Here’s a simple task for you. Go to your kitchen cabinet or pantry and check out the spices stored inside. Does it have turmeric in it?
If you answered yes, then you’re in it for a good ride. If you don’t have one, then you are missing out a lot and the best thing to do is to go now to the nearest grocery store and buy this spice.
You may ask, “what is turmeric good for?” and why buy turmeric, when there are other spices that can add flavour to your meals? The answer is simple: turmeric is very good for you. Read on to find out why.
Turmeric 101: What Is Turmeric?
Turmeric is a spice grown in India and other topical regions in Asia. In fact, this spice has been part of religious ceremonies in India for thousands of years. Scientific name Curcuma longa, turmeric plant is herb that is closely related to ginger. It is cultivated in tropical climates in Asia for its rootstocks, which supply the flavour and pigment. Then the rootstocks will either be grounded into paste or dried and ground into a familiar looking yellow powder.
Turmeric has a special place in South Asian cuisine and is used in many savory dishes but its fame is due to the fact that it has been used traditionally for thousands of years as a remedy for stomach and liver ailments, as well as topically to heal sores, basically for its supposed antimicrobial property.
This spice has a long history of being used as herbal remedy in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine tradition. Thanks to its deep orange pigment, it is also used as a dye even today.
So, what makes turmeric extra special? Turmeric contains beta-carotene, ascorbic acid or vitamin C, calcium, flavonoids, fibre, iron, niacin, potassium, zinc and many other essential nutrients. Aside from all of these, there is one active ingredient that makes turmeric different from the rest of its kind: curcumin.
What Is Curcumin?
Curcumin is an active ingredient of turmeric and is also found in limited amount in ginger. Scientific research indicates that curcumin is a potent anti-inflammatory compound that can also prevent cancer progression.
At the same time, it is an effective metabolic syndrome band-aid and can alleviate cognitive decline due to aging. It also keeps your heart healthy by reducing the lipid and plaque levels in the arteries and can reduce the risk and treat the side effects of diabetes.
Despite centuries of traditional use that points out to turmeric’s great health benefits, it has only recently been evaluated in scientific trials. Turmeric is being researched for its potential efficacy against several human diseases, including kidney and cardiovascular diseases, arthritis, several types of cancer, and irritable bowel disease. Turmeric is also being investigated for potential treatment of Alzheimer's disease, diabetes and other clinical disorders.
I Use Curry Powder a Lot: What Is the Difference between Curry and Turmeric?
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.
The curcumin content of turmeric is on average of around 3.14% by weight which means it would be hard for you to reach the required amount of curcumin simply by using curry or turmeric powder in your foods.
Did you know? Curry powder contains very little turmeric. In most cases just a fraction of a percent.
If you are after specific health benefits, you have to ensure that your intake of curcumin is sufficient. Therefore you should supplement with a high quality nutritional supplement that includes turmeric extract, as supplements usually contain a generous amount of curcumin.
In addition, curcumin has very low oral bioavailability or in simple terms, is poorly absorbed into the bloodstream. Taking other agents such as black pepper extracts, which has piperine, 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.
Higher amounts of curcumin are required for optimum health benefits.
These days there are many supplements on the market that contain curcumin, however you need to keep in mind that many of them are not very effective in terms of reducing pain and inflammation as they contain far too little curcumin.
Therefore always buy a supplement that is high potency, highly absorbable and guaranteed to contain what's on the label.
Arthritis and Joint Problems? The Amazing Health Benefits of Curcumin
Nearly one in three adults in the United States suffers from some form of joint problem. In Australia, 14.8% of Australians or around 3.3 million people had arthritis. Of persons with arthritis, more than half (55.9%) had highly debilitating osteoarthritis.
The situation is worse for athletes and those who are subject to high amounts of physical stress. Curcumin has become a supplement of choice for many of these people but if f you want to supplement with curcumin, make sure that you spend your hard earned money on a supplement that actually works.
In 2007 researchers from a company called Indena developed curcumin-soy lecithin combination that is called Meriva Curcumin. It boosts curcuminoid absorption 29-fold! Talk about a big, big improvement. The research confirming these findings was published and all information it is available here so if you supplement, make sure that the product you buy contains Meriva Curcumin not just ordinary, plain turmeric extract.
Joint Pain, Arthritis, Osteoarthritis: Tumeric Extract Can Help
As it’s been mentioned in this article, arthritis is a common problem in Western countries that involves the inflammation in the joints. And by now, you know that turmeric and its ingredient curcumin is anti-inflammatory with very powerful antioxidant effects. Hence, it only follows that those suffering from arthritis can find relief by adding this spice in their diet – and there are studies to prove that.
In a randomised study published in 2012, 500 mg twice a day of turmeric extract provided pain relief in active rheumatoid arthritis. The effectiveness of turmeric was compared with diclofenac sodium (commonly known as Voltaren). Patients in the curcumin group showed the highest percentage of improvement. In addition, curcumin treatment was found to be safe and did not relate with any adverse events.
In 2009 a clinical trial published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine has revealed that turmeric extract can be an effective natural alternative to the exceedingly popular pharmaceutical painkiller ibuprofen in the treatment of knee osteoarthritis (OA).
109 patients with primary knee osteoarthritis were randomized to receive either ibuprofen (800 mg day) or 2,000 mg of turmeric (Curcuma domestica) per day, for 6 weeks. The ibuprofen was divided into 2 doses of 400mg daily, and the turmeric into 4 doses of 500 mg daily.
The researchers measured pain on level walking, pain on climbing stairs, and functions of knee during 100-m walk and going up and down a flight of stairs and after six weeks, significant improvements were observed in both groups, with all primary outcomes similar, except the turmeric group showed slightly better performance on the 100-m walk. Also, the turmeric group showed less adverse events.
In 2014 another randomized clinical trial (Published in Clinical Interventions in Aging), 367 primary knee osteoarthritis patients with a pain score of 5 or higher were randomized to receive ibuprofen 1,200 mg/day or tumeric extracts 1,500 mg/day for 4 weeks. The study demonstrated again that turmeric extract was as effective as ibuprofen for the treatment of knee osteoarthritis. The side effect profile was similar but with fewer gastrointestinal AE reports in the turmeric extracts group.
It is always 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 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. And between turmeric and curry powder, always go for turmeric extract. It has much more amount of curcumin compared to curry blends. If you are considering supplementation you should choose one that contains Meriva Curcumin. If you have osteoarthritis select supplement that contains Meriva Curcumin AND 1500 mg of glucosamine.
Always go for proven and high quality supplements as many failed in tests and simply don’t contain what’s on the label.
More Health Benefits of Curcumin
So what else is turmeric good for? A lot of people often ask if turmeric can really bring a lot of health benefits to your body. The answer is yes.
There have been a number of studies that prove turmeric’s purported health benefits and according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, curcumin should be used as a supplement.
What exactly can you get from adding turmeric to your life? The list is long.
- It is a natural anti-inflammatory compound. Contrary to popular belief, did you know that inflammation is actually important? It helps your body fight foreign invaders and plays an important role in repairing damage. In other words, without inflammation, pathogens such as bacteria and other harmful substances can easily take over your body and worse, can kill you (although hoping it won’t happen). Still, short term or acute inflammation is okay.
The problem lies when the inflammation is chronic or is taking too long and has inappropriately deployed against your body’s own tissues. This can give rise to different medical conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, 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.
- It increases the antioxidant capacity of your body. Did you know that oxidative damage is one of the mechanisms behind aging and various conditions 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.
The good news is you can be protected by increasing the antioxidant capacity of your body. Turmeric, particularly the substance curcumin, has a potent antioxidant substance that can neutralize free radicals. At the same time, it boosts the activity of your own body’s antioxidant enzymes.
- It lowers the risk of heart diseases. It may not come as a surprise but according to the World Health Organization, heart disease is the biggest killer as of 2012. Although it does not totally prevent cardiovascular diseases, the curcumin found in turmeric improves the function of the endothelium or the lining of the blood vessels.
A number of studies suggest that curcumin can improve one’s endothelial function thereby reducing endothelium’s inability to regulate blood pressure.
At the same time, curcumin reduces inflammation and oxidation which are also important in reducing your risk against heart disease. Further, a study involving 121 patients showed that the participants who took curcumin before and after coronary artery bypass surgery recorded a 65% decreased risk of experiencing heart attack in the hospital.
- It can help prevent (and hopefully assist in treating) cancer. Cancer is definitely a terrible disease that kills millions of people around the world. Although there are different forms of cancer, did you know that some of these types are affected by curcumin supplementation? Research has found that curcumin can affect cancer growth, development and spread at the molecular level.
Further, there are studies that show that curcumin can reduce the growth of new blood vessels in tumors (angiogenesis), the spread of cancer (metastasis) and can even help kill cancerous cells.
Despite these benefits, further studies need to be done to check whether or not curcumin and the turmeric spice itself can treat cancer in humans.
- It lowers your cholesterol levels. Fish, meat and lentil may help lower bad cholesterol. But did you know that adding turmeric spice in your dishes such as sautéed onions, potatoes and cauliflower or vegetable dips can help increase your liver’s ability to clear LDL cholesterol? Based on research, curcumin is also a 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.
This means the more LDL receptors, the easier for the liver cells to clear more bad cholesterol from your body.
- It is useful in preventing and treating Alzheimer’s disease. Did you know that Alzheimer’s disease is the most common neurodegenerative disease in the world and the leading cause of dementia? Unfortunately, there is no established treatment – yet – available for this condition. Still, don’t lose hope.
According to a study published in the Annals of Indian Academy of Neurology, curcumin found in turmeric has been shown to cross the blood-brain barrier. A study published in the Italian Journal of Biochemistry in December 2003 also discussed the role of curcumin and how it can cause the production of potent antioxidant bilirubin which can protect the brain against free radical injury.
- It can fight against depression. Maybe it’s because of work, family issues, relationships or even financial trouble; whatever the reasons may be, depression will sometimes find its way to haunt you. Big pharmaceutical firms came up with anti-depressant pills to help people cope with depression but they are often not very effective and have unpleasant side effects. The safer solution: turmeric! The curcumin found in turmeric has shown positive effects in treating depression.
Based on a study involving 60 patients, those subjects who took curcumin showed improvements similar to those who took Prozac. And the group who took both Prozac and curcumin fared the best. This shows that indeed, curcumin is an effective anti-depressant – plus much safer too. It boosts the brain-derived neurotrophic factor levels that can potentially reverse the dangers of shrinking brain area that is involved in learning and memory.
- It improves your liver function. An experiment was conducted on rats to determine the effects of turmeric on the liver’s ability to detoxify toxic chemicals in the body. Researchers found out that two important liver detoxification enzymes increased on turmeric-fed rats compared to controls. Hence, they concluded that turmeric can ‘probably mitigate the effects of various dietary carcinogens.
Aside from this, curcumin in turmeric was shown to inhibit free radical damage of fats such as those found in cell membranes and cholesterol, prevent the formation of inflammatory chemical cyclooxygenase-2, and induce the formation of primary liver detoxification enzyme, glutathione S-transferase or GST enzyme.
- It delays aging and other age-related chronic diseases. After going through all of these benefits, have you noticed anything? Turmeric has positive effects on one’s longevity. Think about this. It can help prevent heart disease, cancer and even Alzheimer’s. Once these diseases are prevented, your chances of dying too early will also reduce, making you live longer. Hence, turmeric can and has been used as an anti-aging supplement.
Still, everything has to depend on your lifestyle. Even if you are adding turmeric in your meals but you continuously smoke, drink or rarely sleep, all of these anti-aging and health benefits will be negated.
What Are the Other Ways to Use Turmeric?
People seldom realize that there is more to spices than just being a kitchen ingredient. Although the kitchen is their primary master, spices such as turmeric deserve a spot in your cosmetic or makeup cabinet as well. Let’s take a look at the other surprising uses of turmeric aside from being an added spice in the kitchen.
- As toothpaste, giving you pearly white teeth. Who says only fluoride can do that? Turmeric can be known for its staining prowess but it can actually be used to whiten teeth as long as it does not come in contact with your teeth’s enamel for too long.
- Having luminous skin can be problematic – at least in terms of makeup. To boost the glow factor in your skin, add turmeric to tinted moisturizer, face creams and even body scrubs. Just don’t overdo it or you might be surprised with how you’ll look like.
- As a meat saver. Did you know that turmeric can actually save your life? Kansas State University researchers found out that adding turmeric to meat can reduce the levels of heterocyclic amines or HCA by up to 40%. And this HCA is formed when meat are cooked over high heat, which is also linked to cancer.
- As a scalp saver. Your hair may be your crowning glory but the condition of your scalp greatly affects it. Mix turmeric and olive oil (or coconut or jojoba oil) and gently massage it on your scalp. This can deter dandruff and can improve the overall conditions of your scalp.
- As a treatment for sick stomach. Turmeric has been used as herbal remedy to cure different illnesses, including an upset stomach. For best results, the National Institute of Health recommends 500 mg four times a day.
- As a longevity tea. Earlier, it was mentioned that turmeric can delay aging and boosts one’s longevity. When it comes to longevity, Okinawa in Japan has the world’s longest life span. Want to know why? The people there drink turmeric tea everyday! 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.
- As a dye. For many years, turmeric has been used as a dye. Did you know you can use it to dye your shirts, too? Just add three tablespoons of this spice to a pot of boiling water and let it simmer for a few minutes. Your fabric dye bath is ready.
- As a homemade play dough. Play dough is popular among kids. However, it can be costly so why not make your own? Check out this recipe for play dough and find out how turmeric can be used to create colours.
- As a sprain treatment. Turmeric will never run out of uses. 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.
- As a blend for curry powder. Turmeric plays a starring role in Indian curry. To make your own taste, use turmeric to blend your own curry powder. The best thing about this is unlike commercially sold curry powder, you can adjust everything according to your own taste.
- As a dessert. Yes, you read that right. Sugar may be a staple ingredient in cakes, brownies and other sweets. However, Lebanese desserts use turmeric to prevent their after-meal food too sweet. Try it, you might love it too.
Is Turmeric Safe?
Of course. Generally speaking, turmeric is safe and does not cause significant side effects as long as consumed properly. Still, everything taken in excess is not good for you and your body so proper precaution is still recommended. Also, there are certain groups of people who are not advised to take in too much turmeric.
- Pregnant and breastfeeding women. There is little information on this although turmeric is said to promote menstrual period or stimulate the uterus.
- Gallbladder problems. Turmeric can make gall bladder problems worse.
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD. It can cause stomach upset in some people and make GERD worse. Moderation is the key.
- Those who recently had surgery. It slows down blood clotting and can cause extra bleeding during and after surgery.
If you are not among these groups, then you’re fine. Still, don’t put too much turmeric in your dishes. Aside from the possible side effects such as nausea, dizziness or diarrhea, you won’t like the taste anyway. Just keep it simple and in small amounts and you will surely enjoy all of these health benefits.
And remember that if you suffer from joint pain and arthritis, high quality curcumin containing supplement can be a safe and an effective option to be healthy and live your life pain-free.