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Interviewee: Drew Tortoriello, Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center
Spice of Life?
It may not be just your diet, but how you spice it that keeps diabetes under control. A natural yellow pigment in the curry spice turmeric, already known to have other health benefits, can also improve symptoms of diabetes in mice.
“Maybe obese people can become normal in their sugars without necessarily losing the weight,” says physician and research scientist Drew Tortoriello. “Obviously, losing weight is the optimum way to go, but maybe along the way while they’re working towards that goal we can help with a little bit of these natural remedies.”
Tortoriello and his colleagues fed lean mice a high fat diet and, similarly to people, they became obese and diabetic. The researchers then added a high dose of turmeric,s pigment, called curcumin, to the same high fat diet of half the mice.
“We noticed a very significant drop in their blood sugars. So basically after two weeks of consuming curcumin orally, their diabetes was essentially gone,” says Tortoriello.
He adds that the treated mice no longer had fatty livers and inflammation of the fat or adipose tissue was reduced.
The mice that got the curcumin actually ate more of the food, apparently enjoying the taste. Yet, they lost a small amount of weight. And although they remained obese, these symptoms of obesity were reduced.
Fat and Fertility
Tortoriello is medical director of the Sher Institute for Reproductive Medicine in Manhattan. He’s also a research scientist at Columbia University’s Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center. Fertility and diabetes might seem unrelated but Tortoriello explains how studying one led to the other.
“Doctors have known for a very, very long time that there’s a negative impact of being overweight and actually underweight on a woman’s reproductive capability, and in the recent years with IVF (in vitro fertilization) being very, very prevalent, studies have come out that show that women who seem to be very, very good on paper don’t do as well as we would expect with regard to the number of eggs that we may retrieve from them or their ability to become pregnant with IVF techniques if they’re overweight. So I’ve always been very interested about trying to discern why women who are overweight have difficulty becoming pregnant, and my interest in that sort of brought me into the diabetes and obesity center here,” says Tortoriello.
A few years ago, Tortoriello and colleague Stuart Weisberg discovered that obese people’s fat tissue is loaded with white blood cells, which is what causes inflammation. And inflammation affects the fat tissue’s ability to control sugar in the body. That led them into looking for natural ways to influence the body’s balance in metabolizing fats and sugars.
Curcumin is the pigment that gives turmeric its vivid yellow color. Turmeric has been used in India for thousands of years as a spice but also in Ayurvedic medicine as an anti-inflammatory treatment. In some areas, such as Kerala, women apply turmeric to their faces and also to infants’ skin, as it is believed to improve and brighten the complexion. More recently there have been a number of research studies.
“There are scientific studies that have shown, that have been done of various degrees of rigor that show that turmeric and curcumin really do have significant benefits in inflammatory conditions, ” Tortortiello explains.
He next plans to study curcumin’s effect on diabetes and obesity in people. In the meantime, Tortoriello says, it couldn’t hurt to spice up your food with some turmeric. He adds curry powder that contains turmeric into his own food, and takes curcumin supplements as well.
PUBLICATION: Endocrinology, July 2008
RESEARCH FUNDED BY: Women’s Reproductive Health Research Scholarship from the National Institutes of Health
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