What is turmeric?
Turmeric is a spice that has been used in curries and other food dishes for thousands of years. It's a plant that grows in the southern region of Asia, mostly in India. It thrives in a narrow range of temperatures and requires a lot of rainfall, making it unlikely to grow well in most of the U.S. Luckily, plenty of turmeric is exported from India and Asia because of the demand for this spice and nutritional supplement. Turmeric is a cousin of the ginger plant, and both of them are processed from the plant's rhizomes.
What gives turmeric its helpful properties?
When the turmeric root is ground to a powder, it contains carbohydrates, protein, fat, minerals, essential oils and digestible fiber. The key ingredient in turmeric is curcumin, a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory and the substance that gives turmeric its yellow-orange color. Antioxidants combat reactive oxygen molecules that can damage the body by seeking them out and destroying them. Turmeric's anti-inflammatory properties promote healing and reduce pain.
How is turmeric included in the diet?
Adding the spice to curry recipes is the traditional way to consume it, but you can also use turmeric in salad dressings and add it to smoothies. As a beverage, turmeric tea with honey is one suggestion, and you can also find prepared teas that include ginger and cinnamon. In cooking, keep in mind that preparing turmeric dishes with oil and black pepper boosts absorption.
What is the standard to look for in turmeric powder?
Processed turmeric powder should contain 95 percent of the original amount of curcumin found in the root. When taking turmeric as a supplement, be sure to read the label to determine how much curcumin extract is in each capsule. A 'serving' may be anywhere from one to three capsules per day, so you'll need to divide the amount of curcumin in a serving by the number of capsules.
What is added to turmeric?
The most efficient way to benefit from the active ingredients in turmeric is to pair it with a lipid, which is an oil or fat. Turmeric in oil has five times the absorption rate of the powdered root. The body metabolizes the curcumin in turmeric quickly, and ingesting it with oil breaks it down into smaller components, boosting the amount of curcumin the body absorbs.
What should I look for in supplements?
The Arthritis Foundation suggests taking 500 mg of curcumin supplements twice a day. Some supplements include piperine, an extract of pepper, for better absorption. Ground turmeric may have additional properties that we're not aware of beside the main active ingredient, curcumin. It's always a good idea to include the beneficial spice, food, or plant product in your diet in its natural form, even if you take supplements of the active ingredient.
Health Benefits of Turmeric and Curcumin
Anti-inflammatory Applications of Turmeric
Wound Healing – Turmeric promotes wound healing because of its anti-inflammatory properties combined with the removal of free radicals that can damage tissues. When applied in a paste made with oil, it also provides protection while the tissues heal.
Joint Health – Curcumin helps reduce joint and muscle pain because of its anti-inflammatory properties and beneficial effects on the nerves. It not only inhibits damage from free radicals, but it also helps restore energy to cells. The use of curcumin for joint pain has been described as having a similar effect to treatment with hydrocortisone or ibuprofen.
Digestive Health – People with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Crohn's Disease can also benefit from the anti-inflammatory and pain relief properties of turmeric. The antioxidants in the spice promote healing of the intestinal tract the same way they help muscles and joints. If you suffer from heartburn, adding turmeric to your diet can help relieve the symptoms.
Alleviation of Pain and Depression
Post-surgical pain and nerve pain caused by diabetes are alleviated by curcumin, which acts directly on the nerve ganglia to lessen the severity of pain. Studies that have reported findings about pain relief are rigorously structured and use scientific methods such as a double-blind structure to achieve their results. To date, the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of curcumin have been identified as a source of pain relief in several controlled experiments.
Doctors have noted that, in addition to relieving the pain of nerve inflammation, curcumin raises the mood of those patients suffering from pain-related depression. Self-reported levels of anxiety and depression were lower in patients that received curcumin supplements than in those who received a placebo. A study in 2014 indicated that turmeric has a positive effect on major depression as well. After eight weeks of treatment, depressed patients receiving curcumin had a significant positive result compared to the control group.
Curcumin and Immune Disorders
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system turns the body's own antibodies against itself, causing them to attack the joints and their linings. This causes swelling, inflammation, pain and, eventually, joint damage. Since curcumin has strong anti-inflammatory properties, it helps reduce these symptoms. Lupus is another disease in which the immune system is out of control, in this case attacking the blood cells, nerves, lungs and kidneys.
These types of diseases rely on treatment with steroids that suppress the immune system. However, over time, these medications can cause unwanted side effects. Supplementing them with curcumin could allow sufferers to get by with a lower dose of steroids, reducing the side effects. The results of a clinical study in 2012 showed significant improvement in RA patients who were given curcumin supplements, with no negative effects reported.
The antioxidant properties of turmeric discourage cellular mutations that occur from damage by free radicals. It can also repair liver damage, allowing that vital organ to continue to rid your body of toxins. In cancer treatment, radiation sometimes causes chromosome mutations. The curcumin in turmeric can inhibit this damage, and it can even reduce the presence of compounds that increase the risk of cancer.
Curcumin has slowed the growth of pre-cancerous colon polyps by more than 60 percent in clinical trials. Experiments with mice have also shown promise in using curcumin to retard the growth of prostate cancer cells from humans. In India, a country where turmeric is often used in cooking, there happens to be an extremely low incidence of prostate cancer.
The curcumin in turmeric has an effect on the liver, causing it to release less of the 'bad' cholesterol and more of the 'good' kind. When cholesterol is oxidized in the bloodstream, it can cause plaque buildup that clogs arteries. Curcumin inhibits this oxidization, and the vitamin B in turmeric strengthens the walls of blood vessels.
One study of heart surgery patients indicated that curcumin may cause a 65 percent reduction in heart attacksafter bypass surgery. Curcumin capsules were taken by bypass surgery patients along with other drugs like beta blockers and statins. The control group that received the same medications except for placebo supplements experienced a 65 percent higher incidence of subsequent heart attacks. There was a high probability that the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits of the curcumin were the source of the better outcome.
More About Turmeric
There are many ways that people can benefit from consuming turmeric and curcumin, and there are too many details to share it all in one article. There's evidence that turmeric may help break down fat cells and inhibit the growth of new ones. It's been identified as beneficial for stroke and Alzheimer's disease victims and mentioned as helpful for treating HIV symptoms and opioid addiction. Even dogs and cats can experience better health with turmeric added to their diets.
Pets and Turmeric
The anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric are helpful to dogs and cats that suffer from joint pain. Whether the pain is from injury or old age, the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric will benefit them. The chart below shows the proper amount of turmeric to give a cat or dog. It's best to start out with half as much until you see how your pet reacts to the turmeric. You can add it to their pet food, although some will enjoy the taste and lick turmeric paste from a spoon. They can have the same 'golden paste', made from turmeric, oil and pepper, that their owners consume.
Weight of Pet
Dosage of Turmeric
1/16 to 1/8 teaspoon
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon
1/2 to 1 teaspoon
Bioavailability of Curcumin
Turmeric is often used along with cumin and pepper in food recipes. Pepper enhances the positive effects of the curcumins in turmeric. When a substance is absorbed well by the body, it's highly bioavailable. Consuming turmeric with pepper is one way to make it more bioavailable, and so is using it in its complete form, as ground turmeric root, otherwise known as turmeric spice. There are two other curcuminoids besides curcumin in the powder from the ground root, along with substances we may not be aware of that contribute to the effectiveness of the ground rhizomes.
Taking supplements with food can facilitate their absorption by the intestinal tract. In traditional Indian cooking, turmeric is consumed as part of a meal that includes oils and other spices. The lipids (fats) in turmeric powder are broken down into more digestible components by the oil used in cooking. Also, there are enzymes in the intestine designed to deactivate unfamiliar compounds. By consuming turmeric powder with oil and pepper, it's broken down into a form that can be used as fuel for the body, bypassing this initial deactivation by enzymes.
Sometimes turmeric can interact with medications you're taking. That's why you should check with your doctor before starting on supplements, especially if you suffer from diabetes, high cholesterol, or inflammatory diseases. Also, don't stop taking any medications before checking with your physician. Turmeric can affect the performance of blood thinners, and some supplements include piperine, a pepper extract that can affect uptake of prescription drugs.
The amount of curcumin used in controlled studies isn't recommended for everyday use. There's no information about the possible side effects of taking mega-doses of turmeric or curcumin and, as with any supplement, it's best to use moderation. If you decide to make turmeric a major part of your diet, consuming the natural form of the spice is the safest idea. It would be difficult to take too much curcumin if you were only getting it from the ground turmeric root.
Turmeric in Your Life
One of the wonderful things about turmeric is that it enhances the taste of your food at the same time it supports your health. Many delicious dishes are made using turmeric as one of the spices, and it's enjoyable to know that you're improving your health while savoring a tasty meal!