Curcumin for Weight Loss
Curcumin can be a key part of anyone's program for normalizing body weight. Curcumin can help you lose fat without losing muscle.
What You Resist, Persists
Just about everybody knows that if you make a regular habit of consuming fewer calories than your body burns you will eventually lose weight. One of the main problems with dieting for weight loss, however, is that weight loss comes not just from the fat we want to lose but also from the muscle we don't.
The reason our bodies burn muscle when we go on weight loss diets is that we have hormones that protect fat cells at the expense of muscle. These hormones aren't necessarily a bad thing.
That is because fat cells don't just store fat. Fatty tissue cushions the vital organs and muscles from injury. It gives the body its natural curves. It keeps the skin from becoming sunken and sallow. And it generates hormones of its own that regulate our appetite in healthy ways and that activate the tumor-fighting abilities of the immune system.
The human body is designed to protect its fat cells by making them super-efficient at storing calories when we eat more than we need right away and not-so-efficient at giving up calories when we diet. And when we eat just a little bit of carbohydrate or protein for quick energy, or to tide us over until the next meal, fat cells go into overdrive to conserve the fat inside them. The hormone that determines whether fat cells store fat or release fat to be burned by the muscles is insulin.
Insulin and Fat Retention
Excess calories from fat and sugar are stored in fat cells as triglycerides. While there are triglycerides floating in the bloodstream, most of the triglycerides that we pack around the waist and on the hips and thighs are manufactured inside fat cells that synthesize them from smaller fatty acids and the sugar glucose.
Fat cells take in fatty acids and glucose in the presence of a hormone called lipoprotein lipase, abbreviated LPL. This hormone opens molecule-sized “loading docks” where the fat cell engorges itself on energy molecules from the bloodstream. To keep these energy molecules from spontaneously combusting inside the fat cell, it hooks smaller molecules together to make the safe and stable storage form of fat known as the triglycerides.
The molecular “loading dock” is large enough to let fatty acids and glucose in, but it is not large enough to let triglycerides out. Before the fat cell can release its contents to be burned by the muscles or vital organs, it has to disassemble its store of triglycerides back into fatty acids. This requires another hormone called hormone sensitive lipase, abbreviated HPL. LPL puts excess calories into storage, and HPL takes them out.
Both LPL and HPL respond to insulin levels. When your bloodstream insulin levels are higher, LPL is active. This forces fat to stay inside fat cells. When your bloodstream insulin levels are lower, HPL is active. This ensures that fat (which is mostly in the form of triglycerides) is broken down inside fat cells to be released into the bloodstream.
That's the major problem with exercise for weight loss. If we work out more, we eat more. If we eat more, our bodies produce more insulin in response even to the taste of food. And if our bodies produce more insulin, they keep fat locked up in fat cells, eventually forcing the body to burn amino acids stripped out of protein in muscle.
So why not just eat less? Eating less really is essential to losing weight, but if you start nibbling or snacking to get through the day, your body responds with insulin. In turn, the release of insulin activates LPL, and LPL keeps fat locked inside fatty tissue. It's amazing that anyone ever loses weight at all. Curcumin, however, can make the process easier¹.
How Curcumin Changes the Balance of Fat Storage and Fat Burning
If you have ever looked at photos of people from India or Pakistan, where curcumin-rich curries are a staple of the diet, you probably noticed that most of the people in those pictures are thin. That is not because they eat less.
Many people in South Asia actually consume more calories than their counterparts in the United States and Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand. They even consume a lot more carbs, but on the whole, there is less obesity and less diabetes in India than in the diet-obsessed United States. (To be accurate, India does have a 7. 2% rate of adult diabetes—but this is comparable to the rate in another curry-eating nation, the UK, and considerably less than then 11. 9% rate in the USA. )
When people in South Asia do gain weight, they tend to gain just a little belly fat, rather than slabs of fat all over. How can this be? Part of the answer lies in the curry, the everyday food that supplies so much curcumin.
Scientists at the Jean Mayer-USDA Human Nutrition Center at Tufts University in Boston, at the Pennington Research Center at Louisiana State University, and at the University Research Network in Toronto all report that that curcumin modifies a condition called insulin resistance. Curcumin helps make fat cells more responsive to insulin.
At first glance, it would seem that making fat cells more sensitive to insulin would increase fat storage rather than reduce it, but it turns out that helping fat cells respond to insulin is a good thing for dieters. That is because the way dieters get into trouble with insulin resistance usually runs something like this.
The future dieter falls into a habit of eating too many carbohydrates.
To protect themselves from being overwhelmed by sugar (which can cause a kind of spontaneous combustion inside the cell), cells all over the body shut down the “loading docks” activated by insulin that bring sugar into the cell.
Blood sugar levels stay just a little higher after meals, so the pancreas starts making just a little more insulin.
Cells respond to the increased levels of insulin in the bloodstream by shutting down even more of their receptor sites for it.
Blood sugar levels rise again, so the pancreas makes still more insulin.
All that extra insulin, however, activates the fat storage enzyme LPL and deactivates the fat release enzyme HPL. Blood sugar levels go higher and higher and higher, while fat cells store more and more and more fat. This vicious cycle eventually causes the insulin-producing beta-cells of the pancreas to burn out, and the result is type 2 diabetes. Curcumin, however, puts the brakes on the overproduction of insulin before obesity and diabetes become inevitable.
But that's not all curcumin does to help you lose weight.
Curcumin and Body Fat Inflammation
One of the surprising facts about body fat is that it isn't all fat. Up to 30% of your body fat, especially your belly fat, is actually a blob of white blood cells that get trapped in the wrong place.
A specialized kind of white blood cell known as a macrophage patrols the bloodstream looking for bacteria. Since bacteria are relatively large cells, macrophages have to be even larger cells to be able to engulf and digest them whole. Macrophages also consume dead or injured human cells to clear out a space for tissues to repair themselves.
Inflammation sends a signal called macrophage migration factor as a kind of emergency call for macrophages to do their work, and fat cells generate lots of inflammation factors. Again, this is not necessarily a bad thing, because inflammation activates the immune system.
The problem is that fat cells are served by tiny blood vessels known as capillaries, and macrophages can get stuck. Even worse, when the macrophages eventually live out their life cycle and die, they release still more inflammation signals that recruit still more macrophages.
Eventually, obese people can carry 5, 10, or even 20 pounds (up to 10 kilos) of white blood cells in their body fat. Stopping excess inflammation stops this process, and it becomes possible to lose weight without dieting. When people drop large amounts of weight without taking diuretics and without starving themselves, it is usually because they finally found a way to stop inflammation. Curcumin is one way to stop the inflammation and lose the belly fat.
Curcumin Helps You Control Your Appetite
Even if you can control all the ways your metabolism conspires to keep you fat, you still have to control your appetite. It turns out that curcumin can also help you control your desires for food.
One of the ways that curcumin can help you control your appetite is by increasing the production of a hormone called adiponectin². The more adiponectin you have in your bloodstream, the less you want to eat. This is because adiponectin interferes with a process called differentiation, in which baby fat cells mature into hungry fat cells. If your fat isn't constantly telling you “Feed me, feed me,” you will want to eat less.
Another way curcumin helps you control your appetite is by regulating the production of a hormone called leptin. This hormone switches off a pain factor that can literally make you ache to eat. When the pain of not eating is minimal, you don't want to eat all the time.
Curcumin doesn't increase the production of leptin, but rather prevents a phenomenon known as leptin resistance (which is similar to insulin resistance)³. Curcumin helps your brain respond to the amount of leptin your body already produces.
And Curcumin Can Even Stop Fat Cells Before They Start
Chances are that you have heard of human stem cells. You may have even heard that stem cells can be extracted from adult body fat. But you probably did not know that most of an adult's stem cells wind up as fat.
A stem cell is a cell that has the potential to become part of any tissue in the body. Stem cells are far more abundant in embryonic tissue, but the human body continues to make stem cells throughout life. In adulthood, some stem cells made in the marrow of the bones become blood cells. Others circulate to vital organs as repair cells. And many mature into fat cells.
The trigger for creating a fat cell is a combination of two proteins known as PPARγ and C/EBPα. Curcumin deactivates these proteins so that stem cells become blood or tissues other than fat. If you happen to be taking a kind of drug known as a TZD (thiazolidinedione) for type 2 diabetes (Actos or Avandia), then taking curcumin is especially useful for you, since TZD's activate PPARγ.
In other words, curcumin is good for diabetics who take these drugs because the drugs themselves transform stem cells into fat cells. Curcumin counteracts the transformation of stem cells into fat cells, and redirects them to making new blood and bone.
Make Mine a Thin-Daloo?
So how do you use curcumin in your weight loss plan? Should you eat curry twice a day to get all the curcumin your body needs, eating chicken thin-daloo instead of chicken vindaloo?
Actually, that approach works. A British marketing consultant, Mrs. Suki Burai, famously lost 3 stone⁴ (42 pounds/19 kilos) while eating curries for lunch and dinner and toast for breakfast. She took the additional step of leaving out butter and ghee to make low-fat, mostly vegetable-based curries.
If you like curry, and you like curry a lot, this approach to weight loss dieting will work for you. But if you would prefer to eat curry only occasionally or not at all, taking curcumin will do the trick.
How Much Curcumin Is Enough to Fight Fat?
The exact amount of curcumin optimal for supporting weight loss programs has not been clinically tested, but most health practitioners report that their clients get good results on 400 to 600 mg of curcumin taken three times a day. It's best to a product that contains both curcumin and turmeric that has been standardized to deliver the 400 to 600 mg dose of curcumin.
Your curcumin diet will work better if you eat less fat, especially if you have been told you are a type 2 diabetic or that you are pre-diabetic. That is because your fat cells retain their ability to use insulin to store fatty acids long after they lose their ability to use insulin to store sugars.
It also helps to avoid eating lots of carbohydrate and lots of fat at the same meal. Insulin will store fat first, and sugar later. The glucose digested from your food stays in your bloodstream and signals an already-overworked pancreas that it has to work harder, but this only makes more cells more insulin resistant and stimulates the storage of even more fat.
Exercise certainly won't hurt. Doing exercise helps you feel better. Exercise is not a good foundation for any weight loss program, however, because as we get in better shape, our muscles become more efficient and need fewer calories to do the same work. Exercise is primarily for your general health, not for controlling what you see when you step on the scales.
And whether you exercise or not, you will almost certainly have to eat less to lose weight. Cutting out snacks is a good idea. The body does not, as some “experts” claim, run out of amino acids and start breaking down its own proteins in just 3 hours. It's more like 48 hours. You really want starve if you skip a snack or even skip a meal. After all, you can't lose weight if you get up in the middle of the night to eat, so you should not expect to lose weight if you snack all day.
Is Curcumin All You Need?
Curcumin won't do all the work of weight loss for you, but getting rid of the water weight associated with inflammation can jump start your diet in ways that help you look better fast. Curcumin will help you get rid of the puffiness caused by water weight. It will help you lose water weight from your ankles to your eye lids.
And in the long run, there are few natural supplements that can do more to help you keep weight away for good. Take 1200 to 2000 mg of curcumin every day, and eat low-calorie curries as often as you wish for lasting weight loss.
- Meydani M, Hasan ST. Dietary polyphenols and obesity. Nutrients. 2010 Jul; 2(7): 737-51. doi: 10. 3390/nu2070737. Epub 2010 Jul 8.
- Qu XB, Zhao SP, Xu J, Dong LN. [Effects of curcumin on secretion of adiponectin and interleukin-6 in human adipose tissues: an in vitro study]. [Article in Chinese] Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Xue Bao. 2008 Jul; 6(7): 711-5. doi: 10. 3736/jcim20080710.
- Shao W, Yu Z, Chiang Y, Yang Y, Chai T, Foltz W, Lu H, Fantus IG, Jin T. Curcumin prevents high fat diet induced insulin resistance and obesity via attenuating lipogenesis in liver and inflammatory pathway in adipocytes. PLoS One. 2012; 7(1): e28784. doi: 10. 1371/journal. pone. 0028784. Epub 2012 Jan 9.
- Daily Mail Reporter, “Make Mine a Thin-Daloo: Mother of Three Loses 3st on Curry Alone and Sets Up Slimming Group,” Daily Mail, 7 May 2010.