Turmeric as an Anti-Inflammatory
With growing concerns over the side effects of many pharmaceutical drugs and medications, there has been a recent shift in demand for more natural remedies to help combat inflammation and stave off common diseases.
Turmeric is one of the most popular natural anti-inflammatories available today, and for good reason. In this article, we’ll delve deep into the history of the medicinal plant, how it can benefit you, and how you can use it in your everyday life.
The History of Turmeric
Turmeric, or as it is formally known Curcuma longa, is a relative of the ginger family. The bright yellow spice that we are accustomed to seeing today is extracted from the root of the plant, which has a deep orange colour to it’s flesh and a tough brown skin.
Turmeric originates from Southern India, and has been used by cultures surrounding the area for more than 5000 years for various uses, including:
Turmeric as a Dye - Turmeric powder was and still is used as a dye in clothes, perhaps most notably in the robes of Buddhist monks. It is also used as an additive to colour many of the foods we consume in the west, including butter, margarine, salad dressings and yoghurts.
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Turmeric as Food - Turmeric acts as a key ingredient in many Asian teas and entree recipes, usually in it’s dried form. It is typically used to provide colour, and to enhance the flavour of other spices and foods in the recipe. Like ginger however, it can also be used fresh, most commonly in pickles and salads.
Turmeric as Medicine - Turmeric has long been a part of the ancient Ayurveda and Chinese Medicine systems, both in its powered form and in juices and tonics. It was used to treat a variety of ailments and diseases, including digestive issues, skin conditions, joint pains and liver problems, as well as helping to bring down levels of inflammation.
Turmeric’s Nutritional Content
In addition to providing flavour and colour to food, turmeric contains a wide range of important micronutrients needed to maintain a healthy, functioning body.
A couple of tablespoons provide around 17% of your daily-recommended intake of manganese, a mineral involved in bone production and blood sugar control.
Turmeric is also rich in iron, which is needed to clot the blood and transport oxygen around the body.
It’s also a great source of B-Vitamins, which are involved in a number of processes, including metabolism and maintaining cognitive function.
As well as the micronutrient content, turmeric also contains a compound called curcumin, which provides it with the vibrant yellow colour. It is this phytochemical curcumin that is thought to be the main player with regards to the anti-inflammatory benefits of turmeric consumption. For this reason, curcumin is increasingly available in a highly concentrated supplement form.
The Big Benefits of Turmeric and Curcumin
There is an increasing amount of research available on the benefits of turmeric consumption, and the power of curcumin. They have been shown to be effective in the prevention and reversal of many of the world’s most common degenerative diseases, including:
1. Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition, characterised by inflammation and pain of the joints.
Traditional treatment for the disease usually involves regular doses of Non-Steroid Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDS) such as ibuprofen and celebrex, both of which have been shown to pose the risk of a range harmful side effects.
Interestingly, clinical studies have shown that supplementation with curcumin can provide the same (or even slightly better) results as NSAIDS, but without any of the harmful side effects.
The 2012 study saw three groups of arthritis sufferers take three different treatments. The first took NSAIDS, the second curcumin, and the third a combination of the two.
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As the guys over at Bottom Line point out, the results were pretty incredible:
"In terms of relief from painful and swollen joints, all three groups saw similar results. In fact, the people taking only cucumin saw slightly more relief than the others did. But when you think about it, that's a staggering result - because the curcumin created none of the dangerous side effects caused by the NSAID. Not a single patient in the cur cumin-only group or the combo group dropped out of the study due to intolerable side effects, while 14% of those taking only the NSAID did."
Although more research is indeed needed into this area, it seems like the future may be bright yellow for Rheumatoid Arthritis sufferers. Turmeric may even be a useful remedy for people without the condition who experience general joint inflammation and acute injuries.
2. Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
IBD includes the two autoimmune conditions Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s disease. Both are thought to be caused by abnormal behaviour of the immune system, which sparks inflammation, pain and digestive issues.
Due to its anti-inflammatory properties, it’s not hard to see why turmeric may be a potential treatment option for those suffering with either disease, and the science is there to support this.
A 2006 study compared the treatment of colitis with regular medications and a placebo against regular medications and daily curcumin supplementation.
Interestingly, the curcumin group experienced less disease symptoms over the course of a six-month period compared to the control, with only 5% of patients relapsing (as opposed to 20% in the control group).
The researchers concluded that:
" Curcumin seems to be a promising and safe medication for maintaining remission in patients with quiescent Ulcerative Colitis."
Again, it seems that turmeric and more specifically curcumin may be a possible treatment option for IBD sufferers, without the risk of adverse side effects that come with medications.
Cancer is one of the leading killers in the western world. It is estimated that one in three people will develop cancer of some sort during their lifetime.
Whilst medications, surgery and chemotherapy have some success in treating the disease, they do so whilst taking their toll on the body.
Curcumin has been shown to have a number of anti cancer properties, and is increasingly being studied as an effective treatment and preventative medicine.
As the guys at Cancer Active point out, curcumin presents a wide range of anti-cancer benefits, including:
- Halting the action of the enzyme COX-2,known to increase chronic inflammation in the body. Such inflammation is a known precursor to cancer.
- Inhibiting vascular epithelial growth factors. Every tumour needs a blood supply - the growth factors build one, but curcumin seems to stop them.
- Re-awakening a key tumour suppressor gene.
- Inhibiting metastases.
- Destroying B lymphoma cancer cells
- Preventing regrowth of cancer stem cellswhich lie at the heart of many tumours
- Increasing the effectiveness of certain drugs, while inhibiting their toxicity to healthy cells
Although the evidence seems promising, it’s important to note that turmeric is unlikely to be the miracle cure for cancer. When combined with a healthy lifestyle and other treatment protocols however, it may reduce your odds of contracting the disease.
4. Cardiovascular Disease
Heart disease is another common killer, taking 73,000 lives each year in the UK alone. It is largely caused by a build up of plaque in the arteries, eventually leading to a blockage and cardiac arrest.
There are number of known factors that contribute towards heart disease. Your risk of contracting it increases if you smoke, drink, eat unhealthily and live a sedentary lifestyle.
Interestingly, turmeric has been shown to be just as effective in preventing heart disease as regular exercise.
The people at Green Med Info reported on the results of a 2012 study, concluding that:
"Nothing can replace exercise, but turmeric extract does a pretty good job of producing some of the same cardiovascular health benefits, most notably in women undergoing age-associated adverse changes in arterial health."
But why does it help to prevent the disease?
Turmeric For Health has the answer to that very question:
"According to studies, turmeric helps in maintaining heart heath by - reducing cholesterol oxidation, reducing plaque build-up, clot formation, reduce bad cholesterol (LDL), reduce pro-inflammatory response, etc."
5. Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s disease is becoming a growing problem in the West. It is a form of dementia where damage to the brain causes issues with memory, problem solving and language.
The condition has baffled medical doctors for many years, and no cure has been found as of yet. Research into turmeric and curcumin however, has shown promising results.
A 2006 study looked at the effects of curcumin on symptoms of the disease. The results showed that those who consumed curcumin regularly saw significant improvements in their symptoms.
Researchers concluded that:
" Due to various effects of cur cumin, such as decreased Beta-amyloid plaques, delayed degradation of neurons, metal-chelation, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and decreased microglia formation, the overall memory in patents with AD had improved."
Again, more research is needed into the area of Alzheimer’s and turmeric, but the future seems promising.
5 Ways to Use Turmeric
After hearing about all the benefits of turmeric and curcumin, you’re probably wondering how you can get more of it into your life. Here are a few simple ideas:
Boost your immune system and bring your inflammation levels down with a turmeric and ginger shot. Simply add a thumb-sized piece of ginger and turmeric along with half a lemon to your juicer, and juice it down.
Alternatively you could use dried turmeric and ginger powder mixed with water and lemon juice.
A delicious drink from the guys at Healthy Smoothie HQ consisting of turmeric, berries, avocadoes, ginger and honey. Great for bringing your inflammation levels down in the morning or after a strenuous workout.
3. Turmeric Tea - A simple turmeric tea recipe from the guys at Nutrition Stripped. Great to help your body and mind wind down in the evening.
4. Turmeric Dahl - An evening meal packed full of veggies and anti-inflammatory spices. It’s also cheap to make, and takes less than 20 minutes to prep.
5. Scrambled Tofu with Turmeric - A delicious blend of tofu, veggies, and turmeric from the Minimalist Baker. Again, this one is simple to make, tastes amazing and is great for you.
Do you include turmeric regularly in your diet? If so, have you noticed any benefits at all?