Turmeric may not be well known to the western world but in some other cultures, it is considered as one of nature’s most powerful healers. For more than 5,000 years, turmeric has been an important part of traditional Chinese and India’s Ayurvedic medicine. Turmeric is known to harbor anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antibacterial, stomach-soothing, and liver- and heart-protecting effects.
In recent years, turmeric has captured the attention of many western scientists as more and more clinical studies have substantiated its purported health benefits. Although researchers are still learning the biochemical effects of turmeric in human diseases, the initial findings of turmeric for disease prevention and/or treatment are extremely encouraging.
Turmeric is a perennial plant of the ginger family and is native to tropical South Asia. Turmeric powder is derived from the dried underground stems and its key active ingredient is curcumin, which is what gives turmeric its therapeutic effects, pungent flavor, and yellow color. However, besides curcumin, there are other beneficial substances in turmeric.
In cooking, turmeric is commonly used as a spice in Indian curries and other South East Asian and Middle Eastern cuisines. It is the ingredient that makes the American mustard bright yellow. Traditionally, turmeric is also used as a dye, in cosmetics and skin care, as an ant deterrent, and for ceremonial purposes. In the following, we will focus on turmeric’s medicinal uses.
Turmeric’s Amazing Health Benefits
Protects Against Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s disease results when a protein fragment called beta-amyloid accumulates in the brains cells, forming hard, insoluble plaques that slowly obstruct cerebral function. In a healthy brain, beta-amyloid is broken down and eliminated. Studies show that extracts of turmeric contain a number of natural agents that bind to beta-amyloid and block the formation of plaques.
Relieves Rheumatoid Arthritis
Turmeric contains more than two dozen anti-inflammatory compounds, including six different COX-2 inhibitors. COX-2 enzyme induces pain, swelling, and inflammation; inhibitors selectively block the enzyme. Studies of the efficacy of turmeric have indicated improvements in arthritic symptoms, including morning stiffness, joint pain, and joint swelling. In addition, turmeric may be helpful for other inflammatory conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome and joint inflammation.
Turmeric’s antioxidant actions enable it to protect the body’s cells from free radicals that can damage cellular DNA. It also helps the body destroy mutated cancer cells so they cannot metastasize.
In animal studies, it has been shown to be effective in the prevention and/or treatment of colon cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer, esophageal cancer, oral cancer, and multiple myeloma (cancer of white blood cells in bone marrow). Additionally, a series of studies over the last 20 years have demonstrated that frequent turmeric consumption can reduce the risk of developing childhood leukemia.
Supports Cardiovascular Health
Research reveals that turmeric appears to prevent the oxidation of LDL (low density lipoprotein) cholesterol in the body. Oxidized cholesterol damages blood vessels and builds up as plaques that can lead to heart attack or stroke. Turmeric is also rich in vitamin B6, high intake of which is associated with a reduce risk of heart disease.
Enhances Liver Detoxification
The liver’s primary role is to process and remove toxins carried in the bloodstream. However, poor diet, allergens, pollution, and stress can cause the liver to become sluggish and its functions impaired. Research results suggest that turmeric may increase important detoxification enzymes in the liver and may help prevent alcohol and other dietary carcinogens from being converted into harmful compounds in the liver.
Turmeric helps break down fats by stimulating the flow of bile as well as the digestion of protein. It reduces heartburn, gas and bloating, and improves gut health.
The therapeutic potential of turmeric does not end here. Evidence suggests that it may also be beneficial for:
- Inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis
- Cystic fibrosis
- Type 2 diabetes
Contraindications And Side Effects Of Turmeric
Turmeric is not commonly allergenic and is generally considered a safe herb. It has been used in large quantities as a condiment without any adverse reactions.
However, for people with any health conditions, it is prudent to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any supplements. The following are some contraindications and side effects of turmeric:
- Prolonged use of very high doses may cause stomach upset, diarrhea, or constipation.
- People with gallstones, stomach ulcers, hyperacidity, and bile duct obstructions should avoid the use of turmeric.
- Inappropriate for pregnant women and those who are breast feeding.
- Not suitable for people with a blood-clotting disorder and those taking antiplatelet and anticoagulant drugs.
How To Use Turmeric In Cooking
To get the most curcumin, the active compound in turmeric, use a pure turmeric powder rather than curry powder. Just like other dried herbs, buying organic is always preferable to prevent pesticide contamination.
Here are several ways to incorporate more turmeric in your diet:
- Add extra turmeric to store-bought curry powder when making stews and curries.
- Add turmeric to sauteed onions, ginger, garlic, and cauliflower.
- Add turmeric to egg salad.
- Add turmeric to home-made mayonnaise or salad dressings.
- Mix brown rice with raisins and cashews. Season with turmeric, cumin, and coriander.
- Make turmeric tea by adding one teaspoon of ground turmeric to four cups of boiling water. Simmer for 10 minutes. Strain the tea through a fine sieve. Add honey and/or lemon to taste.
How To Choose A Quality Turmeric Supplement
Since eating mustard-laden hot dogs daily is not the ideal turmeric delivery choice, turmeric can be taken as a supplement to capture its many health benefits. The following are tips on buying a quality turmeric supplement:
- Choose a supplement using only standardized extracts of at least 95% curcumin or greater.
- Select a supplement from a company that complies with pharmaceutical Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP). Many supplements on the market today do not provide enough of the active ingredient because it is cheaper to produce. GMP assures that the product has the identity, strength, composition, quality, and purity it is represented to possess.
For prevention purpose, the dosage is 500 mg of turmeric a day. If you are looking to use turmeric as a treatment for a disease, please consult a healthcare professional for the proper dosage.