Background: The endothelium is a large paracrine organ regulating cell growth, vascular tone and
thrombogenicity as well as platelet and leukocyte interactions. Endothelial function can be assessed by noninvasive
techniques [e.g. flow-mediated vasodilation, nitroglycerin-mediated dilation and pulse wave velocity]
and measuring specific circulating biomarkers [cell adhesion molecules, endothelial microparticles and endothelial
progenitor cells]. Impaired endothelial function plays a key role in the development of atherosclerosis, arterial
hypertension, heart failure, ischemia-reperfusion injury, Alzheimer’s disease and other conditions. Endothelial
function is also involved in growth and proliferation of tumor cells.
Methods: We performed a literature review and assessed the role of the natural polyphenol, curcumin, as a potential
inexpensive, well-tolerated, and safe agent for improving endothelial function.
Results: Curcumin exerts several positive pharmacological effects; these include anti-inflammatory, antioxidant,
anti-hypertensive, anti-cancer, antiviral, anti-infective and wound-healing properties. Specifically, curcumin’s
anti-inflammatory effects are thought to be caused by reducing trans-endothelial monocyte migration by reduction
of mRNA and protein expression of intercellular adhesion molecule-1, vascular cell adhesion molecule-1 and
P-selectin and by modulating NFκB, JNK, p38 and STAT-3 in endothelial cells. Dietary curcumin supplementation
can also increase antioxidant activity through the induction of heme oxygenase-1, a scavenger of free radicals,
and by reduction of reactive oxygen species and Nox-2.
Conclusions: Curcumin appears to improve endothelial function but additional research is needed to determine
the precise mechanism(s) and biomarkers involved in curcumin’s therapeutic effects on endothelial dysfunction.