Curcumin and it's health benefits
Turmeric: talk about a rock-star spice. Turmeric, which gives your curry and Indian foods that bold yellow-orange pigment, carries an impressive — some might say astounding — array of health benefits.
Sometimes called the Golden Spice or Indian saffron, turmeric is a plant with a long history of medicinal use, dating back nearly 4,000 years. Ground turmeric root has been used in Indian and Chinese cooking, and its medicinal benefits are as well-prized as its unique flavor.
Modern medicine has finally caught up with those benefits. According to a 2011 review, over 3,000 publications about turmeric came out within the last 25 years. Experts express equal enthusiasm. “If there were ever a spice that deserved a whole book written about it, turmeric would be the clear winner,” says Jonny Bowden, PhD, in The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth, “It’s pretty much my favorite spice.”
What is Turmeric?
If you’ve ever tasted turmeric powder in a dish, you’re likely to remember its potent, bold flavor. Used for centuries as both food and medicine, turmeric belongs to the ginger family. Turmeric rhizomes (stems) are dried and ground to a yellow powder. Among the benefits that Bowden says deserve a whole book, turmeric can normalize the chronic inflammation that plays a role in nearly every disease. The anti-inflammatory benefits of turmeric have been incredibly well researched.
Turmeric can also help with exercise-induced inflammation and muscle soreness, boosting recovery and performance in active people. Its anti-inflammatory benefits, in fact, can even perform similarly to over-the-counter drugs like ibuprofen but without their side effects.
Turmeric can help you manage oxidative stress, a condition where free radicals overtake your body’s antioxidant defenses. Along with chronic inflammation, oxidative stress paves a path for numerous diseases. Research shows turmeric has significant antioxidant abilities.
Turmeric has been used medicinally for various conditions including rheumatoid arthritis, skin cancer, and digestive disorders. The list goes on: There aren’t many conditions turmeric can’t benefit, although some are more well-researched and publicized.
However, you can’t mention the numerous medicinal or therapeutic benefits of turmeric without discussing a specific polyphenol or antioxidant called curcumin.
Many of Turmeric’s Benefits Come From Curcumin
Here’s where you have to stop and pause with turmeric — most of this spice’s anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and other glory comes from its active ingredient, curcumin.
What is Curcumin?
Curcumin belongs to a family of compounds called curcuminoids. Two other well-studied curcuminoids, bisdemethoxycurcumin and demethoxycurcumin, provide additional antioxidant and other nutrient support. But curcumin is the most-studied curcuminoid and turmeric’s primary claim to fame.
Getting the Benefits of Turmeric
That’s not to say turmeric doesn’t have other benefits. In fact, more than 100 components have been isolated from turmeric, including volatile oils and nutrients. While less-studied than curcumin, they likely carry their own anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and other benefits.
To get all of those compounds, sprinkle organic turmeric powder onto your favorite foods including sauteed vegetables. It is important to use organic turmeric powder because sources that are not organic can become contaminated with lead and other heavy metals.
“Turmeric is also one of the easiest spices to use,” says Bowden, “It has a really pleasing taste and a beautiful color, and it tastes good on almost any food you can think of.” Be aware when you use it — because of its deep color, turmeric powder can stain lighter clothing and furniture.
Supplementing with Turmeric and Curcumin
Choosing the right turmeric or curcumin supplement can get confusing because of complications including quality control issues and nebulous terminology including “turmeric curcumin” supplements.
Even when you carefully read labels, finding the right supplement isn’t easy. While some supplements sell turmeric spice as ground (dried) turmeric herb, only about three percent of the weight of turmeric powder is curcumin and curcuminoid compounds that provide most of turmeric’s effects. In other words, a turmeric powder supplement contains the same turmeric powder you would sprinkle onto food. If you like turmeric, sprinkle an organic turmeric powder on to your food. If you dislike the taste of turmeric but want to its nutrients, consider an organic turmeric supplement. Most clinical studies use turmeric extract, which contains higher amounts of curcumin versus the same amount of turmeric powder (just the spice).
Some supplements use a blend of turmeric root powder and extract, typically standardized to contain a certain amount of curcumin or curcuminoids. “Standardized” means that manufacturers ensure every batch of a product is produced consistently, with the same ingredients and concentration of ingredients.
The most superior form, however, comes from a curcumin supplement standardized to contain a certain amount of curcumin or curcuminoids. Isolating curcumin from turmeric provides all of this important compound’s benefits in easy-to-swallow capsules. In fact, you’d have to swallow a teaspoon or more of turmeric to get the benefits of one curcumin capsule.
How Curcumin Affects the Body
Curcumin is a workhorse molecule, and a whole book could discuss its impressive resume. Among them, curcumin influences multiple biochemical pathways including those that impact inflammation and cancer.
Some of the best-known health issues that curcumin can benefit include:
Cancer: Research shows curcumin can influence the natural treatment of several cancers including colon, stomach, lung, breast, and skin cancers.
Rheumatoid arthritis: Curcumin shows promise for those with autoimmune diseases including rheumatoid arthritis. Some studies show curcumin has a similar impact to NSAIDs without the side effects of medications.
Osteoarthritis: Animal studies show curcumin’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits significantly slow osteoarthritis progression and relieve pain.
Gastrointestinal (GI) disorders: Curcumin’s anti-inflammatory benefits can support people with GI disorders including inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis.
Oxidative stress: As an antioxidant, curcumin is a free radical scavenger that also binds and eliminates potentially damaging metals including iron and copper.
Brain health: Oxidative stress and inflammation play a role in many neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s disease. Research shows curcumin protects your brain cells against oxidative stress-induced damage, lowers inflammation, and protects your energy-producing mitochondria.
Depression: Oxidative stress and inflammation also contribute to depression. Depression, like any disease, is multifactorial, meaning multiple culprits contribute. One study found using 500 mg of curcumin twice daily for four to eight weeks provided anti-depressive benefits for people with major depressive disorders.
Anxiety: Animal studies also show curcumin can positively impact the behavioral symptoms associated with anxiety.
Cholesterol levels: As little as 500 mg of curcumin for one week can improve your lipid profile including total cholesterol and HDL (your “good” cholesterol) levels.
Liver health: Research shows curcumin’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits can prevent the progression of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).
Cystic fibrosis: Curcumin’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties can also aid in the treatment of cystic fibrosis, characterized by chronic respiratory infections and inflammation.