Is this spice good or bad for pigment loss (leukoderma)?
If, like me, you love spicy foods you will be no stranger to #turmeric, the lovely golden spice derived from the root of the curcuma plant and widely used in Indian and Pakistani cuisine.
As well as being a familiar constituent of curry, turmeric also has many medicinal applications. For example, it is used in the treatment of arthritis, headaches, bronchitis, colds, lung infections, fibromyalgia, leprosy, fever, menstrual problems, water retention, intestinal worms, loss of appetite, heartburn (dyspepsia), stomach pain, diarrhoea, intestinal gas, stomach bloating, jaundice and disorders of the liver, kidneys and gallbladder... to name but a few!
Its antioxidant qualities have caused turmeric to be hailed as a superfood and studies have shown its potential for preventing precancerous conditions developing into cancer. It is even believed to be a possible source of future treatments for neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s because of its apparent ability to break down the amyloid-beta plaques that can build up and block pathways in the brain. Finally, and more mundanely, the anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties of turmeric have led to its inclusion in countless traditional skin preparations, especially in home remedies for a host of common skin complaints and infections.
One of the skin conditions thought to benefit from this wonder-spice is #vitiligo (loss of skin pigment, or leukoderma). Notwithstanding my love of Indian takeaways, I have never tried turmeric as a vitiligo remedy. But frequent references to it in this context on the internet suggest that there must be something in it, especially in light of the fact that vitiligo is thought to involve an inflammatory process and raised levels of hydrogen peroxide in the skin. It makes sense then that a substance with both #anti-inflammatory and #antioxidant properties would be therapeutic. However, the evidence for this is highly confusing and contradictory.
On the one hand, consumption of turmeric and its topical application (when combined with mustard oil… and maybe this is the key factor in its apparent efficacy) is claimed to stimulate repigmentation in vitiligo lesions. Yet, on the other hand, consumption of turmeric has been cited by the highly respected vitiligo researcher Dr Karin Schallreuter as the most likely reason why many Asian patients whose diets routinely included this ingredient did not respond to #pseudocatalase treatment. Far from raising antioxidant levels in these patients, their consumption of turmeric actually lowered them causing increased oxidative stress. This counterproductive effect of turmeric when taken orally has also been observed when applied topically. Both turmeric and santalol (the main constituent of sandalwood oil) were found to cause further pigment loss when applied to vitiligo patches.
Confused yet? Me too! Of course, there is bound to be a perfectly rational explanation as to how turmeric can be both good and bad for you. Maybe it is just a question of degree. After all, everyone knows that water can be both good and bad: it is a daily essential - in proportion to our physiological needs - to hydrate and detoxify the body, but if you totally immerse yourself in it for more than a few minutes you will drown. So, perhaps it is the frequency and concentration of turmeric in some Asian diets that increases oxidative stress instead of lowering it. Or maybe it is a question of interaction or contraindication. It may be that the combination of turmeric with other dietary ingredients might be the reason for adverse results in vitiligo patients or perhaps the combination of mustard oil with turmeric in the much-praised topical home remedy is the key to its alleged success.
Since I am not a scientist I cannot really do any more than highlight the apparent contradiction of turmeric in relationship to vitiligo, pose these questions and come to my own considered opinion on the subject. The subject is certainly a fascinating one and I will keep my eyes and ears open for more information on it. But, in the meantime, I will still enjoy the occasional curry. However, turmeric will not be part of my nutritional regime and I won’t be putting it directly onto my skin either – with or without mustard oil – until I know much more about the likely effects.
My name is Caroline.