Move over resveratrol, there’s another popular polyphenolic ingredient with blockbuster aspirations that’s now facing questions of research impropriety: curcumin.
Curcumin, the bioactive part of the yellow Indian spice turmeric, has seen an explosion of research lately. In 2012 alone there have been 250 published research studies on curcumin, on benefits ranging from rheumatoid arthritis pain and heart attack prevention in bypass surgery to promise for Parkinson’s Disease and as a chemopreventive against brain cancer.
The problem arose when a University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center researcher, Bharat Aggarwal, PhD, was accused of fabricating parts of his research in 65 published research papers, mostly involving anti-cancer and anti-inflammation benefits. Two journals have officially withdrawn his papers.
The curcumin scandal has eerie similarities to the resveratrol hullabaloo that arose in January, with both lead researchers accused of manipulating images that illustrated their research findings.
The misconduct allegations with two notable natural ingredients are amidst an explosion of allegations throughout the medical literature, the lion’s share of which involves pharmaceutical drugs.
The New York Times reported earlier this week that the number of retractions from scientific journals increased from a total of three in 2000; to 110 in 2007; and 180 in 2009. Retractions are categorized as either fraud or fabrication, scientific mistakes or other.
“Truth should always be sought,” said Shaheen Majeed, marketing director for Sabinsa, an ingredient supplier that markets a curcumin ingredient that has been supplied, free of charge, to Aggarwal for his research, as well as other research centers and universities around the world. “Perhaps today’s hyper transparency is why more journals have withdrawn published studies in recent years than ever before. Are there more researchers trying to take unacceptable shortcuts, or are we just hearing about it more. We’ll probably never know.”
Curcumin still the next big thing?
For all the hand-twisting in the industry about another prominent researcher having his research questioned, it appears the worry may be for nothing. A search on Google News three weeks after the story broke finds that the first mention of the curcumin scandal ranks 24th. The news is immediately superseded by reports of a curcumin study showing newer research findings. In just the past three days, headlines have reported on curcumin’s promise against rheumatoid arthritis and heart attacks.
“In the electronic database of the National Institutes of Health (PubMed), there are currently 4,684 studies listed involving curcumin, and over 99 percent of these did not include the research in question,” said Cheryl Myers, RN, head of education and scientific affairs for EuroPharma, a finished goods manufacturer that markets a line of curcumin-based supplements. "The vast body of evidence proves that curcumin is one of the most powerful natural medicines in the world today.”
Majeed concurs. “There are a number of people studying curcumin, which we believe is poised to break out as the next widely used supplement,” he said. “While there is some attention to curcumin in this case because Dr. Aggarwal has been a strong proponent of it, the body of science from a number of clinicals outside the scope of Dr. Aggarwal’s research center is significant, so we do not anticipate an effect on the market.”