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The Health Benefits of Tumeric
Dr. Josh Axe
A relative of ginger, turmeric is far more than just marvelous spice from India. Extensive scientific and medical studies indicate that it may be one of the most broadly effective, yet often overlooked, herbal supplements around.
In his article in a 2007 issue of Alternative and Complementary Therapies, Dr. James Duke reviewed and summarized roughly 700 studies. Many of these showed compounds in turmeric outperforming prescription medications for many chronic conditions, including debilitating illnesses, with negligible side effects.
Also called Indian Saffron this deep yellow root has been used for centuries in traditional Indian and Chinese medicine. Lets consider just the most prominent of the many reported health benefits.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) /ˈtɜrmərɪk/ or /ˈtjuːmərɪk/ or /ˈtuːmərɪk/ is a rhizomatous herbaceous perennial plant of the ginger family, Zingiberaceae. It is native in southwest India, and needs temperatures between 20 and 30 °C (68 and 86 °F) and a considerable amount of annual rainfall to thrive. Plants are gathered annually for their rhizomes, and propagated from some of those rhizomes in the following season.
When not used fresh, the rhizomes are boiled for about 30–45 minutes and then dried in hot ovens, after which they are ground into a deep-orange-yellow powder commonly used as a spice in Indian cuisine and curries, for dyeing, and to impart color to mustard condiments. One active ingredient is curcumin, which has a distinctly earthy, slightly bitter, slightly hot peppery flavor and a mustardy smell.
Folk medicine and traditional uses
In India, turmeric has been used traditionally for thousands of years as a remedy for stomach and liver ailments, as well as topically to heal sores, basically for its supposed antimicrobial property. In the Siddha system (since around 1900 BCE) turmeric was a medicine for a range of diseases and conditions, including those of the skin, pulmonary, and gastrointestinal systems, aches, pains, wounds, sprains, and liver disorders. A fresh juice is commonly used in many skin conditions, including eczema, chicken pox, shingles, allergy, and scabies.
The active compound curcumin is believed to have a wide range of biological effects including anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antitumour, antibacterial, and antiviralactivities, which indicate potential in clinical medicine.
Numerous studies have found that curcumin in turmeric is a strong anti-inflammatory agent. Besides pain, inflammation has been demonstrated to be a major factor in a wide range of disorders, so this compound is the primary reason for the spices many benefits. Tests reveal that taking curcumin can be as effective as over-the-counter medicines for inflammation, such as Motrin. What's really surprising is that it can be as effective as several prescription drugs but without harmful side effects.
It's quite reasonable to assume that taking turmeric for its anti-inflammatory properties can help with a wide variety of inflammation-related conditions, from bruising to the much more serious conditions. Recent research indicates that inflammation is a major factor in the development and severity of various cardiovascular diseases. Plus, hundreds of studies have shown health benefits for those with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), including Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.
Reducing inflammation can provide protection by reducing the odds of developing serious (and not so serious) conditions.
Those familiar with natural health and wellness issues know that oxidative damage is also a root cause for many chronic conditions. Free radicals damage healthy cells, prematurely aging them and interfering with their proper functioning. The compounds in turmeric also provide powerful anti-oxidant properties.
Curcumin has been shown to be especially helpful in mitigating the symptoms, and perhaps even slowing down and stopping the progressive damage, of rheumatoid arthritis. Combining anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory effects it has demonstrated results comparable to prescription drugs for reduction of joint swelling, lengthened walking time, and shorter duration morning stiffness.
Epidemiological studies looking at large populations and their diets, supplementation, and environmental factors suggest that taking curcumin or even eating turmeric may reduce the incidence, severity, and progression of several common types of cancer. Anti-oxidant properties may be protecting the cells DNA against cancer-causing mutations, helping the body destroy cancer cells once they arise, and inhibiting their growth and spread.
More direct studies indicates that the active compounds of the spice help prevent oxidation of cholesterol, the direct reason for higher cholesterol levels causing the build up of plaque in the blood vessels. It may even help the liver clear out bad cholesterol (LDL) while leaving the good cholesterol (HDL) in the system.
Do You Use Tumeric?
What Form of Tumeric Do You Use?
And There's More
As if all that weren't enough, many of those 700 studies reviewed by Dr. Duke (as well as others) suggest other health benefits of eating turmeric or taking curcumin, perhaps by mechanisms other than anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties. In addition to improving liver function the spice may boost the immune system, help regulate blood-sugar levels, and might even provide minor benefits for Alzheimer's patients. There are reports that say turmeric helps with weight loss and has cancer fighting properties. It can also help with depression and is used on the skin.
Amazingly, the several active compounds in the spice might even be able to correct genetically-caused diseases. As an example, cystic fibrosis is caused by any of several genetic mutations that alter lung cells' production of some specific proteins. That leads to a buildup of chlorine ions which in turn triggers mucus production and build up, creating a perfect environment for frequent lung infections. High doses of curcumin provided major improvements for those with at least one of these several types of mutations.
Tumeric Side Effects
Gallbladder and Kidney Problems
The curcumin in turmeric encourages the gallbladder to produce more bile, which may improve digestion. Because of the extra bile production, people who have gallstones or other conditions that block bile passages shouldn't take turmeric before consulting with their doctors, cautions the American Cancer Society. Turmeric may also contribute to the formation of kidney stones, particularly in people who have conditions that increase the risk of kidney stones. A study published in the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" in 2008 found that participants who took turmeric had higher urinary oxalate levels. Oxalate is a waste product that should leave the body during urination, but if there's too much oxalate, it can bind with calcium and form kidney stones.
Tumeric For The Skin
With so many wide-ranging benefits scientifically demonstrated, turmeric is truly amazing. It's a bit mind blowing to learn that a spice can in some cases perform better than prescription drugs for some specific conditions. But remember that there's no such thing as a miracle cure for a long list of ailments. Natural "alternatives" should never replace medically diagnosed and prescribed treatment for serious conditions. But they can be powerful adjuncts, reducing symptoms and severity, reducing recovery time, and perhaps reducing required drug dosages.
Many of the reported results are from high dosages of curcumin or turmeric. It certainly makes sense to enjoy this amazing seasoning as often as you can in your cooking, and to seriously consider taking supplements for their potential for preventing or moderating many chronic conditions.
NOTE: This article is for information only; no claims are made. Always consult with your doctor for any and all medical concerns.