If an official list existed covering the world’s most valuable herbs, surely turmeric would be near the top. In recent years, I’ve been hearing more about turmeric, but I never realized just how many conditions it can improve or aid with. Perhaps one of the most underused natural medicines in Western countries, the spice of turmeric has long been a staple in Indian and Chinese dishes and regarded as a healing herb for numerous ailments. Dubbed “Indian Saffron,” turmeric is well known to be an integral part of many delicious curry dishes, which is responsible for the yellow color and unique warm, yet slightly bitter flavor.

Turmeric originates from the root of the Curcuma longa plant, a perennial rhizomatous plant, and is part of the ginger family. It is derived from the rhizomes and dried and ground into a powder. The active component of turmeric (about 2-5%) is curcumin.7 Cultivated in the tropics, the majority of turmeric is produced in India and 80% is consumed there.1,4 Turmeric has been used in holistic and medicinal healing in South Asia for centuries. It is now considered to be one of the most studied medicinal plants. Between 3,000-8,000 researched articles and studies have examined turmeric and curcumin and have found it to be beneficial for over 581 various diseases.6 Modern medicine is now recognizing its usefulness as publications and studies on both animals and humans are increasing.

Research on the benefits of turmeric have revealed it to have possible antioxidant, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, analgesic, anti-allergic, anti-mutagenic, anti-fungal, antimicrobial, anticancer, digestive, diuretic, circulatory, and cardiovascular properties among others. It helps to both increase antioxidant enzymes and destroy free radicals. It can be useful against bacterial and viral infections. Consistent use of curcumin appears to increase immunity.2,4,7

Nutrients:

Including turmeric in the diet also expands one’s nutrient consumption, as it can be a good source of dietary fiber, pyridoxine, vitamin C, Vitamin B6, potassium, copper, iron, zinc, magnesium, manganese, and phosphorus. Some studies believe that turmeric may be 5-8 times stronger than vitamin E and C.1,6

Disease Prevention:

Turmeric has traditionally been used to help with inflammatory (osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, tendonitis), respiratory (asthma, bronchitis, COPD, lung infections), and digestive (UTI’s, IBS) diseases. A 2010 clinical trial revealed that turmeric capsules improved long-term pain relief for 100 patients with knee osteoarthritis. In 2012, another study indicated those with rheumatoid arthritis had reduced joint swelling and pain, and that turmeric may be even more effective than anti-inflammatory drugs.6 Turmeric oil was found to be effective in relieving respiratory disorders such as asthma. In human studies, turmeric extract has been shown to help with IBS. The curcumin in turmeric appears to stimulate bile production, which aids in proper digestion.1,4,7 Other benefits include help with gallbladder issues, ulcer healing, heartburn, abdominal pain, flatulence, bloating, menstrual pains, colic, hemorrhoids, food poisoning, jaundice, and bowel disease.

Heart Disease, Diabetes and Cancer:

In animal studies, turmeric helped to lower cholesterol levels and kept LDL (commonly called “bad cholesterol”) from building up, therefore preventing blood clots.6 Turmeric may help improve circulation and protect against atherosclerosis. It was also an effective treatment for urinary tract infections connected with diabetes mellitus. 4 The antioxidant properties in turmeric appear to be beneficial in reducing oxidative stress induced by diabetes.1 A study published by the Journal of Diabetes Care found that pre-diabetics who took curcumin capsules were less likely to progress into type II diabetes than those who did not, as it helped to minimize insulin resistance. 6

Additional findings have shown turmeric to help decrease tumor formation and assist in protecting against cell damage, which could help fight breast, prostate, stomach, colon, oral and skin cancers. Because of its value on almost all cancers, research in India recommends using turmeric in cancer patients. Turmeric increases DNA repair and even turmeric cooked in high temperatures still contains the anti-mutagenic benefits.3 Research found that curcumin could suppress the growth of tumors, inhibit the spread of cancer and help with overall prevention. Published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, researchers found that in 9 out of 11 studies curcumin reduced brain tumors (by 81%) with no suggestion of toxicity.6

Dental Issues:

Studies have also revealed the benefits of turmeric on dental problems including toothache, gingivitis, and periodontitis. Turmeric can be used as a rinse, or massaging the affected area with a paste can help with pain and swelling. Findings also indicate that turmeric relieves inflammation and pain that is associated with gingival disease and eases mouth soreness.4,5

Neurological Conditions:

Another area that deserves attention is neurological and mental conditions. Research has shown turmeric to have a positive effect on serotonin, and it is believed it might be useful with depression treatment.1 Since studies were done on animals more research and trials are needed to fully determine the effect turmeric can have on major depressive disorder in humans. According to various trials turmeric may treat and prevent diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. A study in Singapore found that those who regularly ate curry with turmeric had higher cognitive functioning than those who did not.2,6

First Aid Properties:

In addition, turmeric has been used as an antiseptic for burns, wounds, bruises and cuts as well with swelling and sprains. Traditional use and studies in animals confirm that it helps with wound healing. It is also used for common irritations such as allergies, headaches, fever, diarrhea, runny nose, cough, sore throats, colds, and sinusitis. It has been used as general analgesic.1,3,7

Never Ending Benefits:

The seemingly endless benefits of turmeric include using different forms to help in various ways with smallpox, shingles, chickenpox, scabies, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, fibromyalgia, liver problems, kidney disorders, parasitic infections, expelling phlegm, eye infections, itchiness, worms, eczema, loss of appetite, blood circulation, anemia, detoxing blood and organs, hemorrhage and anti-aging.3,6 Turmeric juice has been used for morning sickness in pregnancy, scorpion stings, and snakebites and turmeric oil has been used as a mosquito repellent.4 My good friends from India testify of the many protective benefits from consuming turmeric on a daily basis.

Turmeric has been used effectively since early times, and all studies in both humans and animals show that it is safe, and that no toxicity has been associated with use even at high levels.1 However, when taking in supplement form, the recommended doses should be followed. Caution should be taken if ingesting supplements when pregnant or taking blood thinning or diabetes medications. Turmeric can be used as capsules, tinctures, liquid extracts, powdered, or from the fresh root. It is generally used in a powdered form in food and drink and for making pastes for first aid treatment. It can easily be integrated into various dishes such as curries, rice, or beans among others.2 A quick search of the Internet will present various ways to include turmeric in the diet.

It is important to note that curcumin is not easily absorbed in the body and various attempts to increase absorption include combining it with black pepper, healthy fats or blending ground curcumin powder with turmeric essential oil. Other findings show that besides those possible combinations, eating raw root or dried powder can help absorption because of the natural oils that increase the bioavailability.6,8,9

While the majority of studies have been done on animals or in vitro, human clinical trials are increasing. As they do so, there’s no denying that there are numerous benefits to be gained by turmeric consumption. Turmeric has years of use to stand upon, and as more research is done only positive benefits continue to be found. This promising and inexpensive herb will likely only increase in popularity as studies are more widely circulated and its usage for various disease treatment continues. With no known harm or side effects it is reasonable to say that this Indian staple would be a great addition to every diet.

 

References:

1. Prasad, Sahdeo, and Bharat B. Aggarwal. “Turmeric, the Golden Spice: From Traditional Medicine to Modern Medicine.” In Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects, edited by Iris F. F. Benzie and Sissi Wachtel-Galor, 2nd ed. Boca Raton (FL): CRC Press/Taylor & Francis, 2011. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92752/.

2. “Turmeric.” University of Maryland Medical Center. Accessed April 6, 2016. http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/turmeric.

3. Krishnaswamy, Kamala. “Traditional Indian Spices and Their Health Significance.” Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition 17 Suppl 1, no. 1 (2008): 265–68. http://repository.ias.ac.in/18688/1/337.pdf

4. Chaturvedi, Tp. “Uses of Turmeric in Dentistry: An Update.” Indian Journal of Dental Research 20, no. 1 (2009): 107. doi:10.4103/0970-9290.49065. http://www.ijdr.in/article.asp?issn=0970-9290;year=2009;volume=20;issue=1;spage=107;epage=109;aulast=Chaturvedi

5. “Role of Curcuma Longa in Health: A Review – ProQuest.” Accessed April 6, 2016. http://search.proquest.com/openview/765c2cbd1d3340fcf0edb6efba28983d/1?pq-origsite=gscholar

6. “The Cure Is in the Roots: Turmeric.” Journal of Nutritional Disorders & Therapy 05, no. 02 (2015). doi:10.4172/2161-0509.1000163. http://www.omicsonline.org/open-access/the-cure-is-in-the-roots-turmeric-2161-0509-1000163.php?aid=52844

7. Rathaur, Preeti, Waseem Raja, P. W. Ramteke, and John. “Tumeric: The Golden Spice of Life.” International Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Research, June 28, 2012. http://ijpsr.com/bft-article/turmeric-the-golden-spice-of-life/

8. Curcumin: The Herbal Cure-All. Good Health Lifestyles Magazine. Winter 2016. Pages 28-31

9. Boosting the Bioavailability of Curcumin | NutritionFacts.org. Accessed April 7, 2016. http://nutritionfacts.org/video/boosting-the-bioavailability-of-curcumin/.


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Dawn Youmans MPH

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