What is turmeric?
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a plant that belongs to the ginger family. Its familiar use is that of a spice – which has a warm, bitter flavour and a bright yellow-orange colour. The part of the plant that is used is the rhizome, the bulbous root like part of the stem that grows underground. It can be used fresh (commonly found in Asian grocers or farmers markets) or in powdered form, which is how it is found in many supermarkets or speciality spice shops.
Turmeric nutritional benefits
Turmeric has been used for many years in traditional Chinese and Indian medicine, where it is used to treat wounds, sprains, gastrointestinal issues and liver disorders. More recently, pharmacological studies have been carried out to study curcumin which is the main curcuminoid (alkaloid) found in this spice. These various studies have demonstrated that curcumin has many interesting actions including: Antioxidant properties, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, hepatoprotective and anti-arthritic. Curcumin has also been shown to be beneficial as a neuroprotective agent, with a positive role in animal models studies on Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. Since 2006 there has also been a large rise in the amount of studies being carried out with regards to turmeric being effectively used as an antidepressant.
- Well studied as a powerful anti-inflammatory agent. Curcumin has the ability to supress both acute and chronic inflammation, as a COX-2 inhibitor and is proving to be “one of the most promising candidates of natural origin having anti-inflammatory activity with no side effects” (J Pharm Educ Res Vol 3, Issue No 2 December 2012)
- The anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin mean it is fantastic for aiding in reducing inflammation in gut related issues, thus helping to heal leaky gut.
Anti-aging and Antioxidant
- Curcumin helps protect from UV damage and can enhance the appearance of the skin. It also acts as a free radical scavenger (antioxidant) and as a hydrogen donor.
- Curcumin acts as an antibacterial agent against Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella paratyphi and Trichophyton gypseum. Turmeric is proving to be a beneficial addition to many topical skin treatments.
Turmeric is generally considered safe for use, especially in natural food form, although gastrointestinal problems are seen in some individuals (stomach ache, nausea and diarrhoea). Care does need to be taken with regard to iron levels and iron deficiency. It needs to be noted that curcumin is an iron chelator – meaning that it binds to iron and impacts iron levels. “Curcumin repressed synthesis of hepcidin, a peptide that plays a central role in regulation of systemic iron balance. These results demonstrate that curcumin has the potential to affect systemic iron metabolism, particularly in a setting of subclinical iron deficiency.” (Blood. Jan 8, 2009: 113(2): 462-469)
Curcumin can be taken in supplement form, but it is not recommended that you take any new supplement without consulting your primary care professional first.
Is turmeric cancer preventative?
There is much research going on at the moment with regards to turmeric (curcumin) and its potential role in cancer prevention and cancer management. Even as far as 30 years ago, it was estimated that about 35% of all cancer deaths might be attributed to dietary factors and that diet and lifestyle play a very real role in cancer development. Many observational studies demonstrate a link to a diet rich in vegetables and fruits and a decreased risk of cancer.
Curcumin itself has been demonstrated to decrease the incidence and volume of chemically induced cancer in animal studies and is showing some positive results in small pilot human studies with leukoplakia, which is known premalignant condition, seen in the mouth.
Promising studies are currently showing that “combining curcumin in conjunction with conventional chemoprotective agents could be a more effective treatment strategy against chemoresistant colon cancer cells.” Shakilbael et al (2013)
Where to get it
Powdered: From most supermarkets, speciality shops or spice stores.
Fresh: Asian grocers, farmers markets or selected supermarkets.
Turmeric supplements: Yes, you can get a turmeric supplement but your Nutritionist or Naturopath will be able to prescribe you therapeutic dosage of curcumin in capsule or liquid form after a consultation. You may be able to find capsulated form at your local health food store, although we do not recommend you take any new supplement until you seek advice from your primary health care professional.
- Powdered or fresh turmeric can be used as a wonderful taste and colour (plus health) addition to all your meals and even drinks!
- It works wonderfully well in curries and other stews and goes well sprinkled on eggs, potatoes or pumpkin.
- We like to add a few slices of turmeric to most soups we cook and especially to stocks and broths.
- Drinking turmeric is also quite common. It can be added to smoothies or a few slices of the fresh root added to ginger tea. Adding black pepper with turmeric and consuming this combination with fat enhances the bioavailability of the curcumin (check out our hot turmeric drink recipe).
- It can be used even in DIY skin care. It works well in regenerative face masks (see our recipe) or even added to homemade toothpaste – for which it is said to help whiten teeth! A paste made with turmeric and aloe vera gel can be used to ease the pain and itching from burns, poison ivy, insect bites, chicken pox, or eczema.
- Taking turmeric supplements: take as per advised by your health care professional. Here at Rejuvenate for Life we strongly believe in food as medicine and the power of real food. Because of this, we prefer to get the ‘good stuff’ in its whole form, when possible. Real food contains all the magic already packaged up with the synergistic nutrients required – something that no supplement can ever compete with. Curcumin however can have low absorbency and if therapeutic quantise are required, supplementation may be required. Your health care professional can advise on this.
- Kulkarni SK, Dhir A, Akula KK, Potentials of Curcumin as an Antidepressant, The Scientific World Journal (2009) 9, 1233-1241
- Jiao Y, Wilkson J, Di X, Wang W, Hatcher H, Kock N, D’Agostino R, Knovich M, Torti F, Torti S, Curcumin, a cancer chemoprotective and chemotherapeutic agent, is a biological active iron chelator, Blood. Jan8 (2009), 113(2): 462-469
- Choundhary N, Sekhon B, Potential therapeutic effect of curciumin – an update, J Pharm Educ Res Vol 3, Issue No2, December 2012
- Baumeister P, Reiter M, Harreus U, 2012, Curcumin and Other Polyphenolic Compounds in Head and Neck Cancer Chemoprevention, Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, Volume 2012, Article ID 902716, 9 pages
- Shakibaeo M, Mobasheri A, Lueders, Busch F, Shayan P, Goal A, 2013, Curcumin Enhances the Effect of Chemotherapy against Colorectal Cancer Cells by Inhibition of NK-kB and Src Protein Kinase Signaling Pathways, PLOS ONE, Feb 2013, Vol 8, Issue 8, e57218