Turmeric Injections

I love a good curry. Obviously little old Indian grandmothers and Indian restaurants make the best ones but I am also capable of making a halfway decent curry from scratch. One of the several spices I tend to use is turmeric, not so much for its flavour which is a kind of bitter gingery flavour, but more for its colour; it’s great at giving a curry that classic yellow hue.

A few months ago I started to hear about folk who were injecting turmeric into themselves. I didn’t look into it any further and just chalked it up to the ever growing list of crazy things crazy people will do to dupe themselves into feeling better. About two weeks ago, though, I heard about the case of 30 year old Jade Erick in California. Jade had eczema and was trying to treat it with an intra-venous (IV) infusion of curcumin. Curcumin, my research reveals, is the active ingredient in turmeric. Jade is now dead. Remember that the next time you wonder what the harm is of having a scientifically illiterate populace left to fend for themselves in a predatory healthcare market.

The San Diego Medical Examiner has since reported that her death was caused by, “…anoxic encephalopathy due to prolonged resuscitated cardiopulmonary arrest due to adverse reaction to infused turmeric solution”. In other words, the turmeric gave her a heart attack that starved her brain of oxygen until she died.

Now, an hour ago I didn’t know that turmeric and its byproducts are cardiotoxic but, then, I’m not injecting it directly into people’s bloodstreams. After a few Googles, however, I had a range of safety information to hand that certainly would give me pause before I hooked up the IV. Presumably, the naturopathic doctors of California who carry out this procedure are aware of the safety concerns because they’re professionals, right?

Well, it’s strange because none of their websites seem to mention any side effects or safety concerns; indeed, many sites that used to promote the treatment have now scrubbed their sites of any mention of curcumin, and it is only through looking at cached versions of their sites that you could ever know that they had been strong proponents until very recently. Nothing suspicious there.

Luckily, there are still plenty of websites out there that can give people all the facts about IV curcumin treatment. The Dr Axe website says, “When examining the research, turmeric benefits go beyond that of these 10 drugs: anti-inflammatory drugs; anti-depressants; chemotherapy; anti-coagulants (aspirin); painkillers; diabetes drugs; arthritis medications; inflammatory bowel disease drugs; cholesterol drugs; steroids”.

Wow! Just look at that list again: humble, old turmeric can outperform the best that modern medicine has to offer on mental illness, cancer treatments, diabetes, arthritis and more.

The althealthworks website says that curcumin is good for treating arthritis, digestive problems, hormonal health, and cancer; specifically prostate, rectal, tongue and pancreatic cancers. Apparently curcumin can promote growth of normal cells, kill cancer cells, prevent inflammation and stop cancers from vascularising (developing their own blood supplies). It’s amazing for one molecule to have so many functions; especially when over $170m of government funding and more than 1,000 published papers have failed to produce a single positive result in a double-blinded placebo-controlled trial.

It is easy for people, then, to find lots of authoritative looking information on this amazing, natural treatment, especially if you are not practised in distinguishing reliable, science-based information from, well, bullshit.

One example of good quality information is this recent review from the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry. In it the authors take a thorough look at everything that has ever been published on curcumin and assess a whole range of properties ranging from its chemical stability (or lack thereof), its physicochemical properties, its absorption, distribution, metabolism, excretion and toxicology; all of which are vital data for any potential drug. Their conclusions are withering:

“Unfortunately, no form of curcumin, or its closely related analogues, appears to possess the properties required for a good drug candidate (chemical stability, high water solubility, potent and selective target activity, high bioavailability, broad tissue distribution, stable metabolism, and low toxicity).”

My favourite quote, by far, is this one:

“To our knowledge, [curcumin] has never been shown to be conclusively effective in a randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial for any indication. Curcumin is best typified, therefore, as a missile that continually blows up on the launch pad, never reaching the atmosphere or its intended target(s). These results have given curcumin the label of pharmacodynamically fierce (hits many targets) yet pharmacokinetically feeble (does not get to its targets). While these failures would normally end further research on its use as a therapeutic, they apparently have not deterred researchers interested in its development.”

In summary, it doesn’t work. For anything.

Now, please don’t let any of this put you off using turmeric in your food. Curry is easily my favourite food and I’d hate for people to turn away from it. There is a big difference between sprinkling a bit of ground root into your curry and injecting the pure active ingredient directly into your bloodstream. Keep the turmeric in the spice rack and and we’ll all be fine.

Powdered turmeric. Image courtesy of Sanjay Acharya. Title image courtesy of Simon A. Eugster.

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