Turmeric is regarded as the golden spice in India and the world. The use and benefits of turmeric has been written in our Vedas, more than 4000 years ago. It was from India, that this miraculous spice was traded across seas reaching South east Asia and later even the western civilization swore by this culinary and religious spice.
Susruta, the oldest scripture on medicine and Ayurveda also mentioned the use of turmeric for various medicinal purposes. It is still being used as a part of various herbal medications.
Turmeric is obtained from a tropical herbaceous plant in South Asia same as the plants belonging to the ginger family. It is obtained after grinding a dried rhizome to its yellow powder form. This powder contains a bioactive component called as Curcumin. It is this active ingredient that gives turmeric all its beneficial properties.
Some benefits of using Turmeric / Curcumin are:
- Anti-inflammatory – Inflammation is a defense mechanism by the body in response to a noxious stimulus. Short term inflammation is beneficial, however, when it becomes chronic long term or too aggressive, it can damage body’s own cells. Chronic inflammation can cause degenerative changes and any agent that reverses such harmful changes prevents cell death and further degeneration. Curcumin is strong anti-inflammatory agent; it acts on the inflammatory mediating molecule NFkb that is otherwise responsible to switch on the genes that lead to inflammation.This anti-inflammatory action of Curcumin, helps to combat neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s, inflammatory bowel disease, pancreatitis, and arthritis.
- Antioxidant– Curcumin improves the systemic markers of oxidative stress and can increase the serum levels of antioxidants like superoxide dismutase and glutathione peroxidase. Along with this, it can also scavenge oxide and peroxide free radicals like Vitamin E. This property prevents aging and other free radical damage induced diseases like cancer, arthritis and heart ailments. This antioxidant activity of curcumin aids in liver detoxification and improving its health as well.
- Manages Heart diseases– It improves the functioning of blood vessels, control blood pressure and heart diseases. This is due to its effect on the endothetial lining of heart and vessels. The regulation of this endothetial function prevents diseases associated with blood vessels, blood clotting and stroke. Turmeric lowers the blood level of fats, LDL which are bad fats. This helps in controlling cholesterol and improving vessel and heart health.
- Controls Diabetes– Even though the studies are limited, but it has been shown that curcumin helps in controlling diabetes and diabetic nephropathy. This it does by controlling blood sugar and increasing insulin. It can also control diabetes by its anti-inflammatory effects and anti hyperglycemia effects.
- Anti-Depressant– Several studies and randomized control trials have shown that curcumin promotes brain function, increase neural activity and connections, promotes neurotrophic factors like BDNF, serotonin and dopamine that help in combating depression. Its affects have been shown to be similar to those of anti-depressants like Prozac.
- Boosts brain health and reduce neurodegenerative changes– Curcumin is known to increase the levels of BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor), a brain growth factor which helps in neuron or nerve cell multiplication and increase in network connections. This hormone deficiency is linked to various brain degenerative changes causing diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, depression and slow brain damage. The hormone is also known for improving memory and cognitive development.
- Relieves Headaches– Migraines and other forms of headache are usually aggravated by stress, lack of sleep, inflammation and many other factors. By decreasing oxidative stresses, increasing brain function hormones and its calming, soothing effect, curcumin has been shown to reduce these chronic headaches.
- Skin care– Due to its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antimicrobial effects, curcumin boosts skin health and is an effect treatment for skin diseases like acne, eczema, psoriasis, and dermatitis. It is mixed with several herbs to form topically applying packs and face washes for its beneficial use.
- Anti-Cancer– Curcumin interferes with the free radical damage of healthy cells and multiplication of cancer cells. Some studies claim that it also prevents angiogenesis in cancer tissues, preventing metastasis. By its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, it further avoids any predilection for cancer.
- Cures Osteoarthritis– Given that curcumin is an anti-inflammatory compound, it is safe to say that it prevents joint inflammation and improves mobility.
- Manages Digestion and irritable bowel disease– Turmeric can aid in healthy digestion and is given in Ayurveda as a digestive medicine. This is also because of its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant nature.
- Anti- Allergic– Turmeric and curcumin can fight against allergies like hay fever reducing symptoms like sneezing, itching, runny nose and congestion.Again due to its anti-inflammatory action, study have been done on asthma patients to use curcumin as a diet supplement. The studies are still underway.
Formulations of turmeric–
- Turmeric can be taken added to spices while cooking. Combining turmeric with black pepper, pipericin, further enhances its properties
- Can be used as packs mixed with essential oils and milk for skin
- It can be added to milk- Golden latte or Turmeric latte, that can be consumed once a day for its benefits
- Also available as supplemental capsules, extracts and tinctures. It can be mixed with bromelain, an enzyme from pineapples that improves its absorption and elevates its effects.
- It is also available in oil preparations which are volatile but can be used topically.
Things to remember while using Turmeric-
- Blood thinners- it should not be taken with aspirin and other blood thinners. The reason is unclear.
- Stimulate contractions and initiate labor- Even though it has been seen that curcumin reduces the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome, but in pregnant women, it has been shown to cause harmful effects.
- Increase stomach acidity- even though turmeric is good for digestion, but it can increase gastric acid secretion causing stomach irritation. It can also cause nausea and diarrhea
Turmeric with its active component curcumin has received worldwide recognition as a very beneficial compound, spice, herb, or medicine. It is rightfully called as the golden spice as it boosts immune system, fights infections, provides an overall health improvement and adds flavor to food and beverages. It can be used in alternative medicine or as even an additional treatment protocol for chronic diseases as it is well tolerated, extremely beneficial and easily washes off the system or metabolized.