Turmeric is more than just an average spice in your curry as research shows its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties may help in reducing your risk of chronic illnesses including cancer and heart disease.
Also called the Queen of Spices, turmeric is a common herb widely used in India and Sri Lanka. Its main characteristics are its gorgeous yellow/orange color and its sharp, peppery taste that can liven up any curry. Nowadays, people across the world use turmeric in their cooking but there are plenty of reasons for adding an extra pinch to your dishes.
According to the Journal of American and Chemical society, this golden beauty possesses antibacterial, antiviral, anti-fungal, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-carcinogenic and anti-mutagenic properties! And there’s more. Turmeric is also packed with many vital nutrients such as dietary fiber, protein, niacin, vitamin C, E and K, calcium, iron, potassium, zinc, magnesium and copper. Turmeric has been used in traditional Indian medicine for thousands of years because of these factors.
The University of Maryland Medical Center recommends taking 1.5 to 3 g of raw, cut fresh turmeric root daily for adults. Alternatively, you can take 1 to 3 g of dried turmeric powder which can be found in any health food store.
1. Potent medicinal properties
Scientists are finally beginning to discover what Indians have known for thousands of years – turmeric does contain medicinal compounds. It’s still used in the rural areas of developing countries as an alternative treatment for many ailments.
The medicinal compounds in turmeric are called curcuminoids, out of which the most important is curcumin. Since curcumin is not efficiently absorbed into the bloodstream, it helps to consume turmeric with black pepper.
According to a study conducted by the Department of Pharmacology, St. John’s Medical College, Bangalore, India, black pepper consists of a natural substance named piperine, which boosts the absorption of curcumin by a whopping 2000 percent! So if your dish contains turmeric, be sure to add some pepper in it too to increase curcumin absorption and for that added peppery oomph!
2. Cancer inhibition
According to a study conducted by the UCLA, curcumin may block an enzyme that encourages the growth of tumor cells in the head and neck. The study included 21 participants with head and neck cancers who were instructed to chew two tablets of 1000 mg curcumin. Researchers found that curcumin inhibited the cancer-promoting enzymes in the mouths of the patients and stopped the spread of malignant tumor cells.
3. Incredible antioxidant power
The University of Maryland Medical Center states that turmeric possesses powerful antioxidant properties that combat cancer-causing free radicals and prevent damages caused by them. Free radicals are chemicals in the body that typically lead to premature skin aging, cardiovascular disease, arthritis and cancer. Turmeric’s antioxidant properties come from curcumin, which is a potent antioxidant that can counters free radical damage due to its special chemical structure.
Although further research is necessary, studies show that curcumin may effectively treat several types of cancer, such as skin, colon and prostate cancer.
4. Fights inflammatory diseases
According to a study published in the 2003 issue of the Journal of Alternative Complementary Medicine, turmeric has natural anti-inflammatory properties which may make it as effective as some anti-inflammatory medications minus the nasty side effects. Research shows that it may help in improving inflammatory bowel disease, inflammation of the eye and multiple sclerosis.
In one study, participants who took formula containing turmeric showed a significant improvement in the pain and disability associated with their osteoarthritis – an inflammatory joint disease.
Inflammation is a very complicated topic. The curcumin in turmeric plays a role in many steps in the inflammatory pathway. It blocks a molecule called NF-kB that travels to the cells and switches on the genes associated with inflammation. Many studies show that this molecule may play a major role in numerous chronic illnesses.
5. Reduces risk of cardiovascular disease
Heart disease is the number one killer in the world and scientists are digging deeper each year to find failsafe ways to prevent this disease.
A study in the 2009 issue of the International Journal of Cardiology showed that turmeric may actually reduce your risk of heart disease.
Curcumin has a strong effect on the cholesterol levels in the body. Animal studies show that the compound may help lower cholesterol levels and the buildup of the bad or LDL cholesterol in blood vessels. This could inhibit the accumulation of plaque (atherosclerosis) that obstruct arteries and lead to heart attack and stroke.
6. Wards off depression
Other than physical benefits, curcumin may help treat patients suffering from depression. In a study conducted by the Government Medical College, Department of Pharmacology, Gujarat, India, 60 patients of depression were randomized into three separate groups. One group took 1g of curcumin, the other took Prozac and the third took both curcumin and Prozac.
After 6 weeks, patients who took curcumin experienced similar improvements to those who took Prozac but the group that took both showed the best results. This shows that curcumin may be as effective as an antidepressant drug.
Depression is also typically linked to a shrinking hippocampus, the area of the brain involved in learning and memory and reduction of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BNDF) levels.
Research shows that turmeric may elevate BNDF levels and reverse some of the changes associated with depression.
7. Weight loss and indigestion relief
Curcumin in turmeric promotes gallbladder function and helps produce bile. Bile helps in the digestion of fat, therefore, experts believe that this may play a role in improving digestion and weight loss. Studies show that turmeric may treat indigestion and GERD symptoms such as bloating and gas.
8. Reduces risk of Alzheimer’s disease
As mentioned above, inflammation and oxidative damage lead to a myriad of chronic illnesses, including Alzheimer’s disease and curcumin has a positive effect on both factors.
However, the accumulation of protein tangles called Amyloid plaques is a key feature associated with the condition and a study in the 2006 issue of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease showed that curcumin may actually help eliminate these plaques.
9. Soothes stomach discomfort
If your tummy isn’t behaving properly, turmeric may come in handy for you. The National Institutes of Health recommends taking 500 milligrams of turmeric four times a day if your aim is to alleviate an upset stomach.
10. Fights liver disease
According to research conducted by the Medical University Graz, Austria, curcumin may delay liver damage which could lead to deadly complications such as liver cirrhosis.
How to use turmeric in your daily life
Turmeric is a golden spice that gives flavor and character to a dish but there’s more to turmeric’s uses than just spicing up a curry. Read on to find out how you can use it in your daily life, even if you’re not a curry fan:
1. Make meat safer for consumption
Turmeric has antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties which can help make anything safe for consumption. South Asians have been doing this for a long time now; they massage a teaspoon of turmeric into their meat and fish to remove the unpleasant smell and get rid of the bacteria on them. You can even wash your meat in turmeric water.
In addition, researchers at the Kansas State University found that adding turmeric to meat can bring down HCAs (heterocyclic amines) levels by 40 percent. HCAs are compounds that may be linked to a higher risk of cancer. HCAs are formed in chicken and meat when they are cooked over high temperatures, such as through grilling.
2. Add life to boring dishes
Skip the harmful artificial colors and add a bit of turmeric to brighten up your meals. You can add a pinch to your mashed potatoes, frittatas, soups, stir fries, rice, cauliflower, cakes and anything else that could use a touch of gold!
3. Make your own curry powder
We’ve already mentioned this a few times – turmeric is a staple ingredient in an Indian curry. A curry includes a blend of many spices and herbs, there’s a lot of action going on in one mouthful of Indian food. Keeping track of all these ingredients can be a pain so you can make your own curry blend with a mix of your own favorite spices – just be sure to add a generous amount of turmeric!
4. Add it to your smoothie
Turmeric in a smoothie? Indians like to have a glassful of milk with a couple of teaspoons of turmeric but we like to stick to smoothies. Not only will turmeric add color to your otherwise insipid smoothie, it will make it healthier and give you all the aforementioned benefits too. Simply add half a teaspoon of turmeric powder to your smoothie and drink up. We recommend adding it to a mango smoothie, the result is stunning! You can also add a teaspoon of turmeric it to a glass of hot water with some honey, lemon or cinnamon to make a refreshing and healing drink.
We love turmeric here at the Thailand Fitness Boot Camp!
In Thailand we use it in our currys and soups. Our favourite thing is to add it to our rice, here is a useful link which you might want to try.
Richard and I run our wellness and fitness holiday retreat at the Pavana Health Resort in the quiant rural village of Mae Ann , which is in the Mae Rim District of Chiang Mai. We would love to show you the cultural delights of Thailand , please get in touch we would love to hear from you.
Healthy wishes Louise!