Turmeric is a bright yellow-orange spice that I love using to add a touch of flavor and color to my curries and sauces. It is a flowering plant, Curcuma longa, and belongs to the ginger family, Zingiberaceae. The roots are used for cooking but as delicious as this spice is as an additive to foods, it has been used for thousands of years for its medicinal, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties. In India, turmeric is an essential ingredient in many of their natural medicines that are prepared under the Indian systems of Ayurveda and Siddha. Turmeric is also used by many ethnic and folk medicinal practices. There are many communities that use the versatile plant for ceremonies that are related to well-being and fertility, in fact, some Indian traditions believe that turmeric is a “divine plant” that has been given by God to human beings.
With so much praise, what is the health benefits of turmeric?
Insight into turmeric
Turmeric is an herbaceous perennial plant that has nearly 400 species available. The aromatic rhizomes are the most commonly used part of the plant and are used as an ingredient for cooking and medicinal purposes. The rhizomes also color dye and offer many cosmetic properties. Turmeric is made up of important chemical components, the most important is a group of compounds called curcuminoids. Included in the group of curcuminoids are curcumin (diferuloylmethane), desmethoxycurcumin, and bisdemethoxycurcumin. You may have heard of curcumin before. This is because it is the main ingredient in powdered turmeric and is the coloring compound of the plant: it gives curry its distinct yellow hue. Curcumin is also the active ingredient in turmeric that offers powerful anti-inflammatory effects and is an extraordinarily strong antioxidant. The medicinal plant is rich in iron, phosphorous, potassium, magnesium, and calcium. It also contains naturally occurring components such as beta-carotene, ascorbic acid (vitamin C), flavonoids, fiber, and niacin.
Health benefits of turmeric
Many studies have proven that turmeric offers major health benefits for the brain and the body and it is quite possibly one of the most effective natural supplements used today. Below is a list of the health benefits of turmeric.
1. Natural anti-inflammatory
Curcumin is the chemical compound in turmeric that gives it its strong anti-inflammatory properties. Curcumin blocks the NF-kB molecule that travels into the nuclei of the body’s cells and activates the genes that are related to inflammation. The NF-kB molecule is believed to be a major role player in many chronic diseases. This means that curcumin is able to fight inflammation at a molecular level and can help ease conditions such as arthritis.
For more helpful information on turmeric as a natural anti-inflammatory, click here.
Oxidative damage is one of the mechanisms that is behind many diseases as well as aging. This is because free radicals in the body react with fatty acids, DNA, and proteins and influence cell damage. Antioxidants, such as curcumin, help protect the body against harmful free radicals. Not only is curcumin an incredibly powerful antioxidant but it also boosts the activity of the naturally occurring antioxidant enzymes in the body. Turmeric also contains polyphenols, flavonoids, tannins, and ascorbic acid which offer antioxidant properties too.
3. Improved brain function
Studies are still ongoing, but they indicate that turmeric is effective in delaying and possibly reversing brain diseases and age-related decrease in brain functioning. BDNF is a growth hormone that functions inside the brain and a decreased level of this hormone has been linked to brain disorders such as depression and Alzheimer’s disease. Curcumin has been proven to increase the BDNF growth hormone and thus increases the growth of new neurons and reduces the risk of brain degeneration and disease.
Because of turmeric’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory capabilities, it has been proven to be beneficial for aiding digestion. The vitamins, minerals, anti-inflammatory compounds, fiber, and antioxidants all contribute to helping acid production, nutrient absorption, and muscle movement to keep things moving in the gut as they should.
The magnesium and potassium contained in turmeric help fight against dehydration and re-balance the fluids in the body. When experiencing a bout of diarrhea, consuming a teaspoon of powdered turmeric three times a day, together with increased fluid intake, can offer relief for diarrhea.
5. Lowered risk of heart disease
Heart disease is the number 1 cause of death worldwide and curcumin has been identified as highly beneficial in fighting against this disease. This is because curcumin improves the function of the endothelium tissue lining the body’s blood vessels. Endothelial dysfunction is the main cause of heart disease because if the endothelium is not functioning correctly it can affect blood pressure and blood clotting in the heart. Because of the ability of curcumin to reduce inflammation and oxidation, it plays a key role in fighting against heart disease. Turmeric is effective in lowering levels of “bad” cholesterol in the blood which also contributes to an increased risk of heart disease.
6. Relief of eczema symptoms
Turmeric is an appealing treatment for those suffering from atopic dermatitis or eczema. Eczema is an inflammatory skin condition and since curcumin offers anti-inflammatory properties, it is especially helpful in reducing the redness and irritation of the rash. The antimicrobial properties of turmeric also help prevent the growth of skin bacteria or fungi, especially when the skin is broken during a flare-up and exposed to infection and irritation. Turmeric can be used topically to soothe and treat symptoms of the skin rash and can be mixed with coconut oil for an all-natural application. For itchy skin, 500mg of turmeric needs to be consumed three times a day, for at least two months, to be effective.
How is turmeric used?
- – Topical application: Used topically, turmeric can treat skin conditions such as atopic dermatitis and ringworm, relieve itching, and reduce bruising.
- – Cooking: Turmeric flavors, colors, and corrects the acidity of food. When used together with lemon, it can mask strong odors of certain foods.
- – Food preservation: The rhizomes of the turmeric plant can be used to preserve food and prevent the oxidation of fats.
- – Turmeric tea: Turmeric is a rich source of iron and it contains Vitamin C, both of which are excellent for boosting the immune system. Drinking turmeric tea can boost the immune system, relieve pain, and inflammation, and may even act as an anticancer agent.
- – Cosmetics: Curcumin is used as an active compound in some skin preparations because of its anti-aging properties. This is certainly a favorite for me!
Unfortunately, the curcumin level of turmeric is only around 3% by weight and its benefits are not achieved by using the spice in your foods alone. A supplement is necessary that contains a significant amount of this chemical compound or a natural turmeric capsule that contains 800mg of turmeric.
Turmeric is available as a powder, oil extract, tea, and as a supplement. Natural supplements are available in powder-containing capsules and are often combined with bromelain: a protein extract derived from pineapples that increases the absorption and effects of turmeric. Some supplements may also contain piperine which occurs naturally in black pepper and also enhances the absorption of curcumin.
Turmeric has many health benefits but if consumed in excess it can also cause some negative side effects. Whilst turmeric stimulates the stomach to produce more gastric acid to aid digestion, it can upset digestive health if taken in large amounts.
Pregnant women should avoid taking turmeric supplements because it has blood-thinning properties and could promote a menstrual period or stimulate the uterus. This would put the pregnancy at risk and could trigger early contractions. People who are taking blood-thinning medication should also avoid consuming large doses of turmeric.
Other side effects caused by consuming large doses of turmeric include nausea, dizziness, and diarrhea. Too much turmeric may also increase the risk of kidney stones since turmeric is high in soluble oxalates which bind to calcium and form insoluble calcium oxalate: this is responsible for kidney stones.
Studies suggest that a maximum of 12 grams of turmeric per day is safe for consumption.
The root of it all
In India, turmeric is smudged on the forehead of a new-born baby and sprinkled over the saris of brides because it is believed to be a good luck charm. Some tribes in the Pacific Islands wear some of the spice in an amulet around their necks to ward off evil spirits. It certainly seems to be the charm of all good for the body too with its extensive range of natural health benefits. Everyone should consider adding some turmeric to their daily diet, whether it is to enjoy its delicious taste and color in foods or to benefit from its healthy properties. Those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease will especially benefit from the nurturing turmeric plant and will be offered some much-needed pain relief. Although turmeric is praised for its healing properties and array of health benefits, do not exceed the daily recommendation as there are some side-effects that may cause some uncomfortable conditions.
Leave a comment below and let me know how Turmeric has benefited your health
Until next time