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Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venereology and Leprology
Medknow Publications on behalf of The Indian Association of Dermatologists, Venereologists and Leprologists (IADVL)
ISSN: 0378-6323 EISSN: 0973-3922
Vol. 72, Num. 1, 2006, pp. 57-59

Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venereology and Leprology, Vol. 72, No. 1, January-February, 2006, pp. 57-59

Letter To Editor

Turmeric (curcumin): A widely used curry ingredient, can contribute to oxidative stress in asian patients with acute vitiligo

Clinical and Experimental Dermatology, University of Bradford, West Yorkshire, United Kingdom; *Institute for Pigmentary Disorders in association with Ernst-Moritz-Arndt University of Greifswald and University of Bradford, West Yorkshire, United Kingdom.

Correspondence Address: Professor Karin U Schallreuter, Clinical and Experimental Dermatology, University of Bradford, Bradford, West Yorkshire, BD7 1DP, United Kingdom, E-mail:

Code Number: dv06014

Vitiligo, an acquired skin disorder with the loss of native skin pigment, affects approx 0.5-1% of the world population.[1] Increased H2O2 levels in the epidermis and in blood are one of the many hallmarks of this disease. [2],[3],[4] Elevated epidermal H2O2 levels in the millimolar range inactivate epidermal and systemic catalase.[5],[6]

Restoration of the skin color can be achieved after reduction of epidermal H2O2 levels using topical pseudocatalase cream (PC-KUS).[3],[7] Recently, we showed that epidermal catalase as well as other affected enzymes recover after treatment with this modality.[8] However, to our surprise, part of our Asian patient population showed only moderate improvement or no response at all. Since Asian cuisine uses a variety of spices, we asked the question whether turmeric (haldi), which is widely used in curries, could possibly contribute to the poor outcome of this treatment.

Besides serving as a spice, turmeric is still widely used for wound healing and skin lightening in Asia.[9] It is isolated from the rhizome of the plant Curcuma longa Linn . Its major active yellow pigment is curcumin (diferuloyl methane),[10] which has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anticarcinogenic properties. [10],[11],[12] Curcumin's structure is shown in [Figure - 1]. The oxidation of the two methoxy groups (-OCH3) yields two catechol substituents. This reaction is mostly driven by cytochrome P450. The resulting two catechols are auto-oxidized to semiquinone radicals and finally to orthoquinones. This reaction pathway produces two molecules of H2O2 for each oxidized curcumin molecule. In the presence of low semiquinone radicals, curcumin acts as a free radical trap, explaining its antioxidant properties. However, in the presence of high concentrations, the reactive oxygen species (ROS) generation is over-riding.

In this context, it is of special interest that dietary curcumin reaches the skin in mice.[12] Consequently, we studied the effect of curcumin and its possible ROS generation in healthy skin and in patients with acute vitiligo using in vivo Fourier transform (FT)-Raman spectroscopy.[3] FT-Raman spectra were acquired by using a BRUKER© RFS 100/S spectrometer (Bruker, Karlsruhe, Germany) with a liquid-nitrogen-cooled germanium detector equipped with a fiber-optic cable. Near-infrared excitation was produced with an Nd3+-yttrium aluminum garnet laser operating at 1064 nm. Each spectrum was accumulated over 5 minutes with 300 scans and a resolution of 4 cm-1. All spectra were obtained for the wrist area. The H2O2 was visualised following the O-O stretch at 875 cm-1.[3] The organoperoxides/ROS peak was assigned at 890 cm-1.[13] This in vivo method was approved by the local Ethics Committees.Twenty minutes after topical curcumin application, ROS generation was detected in both normal controls ( n = 3) and patients with acute vitiligo ( n = 3) [Figure - 2]. However, the amount of ROS formation in the skin of the patients was significantly higher compared to controls. This result could be explained as owing to low epidermal catalase levels in acute vitiligo as demonstrated earlier.[5]

Based on these in vivo results, we evaluated 15 Asian patients with acute vitiligo, who consumed turmeric daily, and their response rate in facial repigmentation after topical application of low-dose UVB-activated pseudocatalase (PC-KUS) twice daily.[3],[7] After 6 months, none of them showed any significant repigmentation.

Therefore, we advised eight of these patients to avoid turmeric in their diet and continue the application of PC-KUS twice daily. This led to a significant improvement in the response even after 2 months. After 6 months of treatment, six of the eight patients had nearly complete facial repigmentation [Figure - 3], whereas there was only minor-to-moderate or no response in the seven patients who continued using turmeric together with PC-KUS.

In summary, our in vivo results show that curcumin can contribute to the oxidative stress in acute vitiligo and prevent repigmentation. Dermatologists and other doctors treating patients with vitiligo should be aware of this possible problem.


1.Ortonne JP, Bose SK. Vitiligo: where do we stand? Pigment Cell Res 1993;6:61-72.  Back to cited text no. 1  [PUBMED]  
2.Schallreuter KU, Moore J, Wood JM, Beazley WD, Peters EM, Marles LK, et al . Epidermal H2O2 accumulation alters tetrahydrobiopterin (6BH4) recycling in vitiligo: identification of a general mechanism in regulation of all 6BH4-dependent processes. J Invest Dermatol 2001;116:167-74.  Back to cited text no. 2    
3.Schallreuter KU, Moore J, Wood JM, Beazley WD, Gaze DC, Tobin DJ, et al . In vivo and in vitro evidence for hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) accumulation in the epidermis of patients with vitiligo and its successful removal by a UVB-activated pseudocatalase. J Invest Dermatol Symp Proc 1999;4:91-6.  Back to cited text no. 3    
4.Hasse S, Gibbons NC, Rokos H, Marles LK, Schallreuter KU. Perturbed 6-tetrahydrobiopterin recycling via decreased dihydropteridine reductase in vitiligo: more evidence for H2O2 stress. J Invest Dermatol 2004;122:307-13.  Back to cited text no. 4  [PUBMED]  [FULLTEXT]
5.Schallreuter KU, Wood JM, Berger J. Low catalase levels in the epidermis of patients with vitiligo. J Invest Dermatol 1991;97:1081-5.  Back to cited text no. 5  [PUBMED]  
6.Dell'Anna ML, Maresca V, Briganti S, Camera E, Falchi M, et al . Mitochondrial impairment in peripheral blood mononuclear cells during the active phase of vitiligo. J Invest Dermatol 2001;117:908-13.  Back to cited text no. 6    
7.Schallreuter KU, Wood JM, Lemke KR, Levenig C. Treatment of vitiligo with a topical application of pseudocatalase and calcium in combination with short-term UVB exposure: a case study on 33 patients. Dermatology 1995;190:223-9.  Back to cited text no. 7    
8.Schallreuter KU, Elwary SM, Gibbons NC, Rokos H, Wood JM. Activation/deactivation of acetylcholinesterase by H2O2: more evidence for oxidative stress in vitiligo. Biochem Biophys Res Commun 2004;315:502-8.  Back to cited text no. 8    
9.Phan TT, See P, Lee ST, Chan SY. Protective effects of curcumin against oxidative damage on skin cells in vitro: its implication for wound healing. J Trauma 2001;51:927-31.  Back to cited text no. 9    
10.Surh Y. Molecular mechanisms of chemopreventive effects of selected dietary and medicinal phenolic substances. Mutat Res 1999;428:305-27.  Back to cited text no. 10    
11.Surh YJ. Anti-tumor promoting potential of selected spice ingredients with antioxidative and anti-inflammatory activities: a short review. Food Chem Toxicol 2002;40:1091-7.  Back to cited text no. 11    
12.Limtrakul P, Lipigorngoson S, Namwong O, Apisariyakul A, Dunn FW. Inhibitory effect of dietary curcumin on skin carcinogenesis in mice. Cancer Lett 1997;116:197-203.  Back to cited text no. 12    
13.Lin-Vien D, Colthup NB, Fateley WG, Grasselli JG. The handbook of infrared and Raman characteristic frequencies of organic molecules. San Diego: Academic Press; 1991.  Back to cited text no. 13    

Copyright 2006 - Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venereology and Leprology

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