A golden spice with a myriad of health benefits, turmeric is a true example of medicinal food.
It is the root of a flowering plant from the ginger family native to the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia. It is what gives curry its rich yellow and orange colours and has been used as a dye for millennia. But its true power lies elsewhere and it’s why it has a place in so many medicinal recipes and concoctions.
The super-hero compound in turmeric is called curcumin - a very strong antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties. Its antioxidant capacity means it goes around disabling those pesky free radicals that can damage your cells, DNA, enzymes, fatty acids and more and lead to disease. On top of being a powerful antioxidant, curcumin also stimulates your body’s own defences and antioxidant compounds, making them more effective.
Curcumin’s anti-inflammatory powers are equally impressive. It affects many of our metabolic pathways and supresses inflammation, which is useful in a number of conditions.
A big problem is that it’s hard to get enough curcumin from the powder or root alone – even if you use it liberally. But there is a smart solution – always combine it with black pepper. Black pepper contains piperin, which increases our absorption of curcumin by up to 2,000 per cent! Many turmeric supplements contain piperin but it’s good to follow this rule in the kitchen too.
Arthritis is a painful joint condition that affects people from a relatively young age. Studies found that curcumin significantly reduces pain, swelling and stiffness associated with both main types of arthritis – rheumatoid and osteoarthritis. In some trials it was even more effective than conventional drugs!
The daily dose that offered consistent relief in these studies was from about 200 mg curcumin upwards. It takes a few weeks for it to work so don’t expect instant miracles – five or six weeks seems to be the period needed for improvements to show.
Inflammatory bowel conditions
Turmeric is also good news for people who have irritable bowel diseases, such as Crohn’s, IBS or ulcerative colitis. Curcumin in doses of one to four grams a day offered relief from symptoms in several studies. With ulcerative colitis, curcumin was found to reduce the risk of relapse. All this is mainly due to the anti-inflammatory effect of turmeric. The doses that achieved such a great relief in these studies are available only with supplements but it’s worth the investment.
Curcumin has several potent anti-cancer properties. It protects our cells and DNA from mutating into cancer-type cells. Even if cancerous cells do start growing, curcumin seems to be able to limit or even halt their growth. Cancer cells don’t have a natural expiry date like other cells and can keep growing and multiplying – until they meet curcumin. This wonder compound is able to trigger an expiry date in at least some cancer cells so they naturally die. In others, it stops their growth.
In one study, people with cancerous lesions in the gut were given four grams of curcumin a day and after a month, 40 per cent of the lesions were gone. That’s not to say curcumin can cure cancer but it can certainly help to protect you against it!
Regular turmeric intake or curcumin supplements can assist in lowering blood fat levels, including harmful cholesterol. Of course, a healthy diet is crucial for a healthy heart but turmeric can offer a bit of extra help. Several studies also suggest that curcumin can improve the health of our blood vessels – making them better able to regulate blood flow. According to science, curcumin can achieve the same results as drugs in many patients.
Depression and cognitive health
By now, you may be thinking turmeric sounds too good to be true – but there’s more! Several trials in which people with depression were given curcumin supplements, revealed that after five weeks, the depressive symptoms were much reduced. It is not clear how curcumin helps but it is certainly effective in treating depression.
Other research discovered that regular curcumin intake helps to improve working memory and mood. It may also protect the brain from age-related, neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease but the science isn’t clear yet. However, we do know that a healthy plant-based diet lowers your risk of these diseases so by adding turmeric, you can’t go wrong!
Turmeric and curcumin supplements also have a very beneficial effect on our airways. In asthma sufferers, regular intake reduces inflammation of the airways lining. This calming effect can be so profound that in some people it even increases lung capacity.
Turmeric, along with ginger, can also be of great help when you have a cold or flu. Its anti-inflammatory properties, along with its airway-pacifying effect, may offer a much needed relief.
Root, powder or supplement?
For everyday use, fresh root or powder are excellent. A dose to achieve medicinal results would be about one teaspoon combined with some ground black pepper to increase curcumin absorption. If you would like to try higher doses of curcumin as a treatment, it may be best to take a supplement. Many contain black pepper, or rather its active compound called piperine or BioPerine (trade name), to achieve maximum benefit. In the scientific studies, noticeable improvements for most conditions were observed from about 500mg daily.
If you’re healthy and simply want to enjoy what turmeric has to offer, there are endless options. It can be added to savoury and sweet dishes, drinks, smoothies, baked goods, soups, and many, many more!