumin on a mouse model of heart failure with reduced ejection fraction.

One group of mice with heart failure received daily dosClick to EnlargeCurcumin, a chemical that comes from the turmeric plant, has been used in traditional Asian medicine for centuries, primarily to treat gastrointestinal ailments and skin wounds  es of curcumin for 12 weeks, while another group received none. The heart failure groups were compared to a control group of healthy mice that received curcumin and an untreated control group.

Overall, both groups that received curcumin – even the animals without heart failure – had improved exercise capacity when compared with the untreated groups, suggesting the effects of curcumin on skeletal muscle may not be exclusive to heart failure.

This University of Nebraska study builds on previous research that found that higher than normal levels of oxidative stress – an imbalance of two different kinds of molecules that can result in cell damage – contribute to exercise intolerance in people with heart failure. 

Curcumin: a yellow beacon of hope?
Curcumin, a chemical that comes from the turmeric plant, has been used in traditional Asian medicine for centuries, primarily to treat gastrointestinal ailments and skin wounds. 

The researchers note that studies increasingly suggest that the compound may prevent or limit muscle wasting associated with a number of health conditions, including heart failure. The vivid yellow ingredient has featured in a number of other health studies as well.

Regarding a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), oral curcumin provides no benefits in preventing inflammation and complications in patients undergoing elective surgery for aortic aneurysm repair.

In response to this study, Drs. Kirsten Patrick and Matthew Stanbrook, Deputy Editors of the CMAJ note, “No one should be shocked by the findings of the study by Garg and colleagues. This is how science works. It's deeply disappointing when a promising compound is shown to be no better than nothing. But it happens every day.”

However, other studies have highlighted the benefits around curcumin, such as its role in preventing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Furthermore, Arjuna’s BCM-95 turmeric extract was granted the coveted EU treatment patent, for “composition for use in treatment,” issued by the European Patent Office (EPO). 

By Laxmi Haigh

To contact our editorial team please email us at editorial@cnsmedia.com

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