Turmeric has been used in India for thousands of years, both as a spice that gives curry its yellow colour and rich flavour, and as a medicinal herb in Ayurvedic medicine. Western science has started to catch on to turmeric’s medicinal properties, finding it is full of antioxidant compounds called curcuminoids, the most important of which being curcumin.
Turmeric's botanical name is Curcuma longa, plants grows to about 3 feet and produce a stem underground called a rhizome, which is similar in appearance to ginger, it is this stem that produces the yellow turmeric spice. India has been the largest producer of turmeric since ancient times, but it can now be found growing all throughout the world. Turmeric is seen as a sacred herb in Hindu culture and is used in their equivalent of the exchange of wedding rings. In southern India, the turmeric rhizome is worn for protection against evil spirits.
History in Ayurvedic Medicine
Turmeric has been used in Ayurvedic medicine since at least 2500BCE, largely due to it being a tridoshic herb, meaning it serves to balance all three doshas; vata, pitta and kapha. It is used for treating the digestive, circulatory, respiratory and reproductive system. Ayurvedic healers include it in the diet to aid digestion, soothe the gut and regulate intestinal flora.
They have also long recognised its antioxidant properties, using it to strengthen the immune system, prevent cancer and treat inflammatory diseases. It can be applied topically, often mixed with aloevera gel to soothe insect bites, reduce itching and heal infected wounds.
But how exactly does Turmeric aid healing and boost quality of life?
Bursting with antioxidants
Free radicals are unstable molecules that in high numbers can cause cellular damage. Damage caused by free radicals has been linked to cancer, heart disease, diabetes, many other chronic conditions and ageing.
Many of turmeric’s health benefits come from its main active ingredient, curcumin.Curcumin is a potent antioxidant which is able to bind to and neutralise these free radicals, protecting us from the damage they cause to our cells.
Anti-oxidants can reduce inflammation, which is helpful for treating a variety of health conditions, including osteoarthritis, metabolic syndrome, Alzheimer’s disease and many more.
Can improve brain power
Curcumin may increase brain levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a gene involved in making a protein responsible for promoting the life of neurons. Higher levels of brain-derived neurotropic factor is thought to cause neurons to increase in number, and form new connections, improving memory, learning and attention span.
As effective as Prozac in treating depression
Curcumin has showed some amazing promise in treating people with depression.
A recent study gave curcumin to 20 adults with depression, and another 20 people with depression were given prozac. After 6 weeks, curcumin had improved the symptoms of depression to similar levels as the prozac group.
Along with this depression is also linked to BDNF, which curcumin can help boost. There’s also evidence that curcumin can boost levels of serotonin and dopamine, the so called happy hormones.
May lower risk of heart disease
Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, with many different factors contributing to why people develop it. Recent studies have found curcumin could reverse many steps in the heart disease process.
A major cause of heart disease is endothelial dysfunction, which occurs when the lining of your blood vessels is unable to regulate blood pressure and blood clotting. New studies show curcumin is able to improve the function of the endothelium, leading to decreased risk of heart disease.
Several studies have found that curcumin can lead to improvements in heart health, with one study of 121 people undergoing coronary bypass surgery finding that those taking curcumin had a 65% decreased risk of experiencing a heart attack than the placebo.
In 2012 a study gave 120 overweight individuals turmeric supplements for three months, on average total cholesterol was reduced by 32%, LDL cholesterol by 42% and triglycerides by 39%.
Additionally, due to its antioxidants effects mentioned above, curcumin can help reduce inflammation and oxidation, which can play a role in causing heart disease.
May prevent cancer
Curcumin has been found to affect the growth and development of skin, breast, oral and stomach cancer in some very beneficial ways. Studies have shown it can contribute to the death of cancerous cells, reduce growth of new blood vessels in tumors and reduce the spread of cancer.
There is also evidence it may prevent cancer from occuring in the first place, particularly colorectal cancer and other cancers of the digestive system.
In 1985, a study treated mice diagnosed with Dalton’s lymphoma with turmeric, after 30 days the authors found an 80% decrease in tumor formation in comparison to the control.
Additionally, a month long study of 44 men with colon lesions, that are prone to turning cancerous, found that 4 grams of curcumin per day reduced the lesions by 40%.
Could help arthritis patients
Curcumin's potent anti-inflammatory effects could be very helpful in treating many different types of arthritis, most of which are caused by inflammation of the joints.
In a study in people with rheumatoid arthritis, curcumin was found to be even more effective than an anti-inflammatory drug and caused improvements in various symptoms.
May be useful in treating Alzheimer's disease
It is thought that one of the causes of Alzheimer’s disease is a build up of protein tangles called amyloid plaques. Studies have shown that curcumin can cross the blood brain barrier and help clear these plaques potentially treating and preventing Alzheimer's.
Powerful anti-microbial effects
Turmeric has strong anti-microbial properties and has been found to inhibit the growth of histamine producing bacteria like Vibrio parahaemolyticus, Bacillus cereus, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. It slows down the spread of the foodborne pathogen V.parahaemolyticus, and kills H. pylori, the bacteria responsible for most stomach ulcers.
The best way to consume turmeric
Unfortunately, curcumin, the main active compound of turmeric, only makes up around 3% of turmeric.
Most studies have dosages of curcumin exceeding 1 gram per day. This would make it very difficult to reach these levels using turmeric as a spice incorporated in the diet, which is why many choose to take a turmeric supplement instead.
Curcumin is also poorly absorbed into the blood stream, which is why most supplements (including ours at inspired life) also contain a black pepper extract known as piperine, which can enhance the absorption rate of curcumin by 2,000%, allowing you to get the full effects of the supplement.
Safety & dosing
No animal or human studies have found any toxic effects associated with the use of turmeric, even at very high doses.
Whilst there is no official consensus on effective turmeric doses and doses in ayurvedic medicine range anywhere from 1g-10g a day, the following doses have been used in research with good results:
- 500mg twice a day for osteoarthritis
- 700mg twice a day for high cholesterol
- 500mg three times a day for itchy skin.
Though largely considered safe, exercise caution or speak to a doctor if you're:
- pregnant or breastfeeding (lack of research)
- prone to kidney stones (can bind to calcium and cause kidney stones)
- diagnosed with a bleeding disorder (slows blood clotting which can worsen bleeding problems)
- taking blood thinners or diabetes medications.