Add Turmeric To Your Health, Add Spice to Your Life

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by Vanessa Monteiro


While turmeric health benefits are slowly but surely finding their way into our diet, turmeric has been adding a bit of spice in Ayurveda for many years. Turmeric is a well-known spice derived from the root of the turmeric plant (Curcuma Longa), a species of the ginger family. The spice is created by grinding up the dried root, which produces a bright yellow powder with a strong bitter, yet sweet taste (1). Though turmeric has been used beneficially for over 4000 years in traditional Indian medicine, researchers are now beginning to look into its chemical composition and how turmeric works to provide health benefits, one of them being an antidote for inflammation.

What is turmeric & how it works

The primary component of turmeric is polyphenol curcumin, a pigment within the spice that is known to have antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties. (2)

Antioxidant

You may often think about oxygen as the life-giving air you breathe, but oxygen can also cause your body problems. When oxygen is used to create energy in your cells the normally stable oxygen molecule is split into two oxygen atoms, each with an unpaired electron. These atoms with missing electrons — known as free radicals — hunt for an extra electron to feel complete, often reacting with other molecules in your body to take one.

By stealing an electron, the robbed molecule now becomes a free radical as well and interacts with new molecules in the same way. These free radicals can then damage parts of your cells through their interactions. When the number of free radicals grow to an unmanageable amount, your body reaches a state of oxidative stress, which can trigger a number of degenerative diseases including cancer. (3)

Your body inherently develops devices to deal with free radicals, such as taking in antioxidant molecules. These are primarily gathered from the foods you eat, such as fruits and vegetables, with turmeric (or curcumin) being a big game player. Antioxidants like curcumin break the free radical chain by offering an electron, thus stabilizing the previously reactive molecule (4). Adding to this, the curcumin in turmeric also helps modulate your levels of glutathione, an antioxidant that is made naturally in your body. In doing so, it brings more players to the field to manage unwanted free radicals (5).

Anti-Inflammatory

Inflammation is your body’s response to something it thinks is harmful and often results in swelling, heat, pain, or redness. This primarily occurs as your body increases blood flow to the front lines in order to deliver the defending cells of your immune system. Though inflammation is caused by your body’s defensive reaction, the response is not always helpful. There are cases where your body can misinterpret your own cells as invaders causing unnecessary inflammation and distress such as with chronic inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis or psoriasis. (6)

In cases such as these, substances with anti-inflammatory properties can be very useful. Turmeric (curcumin) works as an anti-inflammation agent by inhibiting a variety of different molecules that play a role in inflammation (7). Many labs and animal studies have already shown the benefits of curcumin in treating diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBS), pancreatitis, arthritis, and chronic anterior uveitis, as well as certain types of cancer through these properties (8).

turmeric plant cut up and turmeric orange powder in wooden spoon and bowl

Turmeric is created by grinding up the dried turmeric plant root, which produces a bright yellow powder with a strong bitter, yet sweet taste.

Researched health benefits of turmeric

Alzheimer’s Disease

Lab-based research has shown that curcumin can break down amyloid-beta plaques, which are key components in the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. (9)

Arthritis

This disease is hallmarked by inflammation of the joints, primarily treated with pharmaceutical painkillers that often cause gastrointestinal side effects. Fortunately, studies show turmeric’s anti-inflammatory properties as a possible alternative by providing a reduction in symptoms similar to ibuprofen (ex. Advil) with limited side effects. (10)

Antiviral

A multitude of studies show curcumin can prevent viral infection by direct and indirect interference of its replication process. (11)

Cancer

Both lab and animal studies show that curcumin has the ability to kill many different tumor cell types through a variety of mechanisms. Its ability to use different methods (preventing tumor resistance), and that it does not adversely affect normal cells, makes it an ideal candidate for drug development. (12)

Diabetes

A 2013 literary review confirmed curcumin has a great potential in dealing with the main problems associated with diabetes – insulin resistance, hyperglycemia, hyperlipidemia, and pancreatic cell death. (13)

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Though not statistically significant, a 2018 review shows that curcumin results in a positive impact on symptoms with those who have IBS through its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effect and ability to modulate gut microbiota. Additionally, all studies found curcumin supplementation to be safe with no serious adverse events reported by subjects. (14)

Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)

A small trial of 70 women in 2015 resulted in a decrease of PMS symptoms while taking curcumin supplements prior to the onset of menstruation. (15)

A traditional drink that can be had casually, or when you are feeling ill is turmeric tea – a mixture of warmed milk, turmeric, and honey for taste.

Using turmeric for health benefits

Though it is a majority component of turmeric, curcumin only contributes to about 2-8% of the spice’s prepared composition. Although this does not mean that turmeric on its own is useless yet as a treatment or intervention, a supplemented version of curcumin is likely to be more beneficial.

Some researchers are concerned with using curcumin even in supplementation for treatments because it has poor bioavailability. This means your body is unable to take in the substance. This is primarily due to poor absorption, rapid metabolism, and rapid elimination (2). However, as studies already show progress with the current versions of curcumin supplementation, this may not be a grave issue.

If adequate supplementation is a concern, you are able to improve the absorption of curcumin by combining it with other products. When taken with black pepper, which contains piperine, bioavailability has been shown to increase by 2000% (16). Another way is to incorporate it into fats when cooking (as it is a fat-soluble substance) or in hot water (the temperature helps it dissolve in water), to make it more easily absorbed by your body.

Adding turmeric to your diet

Now that you can see the small and great of turmeric (and, curcumin) you may be interested in adding it more frequently to your diet. Though it may be daunting if you are unfamiliar with this spice, you can try some of the suggestions below:

  • Add a teaspoon when cooking rice. It will add a nice flavor and a great festive color!
  • Turmeric can be a great add-in for spice mixtures when you make roast vegetables.
  • Blending it in with smoothies can provide you with all the benefits, without the taste that is masked by the delicious fruit that is mixed in.
  • A traditional drink that can be had casually, or when you are feeling ill is turmeric tea – a mixture of warmed milk, turmeric, and honey for taste.

See how easily you can work some turmeric fun and flavor into your meals with so many health benefits and such little effort!

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