Did you know that you can help your liver, lower your risk for cancer, and improve your digestive health simply by helping yourself to a regular bowl of curry?
One of the main spices used in curry is turmeric. Prized for its powerful flavor, it has also been part of traditional medicine for generations, and is now gaining recognition as one of the most potent spices you can ingest for your health.
What’s more, although it often acts as medicine, you can’t overdose on turmeric. It’s non-toxic, even in large doses, and has absolutely no side effects.
Getting to know the queen of spices
Turmeric is the rhizome of the curcuma longa plant which is native to India, Nepal, and other parts of Southern Asia. The rhizome is the knotty little section of stem found near a plant’s roots, and when this woody section is stripped of its skin, it’s a rich, golden color, with a heady, spicy smell.
Turmeric is a common ingredient in Bangladeshi, Indian, Iranian, and Pakistani cuisine. But aside from being prized for its culinary qualities, turmeric has been hailed as a medicinal plant with amazing curative properties, used to treat everything from digestive issues and common colds to cancer.
Hailed as the queen of spices, turmeric can be consumed in a number of ways. It’s chopped up and included in stews, grated into salads, blended into smoothies, steeped as tea, mixed into milk, or dried and powdered for that extra kick.
You’ve probably been eating it in your mustard too – it’s used to give that vibrant color to the condiment we all know and love.
What gives turmeric its color and its healthy edge is the compound known as curcumin. This compound is largely found in plants, and has been proven to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and anticarcinogenic properties. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this spice.
Sadly, there is a catch. Curcumin isn’t widely present in many plants, and when it is, it is not easy to ingest. It’s not insoluble in water, which means even if you eat a lot of it, only a little becomes metabolized by your body. So to make it more bioavailable – that is, to make it so that your body can make use of it – experts recommend taking turmeric with something that is a contains fats (such as full-cream milk) or with a little black pepper that has piperine which helps release curcumin.
Health benefits of turmeric
Here are just a few of the reasons why it’s worth getting a little more turmeric into your body:
1. It has been proven to be just as effective as modern anti-inflammatory drugs
Controlling inflammation is key to treating several conditions, including asthma, cardiovascular disease, and some forms of arthritis. In fact, chronic inflammation has been linked to most common diseases as a significant contributor.
Curcumin inhibits inflammation so well that it has been found to be just as effective as many modern medications. This makes it effective in the prevention and treatment of arthritis. It fights inflammation at a molecular level, stopping the receptors that trigger cells to become inflamed.
It is because of this that Dr. Randy J. Horwitz, the medical director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, calls turmeric “one of the most potent natural anti-inflammatories available”. Horwitz wrote a paper for the American Academy of Pain Management discussing the health benefits of turmeric.
In it, he cited a study conducted by the University of Arizona in 2006. It dealt with the effect of turmeric on rats that had been injected with rheumatoid arthritis. The results were surprising. Pretreatment with turmeric conclusively inhibited the onset of rheumatoid arthritis in the rats.
Furthermore, when rats that had already developed rheumatoid arthritis were given turmeric, their symptoms were reduced drastically.
2. It can prevent cancer
Turmeric has been proven to be effective in the prevention of at least two kinds of cancers, most particularly colon and breast cancers. Additionally, it has been found in lab tests to boost the effects of cancer treatments. In these tests, a combination of turmeric and chemotherapy killed many more cancer cells faster than chemotherapy alone.
3. It increases your body’s antioxidant capacity
Not only is turmeric packed with antioxidants, but it can help rally your body’s defenses to defend against antioxidants on its own.
Antioxidants help you by controlling free radicals that react with organic substances and damage cells and result in degradation, aging, and oxidative damage. Curcumin is a powerful antioxidant in itself, but it also stimulates your body’s antioxidant enzymes, which help to further neutralize free radicals.
4. It can prevent Alzheimer’s and improve brain function
While there is no known way to reverse the damage that leads to Alzheimer’s, it would seem that current findings lead us to believe that a daily dose of turmeric may help keep your brain healthier. In the long run, this may lead to the prevention of degenerative brain diseases and hold the key to finding an effective treatment.
The curcumin in turmeric is a potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. This makes it effective in battling two of the major causes of cell damage that eventually leads to degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
Curcumin has also been found to be able to help clear the buildup of protein tangles in the brain, called Amyloid plaques, a major contributor to the disease. At the same time, a lesser known compound in turmeric, called aromatic turmerone, is suspected to be responsible for encouraging growth and repair of stem cells in the brain.
Initial tests show that Alzheimer’s patients exposed to turmeric displayed overall improved memory and better cognition. However, it has not been satisfactorily proven. While more tests and studies have to be conducted, researchers are hopeful that this may be relevant in finally finding a cure for the disease.
5. It boosts the nutrient value of other veggies
When used in recipes with vegetables containing the nutrient beta-carotene such as carrots, pumpkins, and sweet potatoes, turmeric has been found to better retain said nutrient and make it more bioavailable.
6. It’s great for the skin
In India, where turmeric is more commonly known as haldi, women massage the powdered rhizome into their skin as part of their beauty regimen. As an alternative to powder, some mix honey in to make a leave-on paste. The honey acts as a natural moisturizer.
Because of its high antioxidant content, haldi paste is great at keeping skin looking soft and youthful, encouraging new cell growth, and maintaining and protecting the skin's natural elasticity.
Turmeric paste is also great for treating skin problems like acne breakouts, psoriasis, and dandruff, due to its antifungal properties. Unlike some medications, it has no side effects, and is not poisonous should it be accidentally ingested, so it’s safe for use on children and infants.
7. It will ease your digestive woes
While it may taste fiery, turmeric has a soothing effect on digestion, calming the overproduction of stomach acids. In a study to determine how well turmeric protected healthy stomach lining against ulcers, it was found that it inhibited the development of the said ulcers by an astounding 85%.
Furthermore, the active compounds stimulate the gallbladder to produce more bile, which reduces bloating and gas. However, it’s counterproductive to ingest turmeric when you’ve already been diagnosed with gallbladder disease, as it may worsen the condition.
That turmeric is good for you has been a tenet of herbal medicine for generations. However, science has just recently begun to discover just how good for you it is, and it's still surprising people.