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8 Shocking Benefits of Turmeric to Improve Your Health

September 24th, 2014
Curcumin

Turmeric or Curcuma longa is a type of root commonly grown in India that is dried and ground into a fine yellow powder.  For thousands of years, it has been used as a spice to flavor Indian food; it gives curry that vibrant yellow color.  Both Indian and Chinese cultures have also used it as a household medicinal herb to treat various health issues.  I use it regularly any time I feel a cold coming on. I usually put a heaping teaspoon of turmeric powder into a little water and drink it twice a day. Within one or two days, I am back to normal and it works like a charm every time!

Turmeric’s powerful health benefits were first explored in the scientific community in 1910. Scientists discovered that the primary active components of turmeric are polyphenols, or molecules with a distinct structure, known as curcuminoids.  Of these curcuminoids, the most important and powerful is called curcumin. Curcumin makes up about 5% of ground turmeric powder. Since this discovery, an extensive amount of research has been done to study turmeric and curcumin in order to understand their powerful healing properties.  In fact, curcumin has been the subject of over 5000 peer-reviewed, scientific journal articles!  So let’s take a look at some of the amazing health benefits of turmeric.

 

Turmeric Benefits

 

1. Anti-inflammatory Properties:
Although inflammation is extremely necessary to fight foreign pathogens, chronic low-grade inflammation can be extremely harmful and lead to various chronic diseases such as obesity and diabetes.  Curcumin is an incredible anti-inflammatory agent; it influences the body’s inflammatory response by various mechanisms. One of the most powerful benefits of curcumin is its ability to inhibit the activity of NF-κB, this is a molecule that turns on multiple genes which trigger inflammation in the body.  It also decreases the production of various cytokines or signaling molecules, such as TNFα, that induce an inflammatory response in the body.  The anti-inflammatory capabilities of curcumin are so powerful that its effectiveness matches that of many prescription based anti-inflammatory drugs, except without the side effects!

2. Antioxidant Activity:
When molecules interact with oxygen they can form free radicals, which are highly reactive molecules that are extremely damaging when they interact with cellular components such as DNA or the cell membrane.  Curcumin is a potent antioxidant, meaning its chemical structure gives it the ability to neutralize these free radicals and ultimately reduce oxidative damage.  It can also inhibit expression of iNOS, an enzyme involved with cellular damage and toxicity when there are too many free radicals in the body.

3. Orthopaedic Disorders:
Curcumin’s anti-inflammatory properties reduce swelling, inflammation and pain in various joints.  It has been shown to be effective for long-term treatment of osteoarthritis. It can also alleviate pain and swelling associated with rheumatoid arthritis.  A clinical trial showed that curcumin was as effective as a well-known non-steroidal anti-infammatory drug (NSAID) called diclofenac in treating rheumatoid arthritis.

4. Gastrointestinal disorders:
Inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) including ulcerative colitis and Chron’s disease are normally treated with anti-inflammatory medications and immunosuppressive agents.  This is because inflammatory triggers such as NF-κB have been shown to play a major role in the progression of IBD. Curcumin has been analyzed as a natural remedy for IBD due to its powerful anti-inflammatory properties, especially because it can target NF-κB. Recently, curcumin was shown to inhibit inflammation of colon tissue by inhibiting the activity of NF-κB. Curcumin is also being analyzed as a potential treatment for several gastrointestinal cancers.  Infection of cells lining the GI tract by a bacterial population called H.pylori can play a key role in the initiation and progression of several gastric cancers.  Curcumin has been shown to reduce the activity of H.pylori infection of epithelial cells lining the GI tract, which essentially reduces the risk of these gastric cancers.

5. Anti-carcinogenic Agent:
There are three stages of carcinogenesis: initiation, promotion and progression.  Curcumin has been shown to inhibit various mechanisms at all three stages of carcinogenic development!  It inhibits initiation by its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Promotion is impacted by curcumin because of its ability to suppress survival and growth of cancerous cells, and induce apoptosis or programed cell-death.  Curcumin inhibits cancer progression by reducing the ability for cancer cells to invade surrounding tissues and promote angiogenesis or the creation of new blood vessels.  The promotion of angiogenesis would normally allow cancerous cells to spread even more! Curcumin can inhibit these mechanisms by preventing the activity of class of enzymes called MMPs; these enzymes would normally break down proteins surrounding cancer cells and provide them with extra space to proliferate and spread.  Several studies have proven cucurmin to be an effective treatment for various stages of colon cancerpancreatic cancer and many more.

6. Diabetes Management:
Curcumin is a potential treatment modality for the management of diabetes. Dietary curcumin has been shown to reduce hyperglycemia or high blood sugar and improve insulin sensitivity in type 2 diabetic rats.  Because oxidative stress, the production of free-radicals and altered energy metabolism all play a role in diabetes pathophysiology, it is likely that curcumin influences diabetes by its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

7. Neurological Disorders:
Various neurological disorders including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease are characterized by the formation of aggregates or clusters of protein deposits in the brain tissue.  These aggregates have been shown to contribute to disease onset and progression.  Curcumin has been shown to actually inhibit this protein aggregation process from happening meaning that it has neuroprotective effects!  Its anti-inflammatory capabilities allow curcumin to reduce expression of inflammatory cytokines in neuronal cells, which basically protect these neurons from being damaged.  It has also been shown to improve spatial memory and increase expression of genes involved with neural development in aged animal models, meaning it can improve the function of neural pathways! A study from 2006 showed that rats in a chronically stressed state (to mimic clinical depression) were treated by curcumin as effectively as a well-known anti-depressant medication called imipramine.  This is an incredible finding because unlike imipramine that has many intense side effects such as nausea, anxiety and constipation, curcumin is a safe, natural compound with minimal cytotoxicity issues!  The study also showed that curcumin was able to increase levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor or BDNF in these rats compared to controls.  BDNF is a protein that supports the survival and growth of neurons, so basically curcumin can actually promote the development of new neural networks in the brain!

8. Cardiovascular Health:
Curcumin has been shown to have strong cardioprotective effects such as improved vascular endothelial function.  A recent study showed that rats fed curcumin had about half the blood cholesterol as rats without curcumin. Curcumin has also been proven to be as effective at reducing cholesterol as atorvastatin or lipitor, a very well-known pharmaceutical cholesterol reducing agent.  Again, curcumin can achieve the same result as atorvastin without the side effects of the drug, such as diarrhea and upset stomach!  Another way in which curcumin has cardioprotective effects is that it inhibits aggregation of platelets, which basically reduces the potential for plaque formation or clots in blood vessels.

 

How do I use turmeric?
Turmeric is generally available in ground powder form from most grocery stores in the spice section; it has a distinct, vibrant yellow/orange color. One of the problems with the use of turmeric for medicinal purposes is that it is hydrophobic, meaning it is not very water-soluble and is instead fat-soluble.  This reduces its bioavailability or ability to be absorbed by the body, so a large portion of what is ingested ends up passing straight through our system. This is likely why such large doses (12 g/daily) are tolerable in humans without toxicity, as most of it doesn’t get absorbed.  This is also probably why it is an effective treatment method for gastrointestinal disorders specifically, since this region of the body has direct contact with the medicinal herb as it is ingested. A company recently was able to complex curcumin with phospholipids to make it more water-soluble; this complex has been patented and is called Meriva.  The Meriva complex has been proven to improve the bioavailability of curcumin compared to natural formulations.  The brand of turmeric supplement capsules that incorporates this Meriva compound I am familiar with is Source Naturals.

Turmeric Source Naturals

Piperine, a major component of black pepper, has also been shown to improve the bioavailability of curcumin, as well. So mixing pepper and turmeric together may improve its ability to be absorbed. In India, it is common to mix a spoon of turmeric with cup of warm milk and drink it, since the fat from the milk increases the solubility of the turmeric and curcumin. Coconut or almond milk could also be used, as these both have high fat content, as well. Again regardless of the water solubility issues, I usually drink a heaping teaspoon of turmeric mixed with a shot of water to fight off colds and it usually does the trick!  Obviously, moderation with all powerful medicinal agents is recommended, so don’t go overboard and start inhaling pounds of turmeric daily!

 

 

We tend to rely so heavily on pharmaceutical drugs for various medical related disorders, however the scientific research performed on herbs like turmeric prove how effective natural remedies can be.  Especially since many studies have described how curcumin is as effective if not more than several pharmaceutical drugs, except without the side effects!  So start turning towards your REAL medicine cabinet, your KITCHEN and start healing yourself with natural remedies!

Written by Michelle Gupta, PhD Candidate

PS – Interested in learning more about a healthy lifestyle and dietary tips?  Get our Intro to Paleo Guide today! Click here!

 

Summary
8 Shocking Benefits of Turmeric to Improve Your Health
Article Name
8 Shocking Benefits of Turmeric to Improve Your Health
Description
Piperine, a major component of black pepper, has also been shown to improve the bioavailability of curcumin, as well. So mixing pepper and turmeric together may improve its ability to be absorbed.
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2 Responses

  1. patricia says:

    Hello:
    About a month or so ago I was on Facebook and saw a paste that you made out of Tumeric with instructions to drink a glassful mixed with water before going to bed every night….and was wondering if you could send this recipe to me?
    Thank you for your time, I purchased your book months ago and love your recipes
    Regards,

    Patricia Shinn

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