If you’ve spent a significant amount of time in India, chances are you’ve encountered turmeric on a fairly regular basis. In addition to being an integral part of a majority of Indian dishes, it’s quite likely that you’ve been recommended turmeric in warm milk for a sore throat, turmeric paste for a deep cut, turmeric in yogurt for an upset stomach, or seen brides covered in turmeric paste at the “haldi” ceremony preceding their wedding.
Turmeric has been a mainstay of home remedies in India for millennia. Literally.
The magic of turmeric lies in a family of its compounds, collectively called ‘curcuminoids’. The most important of these is curcumin – a powerful antioxidant with strong anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial effects. Some of the proven benefits of curcumin are:
Curcumin has strong antimicrobial properties and has been shown to fight bacteria, viruses and even fungi – it’s no wonder that Ayurvedic texts recommend turmeric for everything from cuts and scrapes to throat infections! Interesting research has shown that turmeric also helps fight H.pylori infections, the cause of stomach ulcers.1
Powerful antioxidant capability
Not only does curcumin neutralize free radicals, which cause cellular damage, it also stimulates our bodies to increase the production of its own antioxidant enzymes (like superoxide dismutase and glutathione peroxidase). These enzymes are our body’s innate defense against free radicals. Increasing their production makes curcumin a very powerful tool against free radical damage, in addition to being an antioxidant itself.2
Strong anti-inflammatory effects
Curcumin has a powerful anti-inflammatory effect, which is comparable to some anti-inflammatory drugs, without any side effects!3Chronic inflammation has been linked to a number of ‘lifestyle’ diseases, ranging from metabolic syndrome to certain cancers. Fighting chronic inflammation can help prevent or improve health outcomes in these diseases.4Curcumin can inhibit inflammation on a molecular level. Due to these anti-inflammatory properties, curcumin has shown benefits in inflammatory diseases such as arthritis and heart disease.5
Possible protection against cancer
Curcumin has been shown to reduce the growth of cancerous cells in laboratory and animal studies. In small-scale human studies, it’s been shown to reduce the tumours by as much as 40%.6 In addition to these observed benefits, curcumin makes chemotherapy more effective by protecting the healthy, non-cancerous cells from damage – which is the main cause of the side effects of chemotherapy.
Turmeric and the brain
Research shows that curcumin and turmeric supplementation can help with neurological conditions, such as depression and possibly even Alzheimer’s disease. A small study showed that the effects of curcumin were comparable to Prozac. Another study at the laboratory level showed a possible protective effect against the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.7, 8
While the effective dose required for these health benefits is probably higher than the amount of turmeric we’d get through our food, it’s fascinating to know that a humble spice has the potential to protect us from pretty much every disease we’re worried about today!9
1. Moghadamtousi SZ, et al.Biomed Res Int 2014, 2014: 186864.
2. Biswas SK, et al.Antioxid Redox Signal 2005, 7(1-2): 32-41.
3. Jurenka JS. Altern Med Rev 2009, 14(2): 141-153.
4. Ruiz-Nunez B, et al.J Nutr Biochem 2013, 24(7): 1183-1201.
5. Chainani-Wu N. J Altern Complement Med 2003, 9(1): 161-168.
6. Carroll RE, et al.Cancer Prev Res (Phila) 2011, 4(3): 354-364.
7. Kulkarni SK & Dhir A. Indian Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences 2010, 72(2): 149-154.
8. Mishra S & Palanivelu K. Annals of Indian Academy of Neurology 2008, 11(1): 13-19.
9. Tayyem RF, et al.Nutr Cancer 2006, 55(2): 126-131.