Magical turmericTurmeric (Curcuma longa) is a spice grown in India and other in tropical countries in Asia . This spice has been part of religious ceremonies in India for thousands of years. Turmeric is related to ginger with which it shares some of its active ingredients.
From the plant, it is not the leaves but the root that is eaten, as it is the root which contributes to the characteristic flavour and colour. After harvesting, the roots are grounded into paste when still wet or dried first and ground into powder.
Turmeric has a very characteristic taste and is used all over South Asia in many savoury dishes. The fame of turmeric however, doesn't come from using it in the kitchen but because it has been used for thousands of years as a remedy for stomach and liver ailments. Topically it has been used to heal sores, because turmeric is said to have antimicrobial properties.
Because of the intensely orange colour, turmeric is still used as a dye for clothes.
Turmeric contains many different beneficial micro-nutrients, among which beta-carotene, ascorbic acid (vitamin C) calcium, flavonoids, fibre, iron, niacin, potassium, zinc and more. Aside from all of these, there is one active ingredient that makes turmeric different from the rest of its kind: curcumin. There are actually three types of curcumin: curcumin, demethoxyl-curcumin, and bisdemethoxyl-curcumin. All three components are structurally similar, although curcumin seems to be the most effective ingredient. Curcumin and these related curcuminoids appear to effect human health through antioxidant activity and possible modulation of two important inflammation enzymes abbreviated to LOX and COX.
Curcumin is the main active ingredient of turmeric, but it is also present in ginger, albeit in much smaller amounts. Scientific research indicates curcumin is a potent anti-inflammatory compound that can also prevent tumour growth.
Curcumin can also speed up metabolism, alleviate cognitive decline due to aging and keep the heart healthy by reducing lipid and plaque levels in the arteries. It also can treat and reduce side effects of diabetes.
Curry powder is made up of a blend of spices, including turmeric, cumin and chili powder, and it can range in flavour from mild to very spicy depending on its chili content. Because curry contains turmeric, it shares some of its nutritional benefits but it is important to remember that since turmeric is only one of the ingredients in curry powders there is very little curcumin in curry dishes.
Also, in turmeric itself, the curcumin content is on average only around 3%, which means it is next to impossible to reach the required amount of curcumin simply by using curry or turmeric powder in your foods.
If you are after specific health benefits, you have to ensure that your intake of curcumin at least equates the recommended orthomolecular intake. Therefore you should supplement with a high quality nutritional supplement that includes turmeric extract, as only supplements contain generous amounts of curcumin.
Unfortunately, curcumin is poorly absorbed into the bloodstream. Taking it along with piperine (drived from black pepper), can help and enhance the absorption of curcumin by 200% but the best solution is to take a special form of turmeric extract that is highly absorbable.
These days there are many supplements on the market that contain curcumin, however you need to keep in mind that many of them are underdosed and contain far too little curcumin.
Curcumin for health
Despite centuries of traditional use that points out to curcumin's great health benefits, curcumin has only recently been evaluated in scientific trials. It is now being researched for its potential efficacy against several human diseases, including kidney and cardiovascular diseases, arthritis, several types of cancer, and irritable bowel disease. Curcumin is also being investigated for potential treatment of Alzheimer's disease, diabetes and other clinical disorders.
One of the most remarkable effects of curcumin on the body is reduction of an inflammatory joint condition called arthritis. Because of the anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin (a powerful antioxidant) it explains why those suffering from arthritis can find relief by adding this spice in their diet.
In a study done in 2012, patients with rheumatoid arthritis found relief from taking one 500mg curcumin capsule twice a day. The effectiveness of turmeric was even better than that of a common OTC drug diclofenac sodium (commercially known as Voltaren). In addition, curcumin was found to be safe and did not have adverse events.
In another study done in 2009, 4 daily doses of 500mg curcumin proved to be more effective than taking 2x400mg of the OTC painkiller ibuprofen when treating knee osteoarthritis.
In many different conditions (level walking, climbing up and down stairs and a 100m walk) significant improvements were observed in both groups, with turmeric showing equal improvement compared to ibuprofen on level and stair walking but outperforming ibuprofen on the 100m walk with less side effects such as gastrointestinal discomfort. Not a miracle as like ginger, turmeric is often used to relieve gastric distress. Many more studies were done, all with similar outcomes.
Obviously, it is a much better health option to select evidence-based natural alternatives, especially when they involve safe and time-tested natural ingredients like turmeric.
In a Lancet review of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) published in 2013, ibuprofen was identified to be as toxic to the heart as the banned anti-inflammatory drug Vioxx, likely contributing to tens of thousands of deaths from cardiovascular disease each year.
So if you have arthritis, curcumin formulation can definitely help and is a safer option than drugs. If you insist on using non-supplemental curcumin, always go for turmeric extract. Turmeric has a much higher amount of curcumin compared to curry blends.
If on the other hand, you do consider supplementation, you should choose one that has a higher bioavailability, like one from Longvida or Meriva. For best results, combine curcumin with a 1500mg dose of glucosamine.
Curcumin is a natural anti-inflammatory substance. A little bit of inflammation is actually a healthy thing. The inflammation process is important in order to repair damage to the body and fight pathogens.
Without inflammation, pathogens such as bacteria and other harmful substances can easily take over your body and worse, can kill you. Short-term acute inflammation is very beneficial for health.
The problem lies in low-grade chronic inflammation where even your body's own tissues are being attacked.
Chronic inflammation is said to be related to various medical diseases such as Alzheimer, heart disease, cancer and other degenerative illnesses. Thankfully, curcumin is strongly anti-inflammatory and it can match the effectiveness of some anti-inflammatory drugs, minus the side effects!
Curcumin increases the antioxidant capacity of your body. Oxidative damage from free radicals is one of the causes of aging and aging diseases such as cancer, atherosclerosis, and neurodegenerative diseases.
Free radicals have tendency to react with important organic molecules found in your body such as fatty acids, protein or DNA. Curcumin is able to neutralize free radicals and boosts the activity of antioxidant enzymes.
Curcumin also helps to make the lining of blood vessels stronger and as such has benefits for cardiovascular health in many dfferent ways. Patients that took curcumin before and after coronary artery bypass surgery recorded a 65% decreased risk of experiencing heart attack in the hospital.
Other health concerns
Curcumin also appears to affect tumor growth but more studies still need to be done to confirm anecdotal evidence.
Curcumin defintitely appears to lower cholesterol by helping the liver to clear LDL more rapidly.
Curcumin appears to be another messaging molecule that can communicate with genes in liver cells and tell them to increase the production of mRNA or messenger proteins to direct the creation of receptors for bad cholesterol.
It is also thought turmeric curcumin has a capacity to cross the blood-brain barrier once it is absorbed in the body. Curcumin can raise the natural production of bilirubin which can protect the brain against free radical injury.
Curcumin may even treat depression. In 60 patients that only took curcumin, there were similar improvemetns as when other patients were taking Prozac. The group taking both fared best, indicating the dosage of Prozac can be lowered for the same effects.
A common pattern in curcumin supplementation is how it can prevent or alleviate many different age-related diseases and as such it can be called a true anti-aging supplement.
In Okinawa, the Japanase province known for the people with the longest life span, turmeric tea is very popular. To make your own tea, just boil four cups of water then add a teaspoon of ground turmeric and allow it to simmer for 10 minutes. You can add ginger or honey for added taste.
Adding turmeric to meat can reduce the levels of dangerous carcinogenic heterocyclic amines that are formed when meat is overcooked.
Turmeric can even be used in desserts. In Lebanon, turmeric is used to prevent desserts from tasting overly sweet. Try it, you might love it too.
As said in the first part of the article, turmeric has been used as a herbal remedy to treat an upset stomach. For best results, take 500 mg four times a day.
If you recently got a sprain, then turmeric can be a good treatment for it. Make a paste by combining one part of salt, two parts of turmeric and enough water to make it spreadable. Apply it on the affected joint, wrap it in an old cloth and leave it on for 20 minutes to an hour everyday.
For beauty. Surprisingly enough as it is even used as a dye, turmeric paste can be used as a tooth paste, provided it doesn't touch enamel for too long. It can even be mixed with coconut oil and used on your scalp to treat dandruff..
Turmeric is also a powerful dye. To dye a shirt, add three tablespoons of turmeric to a pot of boiling water and let it simmer for a few minutes. Your fabric dye bath is ready.
If you don't have turmeric spice in your kitchen cabinet yet, now is the time to go to the nearest grocery store and buy turmeric powder.
Turmeric is very safe and doesn't cause significant side effects as long as consumed properly and in moderation.
As there is not enough information available, pregnant and brestfeeding women are advised to limit intake.
The only circumstance under which it is advised to stay away from turmeric when you are suffering from gall bladder problems or stomach reflux. Another time to be careful is after an operation as turmeric slows down the blood clotting process.