In India turmeric is used in everything from cooking to healing wounds. Before weddings it is sometimes put directly on the bride’s skin to give it a vibrant glow.
Belonging to the ginger family, it has been used extensively in India, China, and other tropical regions for centuries. It is a main ingredient in curry powder and is commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine.
The 4 As of Turmeric
Turmeric has a great deal of pharmacological activity, or in other words, has a lot of health benefits because of the ingredients it contains.
In particular, turmeric has antioxidant, anticarcinogenic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-aging properties.
Studies have shown it has direct protective effects on many systems in the body, including your heart, liver, nerves, and digestive system.
Turmeric contains a powerful component called curcumin. Extracts of turmeric have shown great antioxidant properties, like stopping oxidative damage to DNA.
One especially interesting area is its ability to prevent low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad” fat, from being oxidized and damaging arteries.
The anti-cancer effects of curcumin expand to all stages of cancer cells. Studies suggest that curcumin not only stops the progression of cancer, but can also cause cancer to regress.
Turmeric and curcumin have been shown to encourage apoptosis, or cell death, in lung and colon tumor cell lines.
These effects are due to its own antioxidant activity, as well as its ability to increase the production of our own major cancer-fighting antioxidant, glutathione.
It also acts on many enzymes and genes that are involved in carcinogenesis. It helps to stop the formation of cancer-causing compounds, promotes the detoxification function of the liver, and hinders enzymes that promote cancer cell growth.
Curcumin has been shown in many studies to have potent anti-inflammatory activity.
Based on in vitro studies, curcumin acts in various ways. It slows inflammatory proteins and pathways, promotes anti-inflammatory processes, and may also act indirectly on the adrenal system, which aids in chronic inflammation.
In a double-blind crossover clinical trial of patients with rheumatoid arthritis, the curcumin group showed improvements in duration of morning stiffness, walking time, and joint swelling compared to phenylbutazone (a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication).
4. Anti-aging and Neuroprotective
Researchers became interested in the effect of turmeric on the brain when they learned that elderly residents of rural India, where turmeric is consumed in large amounts, were shown to have the lowest incidence of Alzheimer’s disease in the world.
Studies since have shown that turmeric has tremendous benefits for protecting against age-related brain damage.
Absorption – The 5th Most Important A
Yet, none of the first four properties matter if your body doesn’t absorb the nutrients properly. Sadly, one of the biggest issues with curcumin is that it is poorly absorbed and rapidly passes through your digestive system unchanged.
So eating a lot of turmeric isn’t necessarily enough. Some studies have shown that even when turmeric is administered in high doses, blood levels may remain unchanged.
The important thing to remember is that you should always pair turmeric with a fatty substance. Traditionally turmeric is put in a curry with oil, which helps to increase its absorption, or in India it is often mixed with milk, for the same reason.
Curcumin taken in supplemental form can potentially interact with some medications or cause gastrointestinal upset in very high doses. Please talk to your healthcare provider before starting a curcumin supplement.
Pizzorno J, Murray, M. Textbook of Natural Medicine, 4th Ed. Churchill Livingstone. 2012.
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