Turmeric (Curcuma longa), the bright yellow spice used throughout Asia for centuries, has in recent decades been embraced by the West, not just for its ability to satisfy our appetite for curry, but for its impressive list of health benefits. Turmeric is quite literally, hot stuff.
Grown for its root, turmeric has an ancient history of uses in cooking, fabric dyeing, cosmetics and traditional medicine in China and India. Its potent ingredient, curcumin, not only gives turmeric its golden colour, but also has a dazzling array of properties that are beneficial to health.
Turmeric is a natural anti-inflammatory
Inflammation is a necessary process in the body, as it fights off harmful invaders and repairs damage caused by bacteria, viruses and injuries. However, long-term inflammation has been implicated in most chronic conditions such as heart disease and cancer, so must be controlled. The curcumin in turmeric has proven, strong anti-inflammatory properties that block the action of inflammatory molecules in the body. Studies show positive effects of curcumin on people suffering from conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease, amongst others.
Turmeric is a powerful antioxidant
Curcumin has been shown to be a robust scavenger of oxygen free radicals, which are chemically active molecules that cause damage to the body’s cells. Free radical damage, along with inflammation, is a key driver of cardiovascular disease, so curcumin can play a part in preventing and managing heart disease.
Turmeric has anti-cancer effects
Numerous animal studies have explored turmeric’s influence on cancer, and many have found that it can affect cancer formation, growth and development at a molecular level. Research has shown that it can reduce the spread of cancer and can contribute to the death of cancerous cells. Turmeric and curcumin may also be able to counteract the effects of some carcinogens, such as certain additives used in processed food.
Turmeric may help with skin conditions
Turmeric might be brain food
There is growing evidence that curcumin can cross the blood-brain barrier and may help to protect against Alzheimer’s disease. It works to reduce inflammation as well as the build-up of protein plaques in the brain that are characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease sufferers. Another study of 60 patients showed that curcumin was as effective as an anti-depressant in treating depression, by boosting levels of brain-derived neurotropic factor (reduced levels of this chemical are associated with depression).
While most of the current research is being carried out in a lab or on animals, the results are encouraging, and this wonderful spice will continue to be investigated as a powerful tool in improving our health. And it’s a great excuse to make a curry!
Getting the most from turmeric
The key to tapping into the health benefits of Turmeric may lie in how you consume it.
A recent study looked at various ways of consuming turmeric.* The results showed that cooking turmeric with oil could help your body absorb more curcumin. It’s thought that when curcumin binds with fat, like the fat in olive or coconut oil, it’s more easily absorbed by the gut. And it may be that even small daily amounts consumed in this way could be beneficial for your health.
So while there have been many claims about the healing properties and health benefits of Turmeric, the jury is still out on just how true these are. Extravagant claims such as ‘Turmeric can cure Cancer’ should be taken with a pinch of salt. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
What we do know is that cooking turmeric with oil, as part of a balanced diet, could be the best way to get the most from this spice.
The results from recent studies looking at the benefits of turmeric are encouraging. That said, if you have a specific health concern that you think turmeric could help with, a quick chat with your GP should be your first step.
Remember, they key to getting long-lasting benefits from any food is to eat a balanced diet.
Last updated Thursday 6 February 2020