Known as the “golden spice,” or “Indian saffron,” turmeric is celebrated around the globe for its rich color, rich taste, and versatility in cooking. Bright yellow ground turmeric yields a mild, citrus-ginger aroma and tickles the tongue with its warm, pungent, and pepper-like flavor.
India is the primary producer of turmeric, and the spice certainly feels most at home in Indian cooking. But, it is also tasty in a variety of non-Indian cuisines, and even as an ingredient in teas and cocktails.
Turmeric is an MVP at the spice rack, and it may also prove worthy in your medicine cabinet. It boasts medicinal properties that are scientifically proven to relieve a number of ailments.
Turmeric is derived from the root of the Curcuma long plant, which contains an agent called curcumin. This compound has anti-inflammatory effects akin to that of hydrocortisone, steroids, NSAIDS, and other drugs with anti-inflammatory properties. Curcumin is also a powerful antioxidant. As a result, the health and cosmetic applications of turmeric are robust.
You have many reasons to use it regularly in your cooking, and you may even consider consuming it in supplement form. For adults, the University of Maryland Medical Center recommends taking 1-3 grams of dried, powdered root per day. However, you should check with a medical professional before beginning any supplement regimen.
Turmeric has been a prize of traditional Chinese and Indian medicine for thousands of years. In fact, Sanskrit has more than 53 names for the spice, many of which describe its healing properties. Consider varna datri (enhancer of body complexion), jawarantika (which cures fevers), and vishagni (killer of poison). This last one finds reference in the Sushruta Samhiti, a Sanskrit text that advises taking turmeric to combat food poisoning.
Susan Weis-Bohlen, a Chopra Center Certified Ayuvedic Counselor and cooking instructor in Maryland, has studied the history of turmeric as a healing agent in Southeast Asian culture. She frequently advises patients to incorporate turmeric into their cooking at home, to consume it in tea or take it as a supplement.
“The first thing I like to tell my clients is to cook with turmeric, or if they aren’t someone who likes to cook, to make a turmeric tea,” says Weis-Bohlen. “I suggest taking a quarter or half teaspoon of turmeric in hot water, and drinking that once, twice, or three times per day.” Frequency of consumption varies depending on patients’ symptoms.
The Top Health Benefits Of Turmeric
1. Anti-inflammatory and Antioxidant Powerhouse
Turmeric’s anti-inflammatory properties have been shown to reduce symptoms caused by irritable bowel disease, inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis, skin disorders, and menstruation. These properties can even prevent inflammatory chemicals from forming, which precludes the development of various cancers. Furthermore, curcumin is chock full of antioxidants, which enhance its ability to combat some of the above conditions, including digestive symptoms, tumor development, and joint pain.
Weis-Bohlen is a strong advocate of turmeric as an anti-inflammatory treatment. She says that Ayurveda medicine utilizes turmeric to treat many different symptoms.
rel=”nofollow”>“So much of disease in the body is caused by inflammation,” says Weis-Bohlen. “When we have inflammation, it is easy for disease to take hold.” Turmeric has the potential to be a safe alternative to both steroids and NSAIDS, which sometimes yield nasty side effects. “It can fight inflammation [how] ibuprofen or celebrex do. Studies dating backing many years show that curcumin is as effective as aspirin, not only as an anti-inflammatory, but also as a blood thinner,” adds Weis-Bohlen.
2. Fights Arthritis
Because turmeric has such vigorous anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, it helps fight arthritis—including the crippling pain and joint stiffness of rheumatoid arthritis and osteoathritis. The curcumin compound impedes inflammatory cytokines and enzymes, and may prevent the development of joint inflammation. Studies show that it safely and effectively reduces irritating tenderness and swelling, while improving joint function overall.
3. Helps Your Heart
Turmeric has demonstrated cardiovascular protective properties that can help your heart stay healthy. By hindering the body’s oxidation of cholesterol and reducing the low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad” cholesterol), turmeric protects blood vessels from accumulating plaque—a common cause of stroke and heart attack.
But turmeric doesn’t stop there. It provides vitamin B6, which shields the blood vessel walls from the type of damage that enables heart disease. Studies have also proven the ability of curcumin to prevent cell damage, thereby improving cardiovascular function.
4. Curbs the Growth of Cancerous Cells
Numerous studies illustrate the power of turmeric’s curcumin compound to inhibit the growth of cancerous cells in the colon, breast, lung, stomach, prostate, skin and bones. Antioxidant compounds protect cells from factors that enable rapid tumor growth, while simultaneously improving liver function to help the body battle mutating cancer cells. Curcumin’s cancer-fighting power is twofold. Its antioxidant potency neutralizes chemicals in the body that damage healthy cell membranes aand destroys the unhealthy, cancerous cells by binding onto proteins and activating cell death pathways. Remarkably, curcumin is able to specifically target the cancerous cells for destruction, and the healthy cells for protection.
Perhaps most significantly, curcumin operates through multiple cell pathways. This makes it less prone to resistance than other treatment methods, like chemotherapy.
5. A Defense Against Dementia
Some studies have illustrated curcumin’s ability to switch on a gene in the body that generates antioxidant proteins. In turn, these proteins inhibit brain oxidation, which is responsible for some harmful and degenerative effects of aging. Thus, turmeric carries potential benefits for treating and preventing dementia related conditions, like Alzheimer’s.
Although there are very few clinical studies on humans, randomized clinical trials of patients in India have shown that curcumin can benefit the brain and fight dementia by binding onto and destroying harmful beta-amyloids peptides (plaques that build up in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s and related conditions that damage brain function).
There may also be applications for certain types of mental illness, including anxiety and depressive disorders.
6. A Superhero for your Skin
The anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and anti-fungal properties of the curcumin compound fights acne and other skin disorders, as well as discoloration caused by inflammation. Curcumin prevents skin cell damage, and aids the production of healthy skin cells . Skin treatment with turmeric can be oral or topical. Weis-Bohlen notes that a number of studies have demonstrated the success of “applying [turmeric] topically to reduce the size and pain associated with cancerous lesions,” for a variety of cancers.
BONUS: Better with Pepper
To strengthen the benefits of turmeric, herbalists recommend mixing it with black pepper. Doing so enhances the curcumin compound’s “bioavailability”—essentially, making the compound more potent in smaller doses. Try mixing 1/2 teaspoon of pepper with 1/4 cup of turmeric and storing it in a sealed jar. It’s a spice blend that is good for you!
For the best bioavailability, high-end turmeric supplements are the way to go. rel=”nofollow”>Purathrive’s Organic Turmeric Extract is one of the best on the market, using liposomal delivery to provide 20x bioavailability.
Maggie Tennis is a writer based in Washington, DC. She enjoys adventuring in the city’s many parks, paddle boarding on the Potomac River and walking until her feet ache. Maggie believes that wellness means pursuing that balanced feeling of feeling good—for your mind, body and spirit—and sometimes that means eating popsicles for breakfast.
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