What is Turmeric?
Turmeric, also called Indian saffron or ‘the golden spice’ because of its bright yellow color, is a plant that grows in Central America and Asia. India is the largest producer of the spice, supplying over 80% of the world’s turmeric root.
Turmeric’s scientific name is Curcuma longa, a plant that belongs to the ginger family (Zingiberaceae). In addition to its much sought-after health benefits; it is also a staple spice for cooking, coloring cosmetics, and as an offering in religious ceremonies.
Traditional Medicine and Turmeric
Ayurvedic medicine, a traditional Indian holistic healing system, has advocated the use of turmeric for over 4000 years, citing its powerful healing applications for a variety of conditions, including chronic pain and inflammation. The root is used in many different forms, including the whole turmeric root, as a powder (often for cooking), as well as pressed, extract or supplement forms.
Western Medicine and Curcumin
Curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric and offers a range of natural properties that have been proven to be effective in treating a number of health issues. Although turmeric has been a popular traditional medicine for thousands, it’s only been in the last 25 years that western medicine has sought to catch up.
Scientific studies conducted on the efficacy of turmeric point towards a powerful natural medicine that is effective in treating a wide range of health concerns, with over 3000 published studies in peer-reviewed journals.
According to the National Institutes of Health, there are more than 80 studies currently studying the benefits of turmeric in relation to its ability to treat and heal issues across a range of diseases from irritable bowel syndrome to diabetic nephropathy.
Turmeric’s Chemical Profile
Turmeric contains over 100 chemical compounds that aid in its ability to help treat or prevent such a wide range of health conditions. The most important and widely studied compound is the polyphenol curcumin. Polyphenols are organic chemicals that have anti-inflammatory properties and are present in a range of foods and drinks including green tea (epigallocatechin), chili peppers (capsaicin), and red wine (resveratrol).
The compound curcumin is also responsible for the root’s vibrant yellow-orange color. In addition to curcumin, the other curcuminoids (chemical compounds responsible for the health benefits of turmeric), include demethoxycurcumin, and bisdemethoxycurcumin.
This unique combination of natural oils, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, fiber, fatty acids, and phytochemicals work together to provide healing properties for almost every area of the body. This includes help with promoting immunity, providing protection against disease and illness, and the prevention of chronic diseases. Because of this, turmeric is being increasingly integrated into treatments for a number of chronic conditions.
Phytochemicals are plant compounds that occur naturally and have been linked with boosting the healthy functioning of cells, tissues, organs, and systems. These plant compounds include antioxidants, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic agents. Phytochemicals also have a wide variety of protective and preventative benefits that support the body.
Phenols within the turmeric root are the three varieties of curcuminoids: curcumin, desmethoxycurcumin, and bis-desmethoxycurcumin. They help combat germs, bacteria, and viruses as well as aiding digestion, promoting immunity, improving energy levels, mental processes, and metabolic functioning, as well as cleansing the blood and regulating blood sugar.
These two compounds are primarily responsible for turmeric’s health benefits. Additionally, turmeric contains quercetin (a plant pigment that gives turmeric its color). Quercetin is an antioxidant that targets free radicals which can damage cells.
How Turmeric Helps Prevent And Treat Disease
Turmeric has a number of different applications as it is an antioxidant containing powerful anti-inflammatory properties.
Anti-Inflammatory Properties of Curcumin
Inflammation is the normal reaction of the body to injuries or infections. There are two types of inflammation: acute (happens for a short period of time or the symptoms subside after a few days) and chronic (degenerative in nature or considered to be long-term). Acute is generally considered to be a good reaction, whereas chronic is negative.
Chronic inflammation is linked to a number of degenerative diseases including heart disease, metabolic disease, Alzheimer’s.
Curcumin, a bioactive substance found in turmeric, is a powerful anti-inflammatory. Several studies point to the efficacy of curcumin in fighting chronic inflammation. It works by blocking molecules that trigger inflammation.
Turmeric is a Powerful Antioxidant
Having some free radicals in the body is normal. However, too many oxidizing free radicals can cause damage to our cells and DNA. Excessive levels of free radicals are caused by a variety of factors including air pollution, fried foods, pesticides, and smoke making it very difficult to avoid them entirely in our daily lives.
One alternative is to eat foods that are rich in antioxidants as they are a natural antidote to free radicals. They are one of the most important reasons for eating fresh fruit and vegetables (and a key reason why people that eat fruit and vegetables regularly live longer). Curcumin is one of the most effective antioxidants. In addition to acting as an antioxidant, it can also boost the production of the body’s antioxidant enzymes.
Proven Health Benefits of Turmeric
There are numerous studies showing the benefits of turmeric and curcumin in treating a wide range of diseases and health issues. The ever-growing list includes arthritis, digestive problems including bowel disease, heart and liver disease, Alzheimer’s, depression, diabetes, and obesity.
Arthritis is a disease that causes inflammation and stiffness of the joints and is often painful. It affects over 54 million adults worldwide, and almost 300,000 babies and children have arthritis. In America alone, osteoarthritis affects an estimated 31 million adults.
Studies have shown that the potent anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin are effective in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, even more so than other anti-inflammatory drugs.
Pain management is an integral part of treating arthritis, and this is typically done through cortisone shots, daily medication prescriptions, and painkillers, but this does not target the underlying cause of inflammation. The treatments are generally not effective in treating “flare-ups,” in fact, synthetic pharmaceuticals may aggravate the symptoms further by interfering with the normal functioning of the body’s systems. Medication for arthritis can have side effects including mood swings, trouble sleeping, and heart complications.
This is where turmeric can help – the health benefits of turmeric can offer relief for arthritis effectively and safely. A study on knee osteoarthrosis showed that 1,500 mg of turmeric supplements daily showed anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties comparable to 800 mg of ibuprofen.
Turmeric treats the underlying cause of the pain (the inflammation) to provide pain relief. Additionally, the phytochemicals in turmeric work to clean the blood and improve liver function by removing or minimizing the presence of toxins that contribute to arthritis flare-ups.
Turmeric is useful for improving digestion and healing gut inflammation. Ayurvedic medicine has used turmeric for centuries because of its ability to reduce symptoms of bloating and gas. Curcumin contained in turmeric also actively stimulates the gallbladder assisting in the production of bile which is needed to break down food and improves digestion.
Research has shown that curcumin helps treat Ulcerative Colitis (an inflammatory bowel disease causing sores in the digestive tract) which causes diarrhea and abdominal pain.
Turmeric can also help reduce symptoms of IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) targeting abdominal discomfort and improving bowel movement patterns.
Every year in the US, about 610 000 people die of heart disease (one in every four deaths), and it is the leading cause of death for both men and women. Factors that reduce the incidence of heart disease include an active lifestyle, healthy eating, and low-stress life. Increasingly, supplements such as turmeric extract are coming to the fore as studies show their efficacy in preventing heart disease.
Curcumin has been proven to be effective in supporting the function of the endothelium (the lining of the blood cells) as well as other protective benefits for cardiovascular diseases. This is a promising sign for heart health as endothelium dysfunction has a direct impact on blood pressure, the ability of the blood to clot, and more.
Another study showed that the positive benefits of taking curcumin supplements produced the same benefits as an exercise on endothelium function. Turmeric’s additional properties of antioxidant action and anti-inflammatory benefits also support heart health.
The liver is responsible for cleansing the body’s fluids of toxins, pollutants, and irritants and therefore plays a major role in maintaining immunity ensures that the body can fight infection and remain healthy.
If the liver is compromised due to toxins from diet, environment, or lifestyle choices, and functions poorly, this has severe implications for the rest of the body. Turmeric can help reverse the damage done to the liver, improving its health and productivity.
A liver that is functioning optimally is free from oxidative properties and free radicals. Oxidation produces dangerous free radicals that move through the body’s bloodstream and tissue causing potentially harmful changes to cells. Turmeric’s phytochemicals, including curcumin, cleanse the body acting as powerful antioxidants, anti-inflammatory agents, protecting and cleansing the liver and through the liver, the rest of the body.
An important component of brain health is a protein called BNDF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), studies on animals have shown that it plays an essential role in the regeneration of nerve cells. Scientists have linked significantly lower levels of BNDF with people suffering from Alzheimer’s and depression.
Two ways to increase BNDF levels are through exercise and curcumin capsules/powder. The effectiveness of curcumin on BNDF levels has been tested on animals and holds the potential for supporting healthy brain function in humans.
Alzheimer’s affects nearly 44 million people worldwide and is a devastating disease that halts working neurons and eats away at exiting brain tissue while damaging the entire nervous system.
Despite awareness around the disease, there are very few measures that can be taken to prevent or cure the disease that is exacerbated by synthetic additives in food and storage containers. Recent studies have shown that phytochemicals such as curcumin have been effective and in the future may transform the approach to the treatment of Alzheimer’s.
Curcumin works differently from other medicinal therapies as it can pass through the blood-brain barrier. The blood-brain barrier is a selectively permeable barrier that separates the circulating blood from brain fluid in the nervous system.
The barrier blocks large molecules that could present a danger to the brain interrupting normal functioning. Curcumin is absorbed into the blood and delivered directly into the brain whereas medicine is unable to pass through the barrier to deliver the drugs to the affected sites. In addition to fighting inflammation and infection, curcumin targets protein deposits that contribute to brain degradation caused by Alzheimer’s.
Worldwide there are 300 million people living with depression making it is the leading cause of disability worldwide. In America, this number is at 16.2 million adults (6.7% of the population). There are some natural ways to treat depression that have proven effective, including the use of curcumin capsules/powder which boost serotonin and dopamine levels in the brain. The use of curcumin has also been found to work well as a preventative measure.
In a recent controlled trial, 60 people with depression were randomly assigned to one of three groups. The first received Prozac, the second one gram of curcumin and the third, both Prozac and curcumin. The effects were measured after six weeks with the finding that the improvements for the first two groups (either Prozac or curcumin) were similar, while the third group that took a combination of the two showed the most progress.
This shows the potential of curcumin as an effective antidepressant. This, combined with curcumin’s proven ability to boost BNDF levels as well as brain neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, make curcumin a powerful preventative supplement for brain care.
Diabetes (and Prediabetes)
Prediabetics are people with elevated blood glucose levels who are at an increased risk of developing diabetes. Curcumin has shown the potential to help prediabetics in studies such as the one published in Diabetes Care, the journal of the American Diabetes Association. The study was randomized, double-blind, and placebo-controlled. The results showed that after nine months the group who had received turmeric had zero instances of diabetes development after nine months.
In comparison, of the group who received a placebo, 16.4% developed diabetes by the end of the nine-month study. The researchers also noted that “In addition, the curcumin treatment appeared to improve the overall function of β-cells, with minor adverse effects. Therefore, this study demonstrated that the curcumin intervention in a prediabetic population might be beneficial.”
Obesity is a widespread social and medical problem that affects 78 million adults and 12 million children in the US. Adults are considered obese when they are 35 pounds overweight. Obesity is caused by some factors including excessive eating, alcohol consumption, menopause, hypothyroidism, and a lack of exercise. Obesity is a proinflammatory disease and a significant risk factor for other conditions such as type 2 diabetes, and atherosclerosis.
Turmeric is one of the supplements that has proven to be helpful in promoting weight loss as Curcumin interacts directly with adipocytes (fat cells) as well as pancreatic, hepatic, stellate, and muscle cells to suppress pro-inflammatory responses.
The changes made my curcumin reverse insulin resistance, hyperglycemia, hyperlipidemia, and other symptoms that are related to obesity.
Turmeric Side Effects
Allergic reactions or side-effects from ingesting turmeric either fresh or as a herbal supplement is uncommon and turmeric is considered very safe, both as an ingredient and a supplement. In some cases, there has not been enough research done to conclusively rule in favor of turmeric use, and in these instances, your doctor may advise that you avoid it.
Consult with a qualified health professional before beginning a routine that includes turmeric, particularly if:
1) You are pregnant. Eating food that contains turmeric is considered safe during pregnancy, but taking turmeric capsules may not be advisable.
2) You have gallbladder problems, like turmeric, either as a spice or a supplement, which may aggravate the issue.
3) You have a slow blood clotting. Turmeric may be linked to slowing the rate of blood clotting, so those will bleeding problems such as hemophilia, or blood-thinning medications, or upcoming surgery should be cautious.
4) You have diabetes. Studies have shown that turmeric may be useful in preventing the development of diabetes, but the use of supplements, particularly with Type 1 diabetes, should only be done with approval from a medical professional.
5) You are iron deficient. Turmeric may impede the absorption of iron by your body
6) You suffer from reflux or stomach ulcers. High levels of turmeric intake might increase the production levels of stomach acid which may exacerbate stomach issues such as reflux or ulcers.
7) You are male and wanting to fall pregnant with a partner as turmeric might affect testosterone levels and sperm movement.
What are the Different Forms of Turmeric?
Turmeric Root (Fresh)
This is generally available in the fresh produce section of natural food stores, as well as in some conventional grocery stores. This is a popular form to use when adding turmeric to fresh-pressed juice or tea (although
This is most frequently used for cooking and can be found in the spice aisle of almost all grocery stores and is popular for seasoning vegetables and meals.
This is the easiest way to ensure that you are getting your daily dose of turmeric. Check the label to ensure that it is wild-harvested or organic, and has not been irradiated or sprayed with pesticides.
Turmeric tea, brewed using grated root or pure turmeric powder is one of the most popular and effective ways to consume the spice. Because turmeric has low bioavailability (it is difficult for the body to access and absorb the compound) it is often better to use a turmeric supplement because of the high concentrations of curcumin.
Pills / Capsules
It is important to maximize the bioavailability of curcumin when choosing a turmeric supplement. Supplements that include piperine or essential oils may increase the bioavailability.
Turmeric can be bought in powdered form which is useful for including in smoothies and teas as it can easily be added.
What to Look For In A Turmeric Supplement
Visiting a health store might be overwhelming if you’re trying to find a good turmeric supplement and, while taking supplements should be good for your health, making the wrong choices can have an adverse effect on your well-being.
There are six things to look for when choosing the right one:
It should contain both turmeric root and turmeric extract. Most turmeric supplements have two different types of turmeric. The first, turmeric root, which is the powdered form of turmeric and the second, turmeric extract, which is a concentrated form of turmeric root, containing 95% curcuminoids. Many supplements do not contain powdered turmeric root, but studies have shown that the other components of turmeric (aside from curcumin) also have healing benefits that make taking a combination more effective than curcumin alone.
Check that it has been tested for heavy metals. The health implications of ingesting higher levels of heavy metals have been well documented. Using natural products that have been tested for heavy metals will help protect yourself and your family. Supplement labels should include a note that they have tested for mercury, lead, cadmium, arsenic, and glyphosate. They should also not have a Prop 65 warning label.
It should be packaged in Dark Glass. Glass, unlike plastic, does not leach harmful chemicals and by choosing a supplement that is in dark glass, there is protection from UV rays which might damage the product so that the nutrients are preserved as fully as possible.
The tablets should be uncoated. These can be used more easily in smoothies and drinks as well as recipes. They are also more convenient than measuring out a messy powder.
Check that they contain black pepper. Curcumin is not easily absorbed by the body, therefore, to get the most benefit from a turmeric supplement it should be consumed with back pepper. Black pepper contains piperine, which can increase the bioavailability of curcumin by up to 2000%. Turmeric supplements should be taken with food, particularly fats and oils, as it can also help raise the level of bioavailability.
There are many health benefits to including turmeric in your diet; the spice supports immunity, relieves pain, can aid in digestion, and help combat many chronic diseases. As with any medication or alternative therapy, it is essential to consult with a medical professional before using turmeric to treat a health condition.
The content in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. I, the author of Back to Your Roots Herbs, am not a medical professional. As such, the information shared, and studies referenced in this article should not be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or health illness. Before acting on the information presented here, please consult with a healthcare professional. Any statements or claims about the possible health benefits conferred by any foods, supplements, essential oils, or lifestyle changes have not been evaluated by a medical professional or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. I, the author of Back to Your Roots Herbs, will not accept responsibility for the actions or consequential results of any action taken by any reader.