Turmeric and Cholesterol

When looking for dietary supplements that make a difference, it can be challenging to separate fact from fiction. Very few natural herbs and spices used in Ayurvedic medicine have the scientific backing to justify the boisterous claims.

However, turmeric is different. With thousands of studies in the books, we’ve seen turmeric’s potent extract, curcumin, demonstrate a wide variety of health benefits with minimal side effects. But, can turmeric lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels?

Turmeric and Cholesterol

From treating arthritis to helping cancer prevention, there is no shortage of uses for turmeric. Its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties have even shown benefits for managing digestive issues such as IBS and IBD.

New evidence suggests turmeric may also lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels under certain conditions. This research provides excellent news for those who are looking to stabilize their blood lipid levels and improve cardiovascular function. (1, 2)

Before we examine the studies, first, we need to discuss high cholesterol, lipids, and triglycerides in a bit more detail.

What is High Cholesterol?

If you’re monitoring your blood pressure, it’s always important to keep an eye on your cholesterol and triglyceride levels as well. Cholesterol and triglycerides are both lipids, but they serve different functions in the body.

  • Cholesterol: A waxy substance used to build healthy cells and hormones within the body.
  • Triglycerides: A type of fat that stores unused calories in fat cells for energy conversion.

While both of these lipids are vital for healthy brain function, it’s essential to get these numbers under control for long-term cardiovascular health. High cholesterol (hypercholesterolemia) and high triglyceride levels (hypertriglyceridemia) can present certain risks to overall health if left unmanaged.

  • High Cholesterol Risks: May increase the presence of fatty deposits in the arteries, restricting blood flow, and leading to heart attack, stroke, or heart disease.
  • High Triglycerides Risks: May contribute to artery hardening or arteriosclerosis, the thickening of arterial walls. Can also increase your risk of stroke, heart attack, heart disease, and pancreatitis.

Cholesterol travels through your bloodstream attached to proteins. This pairing is called a lipoprotein. Your lipid profile will contain a couple of different types of cholesterol, based on the lipoproteins’ contents.

  • Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL): Regularly referred to as “bad” cholesterol. This type transports cholesterol throughout your body. LDL cholesterol may, over time, build up in the artery walls, making them narrow and hard.
  • High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL): Frequently referred to as “good” cholesterol. This type picks up excess cholesterol and returns it to your liver for disposal.

While genetics may impact your lipid profile, there are a few other risk factors.

Things that are in your control, such as lack of exercise, obesity, poor diet, tobacco use, and alcohol consumption can increase the amount of bad cholesterol and triglycerides in your blood. Items outside of your control, such as natural aging and diabetes, may also impact your lipid profile.

The goal is to keep triglycerides low and to also keep LDL cholesterol low by having the right amount of HDL cholesterol. (3, 4)

Why Turmeric Curcumin?

Turmeric’s potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties have numerous benefits for the body. We’ve seen ample research demonstrating turmeric’s ability to reduce blood sugar, stabilize blood pressure, and even detox the liver.

For these reasons, researchers believe turmeric may be able to influence your blood lipid levels. In this post, we’ll analyze the studies surrounding curcumin’s capacity to lower cholesterol, triglycerides, and create a healthier lipid profile.

Turmeric for Lower Cholesterol & Triglycerides: Will Curcumin Help?

The first study we’ll look at analyzed the efficacy of turmeric on LDL, HDL, total cholesterol, and triglyceride levels on 75 subjects with acute coronary syndrome. This trial was randomized, controlled, and double-blind, administering escalating doses.

  • Low dose 15 mg of curcumin, three times per day
  • Moderate dose 30 mg of curcumin, three times per day
  • High dose 60 mg of curcumin, three times per day

The results of this study showed an inverse trend—the lower dose of curcumin yielded greater reductions in total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. Similarly, the low dose of curcumin showed the highest increase in HDL (good cholesterol). In this trial, there was no observed reduction in triglycerides. (5)

Another study conducted used a 500 mg dosage of curcumin on ten healthy volunteers for a brief 7-day treatment cycle. Unlike the previous trial, this study’s results were significant.

  • 29% increase in HDL cholesterol
  • 33% decrease in serum lipid peroxides
  • 63% decrease in total serum cholesterol

In this case, turmeric demonstrated substantial improvements in good cholesterol while reducing bad cholesterol. This conclusion suggests curcumin may potentially protect against arterial diseases by modulating the blood lipid profile. (6)

Using turmeric can have numerous beneficial outcomes for healthy middle-aged individuals. One study used either 80 mg of curcumin or a placebo on a group of subjects between 40 and 60 years old for a 4-week cycle. The results showed a statistically significant reduction in plasma triglyceride values, but no changes in cholesterol. (7)

Further research measured the effects of turmeric on cholesterol and triglycerides in a group of patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Subjects either received the equivalent of 70 mg curcumin per day or a placebo for eight weeks.

The results showed a 78.9% improvement in liver fat content in the curcumin group, vs. 27.5% in the placebo group. Researches also noted significant reductions in serum cholesterol levels, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. (8)

LDL oxidation plays a large role in the development and progression of atherosclerosis. This condition refers to fat and cholesterol buildup on the artery walls, also known as plaque. One animal study reviewed turmeric’s potential to inhibit LDL oxidation in a group of 18 rabbits with atherosclerosis.

The study found that curcumin administration decreased LDL to lipid peroxidation. This benefit led to lower cholesterol levels, triglycerides, and phospholipids. Thus, there seems to be a potential link between curcumin and the management of cardiovascular diseases. (9)

Another human study used turmeric on a group of subjects with metabolic syndrome for 12 weeks. The first group contained 33 patients who consumed 630 mg of curcumin three times per day (1,890 mg per day in total). The second group of 32 individuals took a placebo capsule three times per day.

Following the treatment period, the curcumin group showed a significant improvement in levels of “good” cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein). There was also a dramatic reduction in “bad” cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein) with a notable triglyceride-lowering effect. (10)

A similar double-blind, randomized, and placebo-controlled trial administered turmeric to a group of patients with type 2 diabetes. The length of the study was also 12 weeks, with the treatment group consuming 1,000 mg of curcumin with piperine per day.

The results showed significant reductions in serum levels of total cholesterol and elevations in HDL cholesterol. Not only does turmeric exhibit an anti-diabetic effect by lowering blood sugar, but it seems to have a lipid-modifying action that may benefit individuals at higher risk of hypercholesterolemia. (11)

Our last study assessed the effects of curcumin on dyslipidemia in a group of obese patients. The trial administered 1,000 mg of curcuminoids per day to 30 human subjects for a total of 30 days. Researchers found a substantial reduction in serum triglyceride levels but did not witness any other changes in lipid profile parameters. (12)

Keep in mind, the majority of turmeric supplements on the market contain piperine, an extract from black pepper that significantly enhances curcumin absorption in the body. Research suggests that piperine on its own contains potential lipid-lowering and fat-reducing effects.

Thus, curcumin and piperine seem to work in tandem to help lower high cholesterol. (13)

Final Thoughts on Turmeric for High Cholesterol Levels

Does turmeric lower cholesterol and triglycerides? The answer appears to be, yes, in certain circumstances. The evidence suggests that curcumin can improve blood lipid profiles in patients who are obese, diabetic, or have non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, metabolic syndrome, or acute coronary syndrome. In other words, curcumin performs best if you have a condition that subjects you to a greater risk of high cholesterol.

While some studies did show beneficial effects on healthy individuals, the results are rarely significant. If you’re considering a turmeric supplement for lowering cholesterol, please consult with a certified medical professional to see if curcumin can help your situation.