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New research on curcumin’s health benefits

The big question about turmeric and curcumin asks how long its explosive growth will last. Will this superstar spice ingredient sustain its popularity and reach omega-3 status or fade into the background as a once-hot natural product trend? Thanks to the wide body of data generated in recent years, curcumin’s benefits categories have broadened substantially.

Sports nutrition is an up-and-coming benefit sector for curcumin, especially in light of its potential to reduce inflammation and soreness caused by strenuous exercise. The antioxidant benefits of curcumin and its ability to modulate inflammatory pathways underscores its potential as an adjunct to recovery.1

In a recent randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, curcumin was shown to be an effective supplement for recovery after strenuous exercise.2 An additional study also reported a reduction in 24-hour pain scores as well as increased muscle performance after a muscle-damaging exercise.3

Curcumin is also finding potential in heart health, where the effects of its anti-inflammatory properties are being researched. Recently, a highly bioavailable form of curcumin was studied in a healthy population to examine its role in endothelial function, which plays a critical role in cardiovascular health.4 Curcumin’s direct impact on healthy circulation was measured using flow mediated dilation (FMD).

The randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study showed supplementing with 200 mg of curcumin had a clinically meaningful impact on potentially reducing cardiovascular disease by up to 50 percent in healthy individuals.

As the buzz around turmeric and its active component, curcumin, continues to spread, market opportunities for these popular ingredients are expanding.

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Body boosting ingredients for the serious athlete

Branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) are incredibly popular with hardcore athletes and body builders. BCAAs include leucine, isoleucine and valine, which are essential amino acids that humans only get from food and beverage because the body doesn’t make them on its own. Among the benefits of BCAA products  are stimulation of muscle protein synthesis (MPS), prevention of muscle breakdown and delaying of muscle fatigue.1

There are hundreds of BCAA products on the market, and some of the most popular brands include Cellucor, BPI Sports and Dymatize. BCAA supplements are most often sold as powders with sweet and citrus flavors, but brands such as Optimum Nutrition and Scivation have developed ready-to-drink (RTD) beverages, as well.

Collagen is the most abundant protein found in the human body and is the basis of connective tissues that help give structure to tendons, ligaments, skin, bones and teeth. It is also sold as a supplement in products that are rapidly growing in popularity. The ingredientworks with endogenous hyaluronic acid (HA) to improve joint health,2 enhance hair,3 skin4 and nails.5 As a bonus, it may also help repair muscle tissue, although whey and casein are generally regarded as more effective for that purpose.6

The source of the collagen isn’t quite so sexy. It comes from animals such as cattle, fish, turkeys and chickens, which means it is not vegan and can cause issues with a product’s kosher status. Allergenic concerns also need to be taken into consideration for sensitive consumers. Formulating with collagen can be challenging because it can have solubility issues, but brands such as Eviva Collagen Elixir, Beauty & Go and Pure Gold Collagen have successfully developed RTD collagen supplements. Many collagen protein powders are on the market, as well, including in  brands such as NeoCell, Ancient Nutrition, Vital Proteins and Sports Research.

Micellar casein is an up-and-coming ingredient for active consumers and is generally regarded as the most effective form of casein compared to similar ingredients like calcium caseinate. It is the slowest digested caseinate protein and is a source of high-quality BCAAs and glutamine.

“The mechanism of action is a stark contrast to hydrolyzed whey, which is known for fast-acting, quick absorption into the body,” explained Jason Dompeling, beverage scientist at Imbibe. “Micellar casein is known for very slow absorption. The casein micelles form a sort of ‘clot’ in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract that slow down the protein breakdown and amino acid absorption.”

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Researched ingredients with anti-inflammatory effects

• Short-term inflammation is a protective response, but chronic inflammation can have a negative effect on the human body.

• Palmitoylethanolamide (PEA), Terminalia chebula, grape seed extract and magnolia are among the options for formulators.

• The anti-inflammatory market is projected to reach US$130.6 billion by 2026 with a CAGR of 8.5 percent from 2018 to 2026.

Inflammation is one of the body’s natural defense mechanisms, addressing hazardous stimuli such as tissue damage or allergens. On a short-term basis, inflammation can help the body return to a healthy state. However, according to a 2016 review, “Uncontrolled inflammatory response is the main cause of a vast continuum of disorders including allergies, cardiovascular dysfunctions, metabolic syndrome, cancer and autoimmune diseases.”1

While various pharmaceuticals are available to help control and suppress inflammatory crisis, the potential for side effects and the desire for a natural course of action lead many consumers to seek alternative solutions. The review noted several herbs with anti-inflammatory effects that have been evaluated in clinical and experimental studies, including Curcuma longa (curcumin), Zingiber officinale (ginger), Rosmarinus officinalis (rosemary), Borago officinalis (borage), evening primrose and devil’s claw. It also mentioned, “the treatment of inflammation is not a one-dimensional remedy,” and therefore, suggested “a multidimensional therapeutic approach to inflammation with the help of herbal medicine and modification in lifestyle.”

Blake Ebersole, president of NaturPro Scientific, pointed to palmitoylethanolamide (PEA) as an emerging anti-inflammatory ingredient that’s been studied in large trials in Europe. It’s a peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor-alpha (PPAR-α) ligand that exerts anti-inflammatory, analgesic and neuroprotective actions.2 A 2014 review noted PEA was first identified as an anti-inflammatory compound more than half a century ago, but greater exploration didn’t occur until the mid-1990s. PEA was shown to reduce tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α in lipopolysaccharide (LPS, a pro-inflammatory endotoxin)-induced pulmonary inflammation in mice, as well as mast cell degranulation and edema formation in various inflammatory models.3

The review mentioned more recent investigation of the anti-inflammatory mechanisms. PEA inhibited phosphorylation of kinases involved in activation of pro-inflammatory pathways, and the nuclear translocation of nuclear factor-kappa beta (NF-κβ) and activator protein 1 (AP-1), as well as preventing degradation of the inhibitory IκB-α, which when associated to NF-κβ prevents its nuclear translocation.4,5

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Ashwagandha: Leading the Adaptogenic Revolution

One of the most well-known botanical plants in traditional Ayurvedic medicine, ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) has gained attention in the health and wellness industry for its restorative and rejuvenating benefits. Offering a variety of applications, including as a general tonic, the root can be used as an adaptogen, meaning it helps the body cope with stress.

Ashwagandha is frequently referred to as “Indian ginseng” because of its rejuvenating properties, even though botanically, ginseng and ashwagandha are unrelated. Belonging to the same nightshade family as tomato, eggplant, and potato, ashwagandha is a shrub with oval leaves and yellow flowers. It bears red fruit about the size of a raisin. The herb is native to arid regions of India, northern Africa, and the Middle East, and is also grown today in more moderate climates.

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