Turmeric is that bright orange-yellow spice that gives curry its yellow colour. It comes from the root of the Curcuma longa plant and has a tough brown skin, looking a lot like ginger until you see its deep orange flesh.
But turmeric also has many more uses than being an added flavour for food. It is also a medicinal herb containing particularly important compounds called circuminoids, the most important of which is circumin.
Anti-inflammatory benefits of turmeric:
In numerous studies, curcumin’s anti-inflammatory effects have been shown to be comparable to the potent drugs hydrocortisone and phenylbutazone. Unlike the drugs, which are associated with significant toxic effects (ulcer formation, decreased white blood cell count, intestinal bleeding), curcumin produces no toxicity.
Inflammation is a useful response in the body to ‘eliminate the initial cause of cell injury, clear out necrotic cells and tissues damaged from the original insult and the inflammatory process, and to initiate tissue repair.’ (Wikipedia) But when inflammation has become chronic (continuing to act when it’s no longer needed) it can be damaging to our health and lead to problems such as hay fever, periodontitis, atherosclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome and even cancer (e.g., gallbladder carcinoma)
This is where the circumin in turmeric can help as it assists the body in returning to an appropriate, balanced level of inflammation (acute level) to serve its useful purpose and not become ‘out of control’ and cause more damage to the body than it heals.
Unfortunately, the amount of circumin in turmeric is not very high, but the level of absorption of circumin can be increased enormously (up to 20 times as much) if the turmeric is taken with black pepper which contains piperine, a natural substance in the black pepper that enhances its absorption. So if you are not eating turmeric fresh or as a powder, with black pepper, but as a supplement, ensure it is a turmeric supplement which contains bioperine (bioperine is the trademarked name for piperine) so that the benefit of the circumin is maximised.
Anti-oxidant benefits of turmeric:
The circumin in turmeric is a powerful anti-oxidant, but it also stimulates the body to create its own anti-oxidants, so it provides a dual beneficial purpose in supporting the body, and our health in dealing with the damaging effects of free-radicals. This is important in many diseases, such as arthritis, where free radicals are responsible for the painful joint inflammation and eventual damage to the joints. Turmeric’s combination of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects explains why many people with joint disease find relief when they use the spice regularly.
Turmeric lowers LDL cholesterol, supporting better heart health
LDL cholesterol is the ‘bad’ cholesterol associated with an increased risk of heart disease when levels are higher than are needed in the body. Tumeric’s cholesterol-lowering effects are also due to the curcumin, which research reveals acts as a messaging molecule that communicates with genes in liver cells, directing them to increase the production of mRNA (messenger proteins) that direct the creation of receptors for LDL (bad) cholesterol. With more LDL-receptors, liver cells are able to clear more LDL-cholesterol from the body.
LDL-receptor mRNA was found to increase sevenfold in liver cells treated with curcumin, compared to untreated cells (Peschel D, Koerting R, et al. J Nutr Biochem) and so turmeric can be a contributor to better heart health.
Turmeric can help prevent the development of type 2 diabetes
Research suggests that circumin reduces the likelihood of developing type-2 diabetes. Over a 9 month period a pre-diabetic population was given turmeric extract and some were given a placebo. In the placebo group 16.4% developed type 2 diabetes while none who took the extract were found to have developed it.
Turmeric may help to prevent Alzheimers disease
It is thought that turmeric may give protection against neurodegenerative diseases because elderly Indian populations, in whose diet turmeric is a common spice, have low levels of neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
Research suggests the following: The most active ingredient in turmeric root, bisdemethoxycurcumin, boosts the activity of the immune system in Alzheimer’s patients, helping them to clear the amyloid beta plaques characteristic of the disease.
In healthy patients, immune cells called macrophages, which engulf and destroy abnormal cells and suspected pathogens, efficiently clear amyloid beta, but macrophage activity is suppressed in Alzheimer’s patients. Here’s a link if you’d like to see more about the research on this: Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2007 Jul 31;104(31):12849-54.
Turmeric can also help in treating or preventing cancer growth
This research suggests that the circumin in turmeric is able to inhibit cancer in all of its 3 phases – initiation, progression and promotion. It is also thought to be able to kill tumour cells as well.
Circumin is thought to help prevent the development of the following:
……and further research will show you that it is thought its effectiveness in providing a natural response to cancer that does not have the same side-effects as chemotherapy is wider still than the areas listed above.
Turmeric, rather like garlic, is a medicinal herb that has been held in high regard by Indian and Chinese medicine for centuries. Besides the more serious health issues listed above it has been commonly prescribed by medical practitioners in these regions for ‘lesser’ issues such as flatulence, jaundice, menstrual difficulties, toothache, bruises, chest pain, and colic and can be used within our diet or simply raw, or powdered as a general health tonic because of the many apparent benefits it brings.
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What other ways do you know of that turmeric is used as a natural alternative to medication? Please list them in the comments section below.