Turmeric is a plant native to Southeast Asia, grown primarily in India. Its an underground stem, which has an appearance similar to ginger. Turmeric has been used since ancient times as a culinary spice and in traditional Ayurvedic medicine. In fact, it’s use in treating various health issues such as respiratory diseases and skin conditions can be found back to as far as 500 B.C. It has a vibrant yellow-orange colour and earthy flavor, and is one of the main ingredients in curry powder.
Fresh or powdered turmeric is often used in cooking. Because of its growing popularity it can often be found in smoothies and hot drinks. Although nowadays, turmeric and its extract, curcumin, are also available in supplement form.
The main active component of turmeric is curcumin, which has been found to have a wide range of health benefits (1). It is this compound and its health benefits that are making turmeric and curcumin supplements very popular. Turmeric and curcumin have also been well researched with many positive results. They have been found to be anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-microbial and is high in fiber, vitamin C and iron.
What are the advantages of consuming of turmeric, you ask?
Below, we have a look at 5 health benefits of turmeric:
Free radicals are formed by toxins in our environment, air, food that we eat and even through exercise. If there are too many free radicals in the body, then this can cause cellular and tissue damage and contribute to the onset of illness and disease. Antioxidants help prevent cellular damage by protecting your body from free radicals. Not only does curcumin itself act as an antioxidant by neutralizing free radicals in the body, it can support the functioning of glutathione, a potent antioxidant produced by the body. (2)
Turmeric and curcumin can help protect the body against chronic inflammation that contributes to diseases such as arthritis, cancer, and heart disease. In one study of people with rheumatoid arthritis, curcumin was found to be more effective than an anti-inflammatory drug. (3) In a review of the effects curcumin has on osteoarthritis, participants reported improvement in pain, physical function, and quality of life after taking curcumin, with decreased use of pain medication. (4)
Supports Brain and Neurological Health
Research has supported curcumin’s use with concussion and various other neurological and brain conditions. The reason being is that curcumin can cross the blood brain barrier and works as an antioxidant by protecting the loss of neurons, one of the main processes that occur in the development of Parkinson’s disease. (11). Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) is a growth hormone found in the brain that plays an important role in learning and memory. Curcumin has been found to increase brain levels of BDNF, helping to protect against brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s (5). It may even help reverse some of these effects, with research suggesting it can help enhance cognitive functioning, such as with memory and attention (6). Curcumin has also been found to have an antidepressant-like effect, providing a natural alternative to medication in some cases (7).
Due to its high antioxidant content and anti-inflammatory effects, curcumin has the potential to help prevent against many forms of cancer. Evidence suggests curcumin can prevent or slow the growth of tumours, destroying cancer cells and reducing its overall spread. (8)
Protects Against Cardiovascular Disease
Curcumin has also been shown to lower your risk of heart disease. Due to its anti-inflammatory effects, it can help decrease cholesterol levels to protect against atherosclerosis, and it can also prevent cardiovascular complications related to diabetes. Research showed that supplementation of curcumin before and after a coronary bypass surgery reduced the incidence of myocardial infarction post surgery. A 2017 of over 600 patients demonstrated a significant reduction in LDL (“bad” cholesterol”) and triglyceride levels with turmeric supplementation. (11) Animal studies have also found it can prevent heart failure. (9)
You are what you absorb!
Despite all these benefits, curcumin on its own is not easily absorbed by the body. But the good news is, by taking turmeric with a bit of black pepper, you can enhance how well the body absorbs the active component of turmeric by up to 2000%! So, when cooking with turmeric, make sure to sprinkle some pepper onto your dish as well. Turmeric and curcumin supplements should also contain black pepper or it’s active component, piperine, for optimal results. (10) Since curcumin is also fat-soluble, it is best to have with a meal that contains fat or oil.
How To Use Turmeric
Turmeric is a very versatile spice. Try:
- Incorporating it in soups and curries
- Sprinkling on roasted vegetables with a dash of black pepper
- Add it to scrambled eggs or fritatas
- Use it to flavour rice or other whole grains
- Use in a marinade for chicken or fish
- Try a turmeric latte or “golden milk.”
Side Effects of Turmeric
Although turmeric has wonderful health properties it may have some side effects that you need to be aware of. It can lower blood pressure, which may not necessarily be a bad thing if you struggle with high blood pressure, but could be a challenge for individuals with already low blood pressure, or certain thyroid conditions. For a small percentage of individuals, turmeric may irritate the digestive tract which can potentially cause diarrhea or an increase in acid production, which in turn could lead to annoying heartburn.
Turmeric does contain oxalates, so it may contribute to kidney stone formation and should be avoided if you are at risk of kidney stones or are on a low-oxalate diet. People that have allergies to yellow food colouring or ginger are also likely to be allergic to turmeric.
This spice packs a mighty health punch! It is a great option to incorporate into your meals with the help of some black pepper to increase absorption or get the concentrated benefits of taking it in supplement form. So, whether you’re new to consuming turmeric or not, we hope this article provided some insight into the powerful disease-fighting benefits that turmeric offers!