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