Turmeric (Curcuma longa), a bright yellow spice used throughout Asia for centuries, has been embraced by the West in recent decades, not just for its ability to satisfy our appetites for curry, but also for its impressive list of health benefits.
In China and India, turmeric has been used for centuries in cooking, fabric dyeing, cosmetics, and traditional medicine.
Curcumin, the pigment in turmeric that gives it its characteristic color, also has antibacterial, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties. Turmeric has been studied in relation to arthritis, eye conditions, cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and more because of its wide range of functions.
A majority of studies on the benefits of turmeric have been small studies, which makes their results less certain. Furthermore, some have used turmeric in forms you would not find in turmeric powder, or in quantities you would not want to add to food! Therefore, while all the following claims have been proved in human trials, they are not conclusive.
Turmeric is a natural anti-inflammatory:
The body uses inflammation to fight off invading bacteria, viruses, and infections, as well as repair damage caused by injuries and infections. It must be controlled, as long-term inflammation has been implicated in most chronic conditions, such as heart disease and cancer, and this is where anti-inflammatory compounds come into play. In turmeric, curcumin has been proven to have strong anti-inflammatory properties that block inflammatory molecules in the body. Curcumin appears to be effective in treating conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease, among others.
Turmeric is a powerful antioxidant:
Curcumin is a powerful scavenger of oxygen free radicals, which are chemically active molecules that damage the body’s cells. The antioxidant properties of turmeric have also been shown to lower cholesterol and triglycerides in heart disease patients, and may improve blood pressure. Turmeric’s antioxidants may also combat cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration.
Turmeric has anti-cancer effects:
Turmeric’s effect on cancer has been studied in a number of human and animal studies, and many have found that it is capable of affecting cancer formation, growth and development at a molecular level. There is evidence that it can reduce the spread of cancer and can contribute to the death of cancerous cells in a variety of cancers, and can reduce the negative side effects of chemotherapy.
Turmeric might be brain food:
Studies have shown that curcumin crosses the blood-brain barrier and may help to protect against Alzheimer’s disease. Curcumin works by reducing inflammation as well as the build-up of protein plaques in the brain that are characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease. In multiple trials, turmeric supplements reduced depression and anxiety symptoms and depression scores. Current studies are primarily conducted in laboratories or on animals, but the results are encouraging and this wonderful spice will continue to be investigated as a powerful health tool. And it’s a great excuse to make a curry!
Getting the most from turmeric:
Turmeric’s health benefits may lie in how you consume it. Black pepper increases curcumin absorption by an impressive 2000% when combined with turmeric. Combining it with fat, such as olive or rapeseed oil, may also increase absorption. While many claims have been made about the healing properties of Turmeric, the jury is still out on whether they are actually true.
It is best to be wary of those claims that sound too good to be true, such as ‘Turmeric can cure Cancer.’ If it sounds to good to be true, then it probably is.