There is a medicinal spice so timelessly interwoven with the origins of human culture and metabolism, so thoroughly supported by modern scientific inquiry, as to be unparalleled in its proven value to human health and well-being.
Turmeric is a perennial plant of the ginger family, native to southwest India. Turmeric is commonly consumed in powder form and used as a spice.
To make turmeric powder, the roots of the plant are boiled for 30-45 minutes, dried in ovens and then ground into a deep orange-yellow powder. Turmeric powder is a common spice used in Indian and Pakistani cuisine. It is a major component of curry and can also be used for dyeing cloth.
There are three naturally occurring phytochemicals in turmeric: curcumin, bisdemethoxycurcumin and bisdemethoxycurcumin’s, together referred to as curcuminoids.
Nutritional breakdown of turmeric
Turmeric has been used in Ayurvedic and Chinese medical practice to treat multiple health issues.
According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, one tablespoon of turmeric powder contains 29 calories, 0.9 grams of protein, 0.3 grams of fat and 6.3 grams of carbohydrates (including 2 grams of fiber and 0.3 grams of sugar).
That same 1 tablespoon serving provides 26% of your daily manganese needs, 16% of iron, 5% of potassium and 3% of vitamin C.
Turmeric has traditionally been used in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine to treat inflammatory conditions, skin diseases, wounds, digestive ailments and liver conditions.
Possible benefits of consuming turmeric
Curcumin is the active substance in turmeric believed to be the source of many of its health benefits. Curcumin is also responsible for turmeric’s distinctly earthy, slightly bitter and peppery flavor.
Curcumin may help improve digestion by stimulating the gallbladder to produce bile. A double-blind, placebo-controlled study showed that turmeric reduced bloating and gas in people suffering from indigestion. The German Commission E, a group that determines which herbs can safely be prescribed in Germany, has approved the use of turmeric for digestive problems.
Curcumin lowers the levels of two enzymes in the body that cause inflammation, which may indicate that consuming turmeric would be helpful in treating many inflammatory conditions.
Inflammation is a common thread that links the following conditions:
- Heart disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Alzheimer’s disease.
Curcumin shows promise as a natural anti-inflammatory treatment and is currently being tested in phase 2 and 3 clinical trials.
In a clinical study on curcumin’s effects on arthritis, 50 patients were given curcumin daily for 3 months. An increase in walking performance and distance was observed, as well as decreased inflammation levels.
Curcumin has also been shown to be effective for inflammatory bowel diseases, such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. In multiple studies, people with inflammatory bowel diseases who were given curcumin supplements experienced a reduction in symptoms.
Turmeric may reduce the risk of blood clot formation by preventing platelets from clumping together.
Turmeric has been shown to prevent blood platelets from clumping together, which may decrease the risk of blood clot formation. Early studies suggest that turmeric may help prevent the build-up of plaque in the arteries. In animal studies, turmeric extract lowered LDL (bad) cholesterol and prevented further accumulation.
However, in a human study where participants were given 4 grams of curcumin per day, cholesterol levels were not improved.
The anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric benefit cardiovascular health. Some studies have found that turmeric’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties have produced the following effects in animal models:
- Reduced body weight
- Lowered triglyceride synthesis
- Increased basal metabolic rate
- Increased fatty acid oxidation
- Improved insulin sensitivity.
All of these effects would lower the risk of heart disease.
Turmeric (scientific name Curcuma longa) belongs to the ginger family, Zingiberaceae. This perennial plant has a bright yellow rhizomatous root covered with a tan-colored skin. Turmeric is a popular spice that is widely used in the cuisines of the Middle East, Southeast Asian and North African regions. Turmeric is a very versatile herb that is also one of the key ingredients in spice blends for curries and it augments the flavor of soups, salads, meats, stir-fries and other cuisines.
The active elements in turmeric are called curcuminoids, which offer many health benefits. The particular compound called curcumin is known to be the most potent, therapeutically very powerful and responsible for turmeric’s cancer-killing attributes. This compound facilitates detoxification as well as rejuvenation of the liver, diminishes the negative consequences of excessive iron in the body.
In addition, curcumin augments the body’s antioxidant ability, reinforces the brain cells, enhances cognitive functioning and lessens the risks of developing Alzheimer’s disease as well as treats the condition. This compound also possesses anti-inflammatory properties, lessens the chances of developing heart diseases and depression, besides combating premature aging.
We know that curcumin literally kills cancer, but what is its mechanism?
Curcumin’s lethal aspect
There are about 10 to 13 trillion cells in the human body. Every day our body replaces anything between 100 billion to 130 billion of these cells. The old and unnecessary cells are destroyed through a firmly controlled process of cell suicide known as apoptosis or programmed cell death.
Interestingly, unlike the normal cells, the carcinogenic cells do not commit suicide. On the contrary, they render the suicide genes inactive.
In such situations, curcumin stimulates the death receptors in different ways. Scientists are still in the process of learning the mechanism by which curcumin works to activate these receptors. One interesting means by which this compound turns on the death receptors is by activating enzymes that simply breaks up the proteins present in the cells. Scientists are of the view that cancer cells are unable to resist curcumin, unlike the chemotherapy drugs, because this compound triggers the death of carcinogenic cells in various different ways. As of now, we are still not aware of the reason behind curcumin sparing the healthy cells in our body. All that we know is that curcumin just kills the cells that are thought to be dead already.
Unfortunately, our bodies have a propensity to get rid of almost all the curcumin we consume. It is important to note that unless there is help, it becomes difficult for our body to absorb much curcumin.
Increasing bio-availability of curcumin
Our bodies have a problem with curcumin. As our liver tries to put off or get rid of unnecessary drugs, supplements and similar substances, it also retards curcumin absorption – a process known as glucuronidation. In effect, this process makes curcumin less effectual in our body compared to its normal effectiveness. Nevertheless, we can enhance the ability of our body to take up this compound.
Consume turmeric with black pepper
The strong flavor of black pepper is attributed to piperine, an alkaloid enclosed by it. Piperine slows down the metabolic functions of specific enzymes resulting in the disposal of what our body deems to be surplus curcumin. However, the action of this compound is not restricted only to curcumin, as black pepper can also augment the body’s ability to take up other supplements and similar substances. When taken with black pepper, piperine helps to raise the body’s ability to absorb curcumin by about 2000 percent.
Blend turmeric with useful fats
It has been established that curcumin dissolves in fats. In the absence of fats, curcumin does not disband as it should. As a result, curcumin finds it difficult to reach the gut and being assimilated into our blood stream and eventually reach the cells where the compound is needed. Hence, it is advisable that you always consume turmeric with beneficial fats such as olive oil, avocado and coconut oil.
Take turmeric with quercetin
A plant flavonoid, quercetin slows down the action of the enzymes that neutralize curcumin. Hence, it is advisable that you consume turmeric with quercetin.
Apples, blueberries, chicory greens, cranberries, onions, red lettuce leaf, sweet peppers, raw broccoli, raw spinach, raw kale, snap beans, green tea, black plums, red grapes and red wine are some foods that contain high levels of quercetin. However, capers are known to be the best whole food source that enclose quercetin.