As a single ingredient, turmeric spice manages to pack a major health punch. Turmeric is all the buzz in the herbal supplementation industry, and for good reason. This bright yellow spice that has been used throughout Asia and India for centuries, has in recent decades been embraced by the West, not just for its ability to satisfy an added essence to curry dishes, but for its impressive list of health benefits.
Grown for its root, turmeric has an ancient history of uses in cooking, fabric dyeing, cosmetics and traditional medicine in China and India. Between turmeric and its powerful ingredient, curcumin, these dynamic duos have a range of health benefits including:
- Preventing heart disease, eye conditions and Alzheimer's
- Aid in people diagnosed with arthritis
- Reduce the risk or spread of cancer
- Fights off harmful invaders and repairs damage caused by bacteria, viruses and injuries
Long-term inflammation has been implicated in most chronic conditions such as heart disease and cancer, so it must be controlled by more intense measures. The curcumin in turmeric has proven to have strong anti-inflammatory properties that block the action of inflammatory molecules in the body. Studies show positive effects of curcumin on people suffering from conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease, amongst others.
A powerful antioxidant
As a powerful antioxidant, curcumin has been shown to be a robust scavenger of oxygen-free radicals, which are chemically active molecules that cause damage to the body’s cells. Free radical damage, along with inflammation, is a key driver of cardiovascular disease, so curcumin can play a part in preventing and managing heart disease. While the antioxidants in turmeric may reduce the risk of cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration, it also has anti-cancer effects.
Numerous studies have explored turmeric’s influence on cancer, and many have found that it can affect cancer formation, growth and development at a molecular level, reducing the spread of cancer and contributing to the death of cancerous cells. Turmeric and curcumin together may also be able to counteract the effects of some carcinogens, such as certain additives used in processed food.
Another benefit of turmeric may be in helping with skin conditions, as the yellow supplement has been shown to help reduce psoriasis and eczema. Did you know that in addition to aiding in skin inflammation, turmeric might be brain food, as there is growing evidence that highlights curcumin in crossing the blood-brain barrier helping to protect against Alzheimer’s disease. It works to reduce inflammation as well as the build-up of protein plaques in the brain that are characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease sufferers.
The key to getting the most health benefits of turmeric may lie in how you consume it. Cooking turmeric with oil could help your body absorb more curcumin, and it’s believed that when curcumin binds with fat, like the fat in olive or coconut oil, it’s more easily absorbed by the gut. And it may be that even small daily amounts consumed in this way could be beneficial for your well-being. What is known is that cooking turmeric with oil, as part of a balanced diet, could be the best way to get the most from this spice
The effects of curcumin
It’s been widely shown that curcumin is as effective as an antidepressant in treating depression as other--more popular over-the-counter medications, simply by boosting levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (reduced levels of this chemical are associated with depression). The results are encouraging, and this wonderful spice will continue to be investigated as a powerful tool in improving overall health.
Curcumin is a yellow pigment found primarily in turmeric, a polyphenol with anti-inflammatory properties and the ability to increase the amount of antioxidants that the body produces. Curcumin and the curcuminoids found in turmeric can be extracted to produce supplements that have a much higher potency than turmeric. However, curcumin is absorbed poorly during digestion, therefore a myriad of different formulations have been created to improve its bioavailability.
The benefits of curcumin
- A marked reduction of inflammation while increasing the levels of endogenous antioxidants in the body
- Improves symptoms of depression and anxiety
- Helps decrease the pain and function of osteoarthritis
- Encourages a reduction in LDL-cholesterol, blood glucose levels, and blood pressure
There are side effects and drawbacks to curcumin, with high doses of curcuminoids above 8 grams, showing symptoms of producing nausea and gastrointestinal complaints. Different formulations of curcumin, when used with piperine-- the alkaloid responsible for the pungency of black pepper and long pepper--greatly increases intestinal permeability. Curcumin and the curcuminoids are present in turmeric, so turmeric is less potent as a source of curcumin than an extract and anti-inflammatory.
However, these two combined in a single herbal supplement have the ability to decrease inflammation and ward off the onset of other potential mental health and joint issues.
The phytochemicals from natural foods, such as the curcumin found in turmeric, may be a safe and effective way to help reduce inflammation and prevent and treat disease. While acute inflammatory responses are beneficial for the body in that they help heal injury, irritation, or infection, it’s known that chronic inflammation can contribute to the onset of disease. Turmeric and curcumin provide promising results in treating the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects on obesity, helping to reduce arthritis pain and swelling, and to aid in complications from diabetes, skin conditions, depression, cancer, and severe joint pain.