You may recognize turmeric as the yellow spice that gives Indian curry its glorious yellow color, and it is also what gives the color to the ubiquitous American yellow mustard we find at the hot dog stand, etc. Turmeric is a yellow-colored powder ground from the root of the turmeric plant, which grows in India and Indonesia and is related to the ginger family. Turmeric is an herb that is used in foods from many different cultures, and has also been used in Chinese and Indian medicine practice for thousands of years for its health supporting qualities to address a wide variety of health issues. Science is increasingly confirming what the Indians and Chinese have known about the health benefits of turmeric for millennia.
The primary compound in Turmeric that offers health benefits is curcumin. Curcumin on its own is poorly absorbed into the bloodstream so, in order to increase bioavailability, it helps to add in even a small amount of black pepper, which contains piperine, with the turmeric. Piperine enhances the absorption of curcumin by 2000 percent, and itself has a number of health benefits.
Turmeric Is Anti-inflammatory
Inflammation itself is a normal and healthy part of our body’s functioning, and is part of a complex biological response of body tissues to harmful stimuli such as pathogens (i.e., bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites, etc.), dead cells and various foreign irritants. So, if we had no inflammation, our bodies would become unhealthy due to buildup of these nasty bits. But, too much inflammation causes swelling and pain. What many people may not know is that excess inflammation can lead to all kinds of health problems such as allergies, arthritis, plaque buildup in the blood stream,gum disease, obesity and metabolic disease, and even cancer.
Turmeric, more specifically the curcumin in turmeric, helps the body regulate the inflammation response. In numerous studies, curcumin’s effects have been demonstrated to be comparable in anti-inflammatory effect to drugs such as hydrocortisone, phenylbutazone, and commonly used NSAIDs such as ibuprofen, but without the significant toxic side effects people frequently experience with those drugs. Curcumin itself produces no toxicity in humans. As an added bonus, curcumin also protects the liver from the effects of toxins that are introduced into the body by NSAIDs such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen.
Turmeric’s Antioxidant Properties
Antioxidants are compounds that help to prevent the oxidation of certain molecules in the body called free radicals. Oxidation of free radicals has been found to be one of the mechanisms behind aging and many diseases.
Turmeric Is Good for Your Brain
Curcumin boosts Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), which has been linked to improved brain function and a lower risk of brain diseases. BDNF supports the survival of existing neurons, and encourages the growth of new neurons and synapses, which means curcumin can promote healing and regeneration in the brain, which for many years scientists didn’t think was possible. BDNF is active in areas of the brain that are vital to learning, memory and higher order thinking. Many common brain disorders have been linked to decreased levels of BDNF, including depression and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as chronic stress issues. Due to the lower weight and small structure of the curcumin molecule, curcumin can be absorbed through the blood brain barrier, and it helps increase oxygen intake to the brain.
Studies have also shown that curcumin is as effective as Prozac for managing depression, but does not carry with it the negative side effects of pharmaceutical antidepressant drugs.
Turmeric and Cholesterol
Curcumin has been shown to have beneficial effects on your cholesterol levels. It can help to increase levels of HDL (good) cholesterol and decrease levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol in the blood stream, and can also lower triglyceride levels. Curcumin also does a very effective job of increasing uptake of cholesterol by the liver.
There are numerous ways in which curcumin can serve a protective function and/or reverse certain aspects of heart disease.
Turmeric and Diabetes
Studies have shown that curcumin can have beneficial effects for multiple health problems associated with or causing diabetes including liver disorders, diabetic vascular disease, pancreatic cell dysfunction, insulin resistance, diabetes-induced musculoskeletal diseases, and diabetic neuropathy.
Curcumin has been demonstrated in studies to delay or prevent development of Type 2 diabetes in patients diagnosed as prediabetic. This study showed curcumin to be effective in lowering blood glucose levels and reversing insulin resistance.
Turmeric and Cancer
Turmeric has shown promise in ongoing studies for anti-cancer properties. Curcumin has been shown in these studies to inhibit the proliferation and survival of almost all types of tumor cells.
With all these health benefits on offer, what are some of your favorite ways to use turmeric in your diet?