Turmeric is probably the most important spice in Indian dishes. And possibly, the most powerful herb on the planet. Also called haldi in Hindi (and pasupu in Telugu, manjal in Tamil and Malayalam, and arisina in Kannada), turmeric is one of the most studied herbs in science.
Scientifically called Curcuma longa (which is the name of the plant the herb comes from), it grows in India and several other Southeast Asian countries. The dried root of the Curcuma longa plant is ground to make the turmeric powder.
Turmeric powder is yellow. The powder is also used as a coloring agent in South Asian cuisines. The leaves of the turmeric plant also impart a distinct flavor. These leaves are used to wrap and cook food.
The health benefits of turmeric are largely due to its phytochemistry. The compounds in turmeric, called curcuminoids (like curcumin, demethoxycurcumin, and bisdemethoxycurcumin), have several advantages for human health – which we will discuss in detail in this post. Turmeric also contains volatile oils called turmerone, atlantone, and zingiberene. Other constituents of turmeric are proteins, resins, and sugars.
Numerous studies have spoken of the great turmeric benefits. One such study was published in Oxford Academic, which stated how turmeric could break through chemoresistance and aid in the treatment of pancreatic cancer. Another study spoke about how this herb can delay the onset of diabetes, given its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
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Turmeric helps beat inflammation and aids in the treatment of inflammatory ailments like cancer and arthritis. Thanks to its compound curcumin, the spice also benefits neural as well as cardiovascular health. Here is the most comprehensive list of curcumin and turmeric benefits.
As per numerous studies, curcumin, a potent compound in turmeric, can reduce inflammation in the body. One way of increasing turmeric intake is by adding it to your dishes while cooking – which you might be doing already. You can drink turmeric tea as well – just boil four cups of water and add one teaspoon of ground turmeric. You can also add lemon or honey to taste.
According to the Arthritis Foundation, curcumin in turmeric can aid in arthritis treatment. The compound modifies the responses of the immune system, and this helps prevent joint inflammation.
More importantly, the functioning of turmeric is safe and natural. Unlike ibuprofen or aspirin, the curcumin in turmeric fights inflammation naturally without harming the kidneys or liver. In fact, some level of inflammation is necessary for the body’s optimal functioning. It is only when these levels of inflammation go out of control (which, unfortunately, is what happens in most cases) that there is a problem. In one recent study, osteoarthritis patients adding 200 mg of curcumin a day experienced lowered pain and increased mobility. Curcumin also prevents the release of a protein that triggers swelling and pain.
The anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin are so powerful that it is as effective as certain drugs used for the condition (6). These anti-inflammatory effects of turmeric are so potent that it can help in the treatment of cancer as well. More interestingly, there has been no long-term study till date that talks of the adverse effects of curcumin. The Food and Drug Administration has declared curcumin as GRAS (generally regarded as safe).
One downside could be the poor bioavailability of curcumin – it has been found that the serum concentration of this compound usually peaks 1 to 2 hours after oral intake, and gradually declines within 12 hours. We already saw how to improve the bioavailability of curcumin. Another way could be combining the compound with piperine (a compound derived from pepper). Turmeric with black pepper is one healthy combination.
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Turmeric is also used to treat gastrointestinal issues linked to irritable bowel syndrome, which is caused by inflammation. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, curcumin lowers the levels of two enzymes in the human body that are responsible for inflammation).
In case you are taking curcumin supplements for arthritis, this is the dosage recommended by the Arthritis Foundation – 500 milligrams of curcumin, twice a day. But we advise you to talk to your doctor before you go for supplements.
As per another study, extracts containing curcuminoids are far more beneficial in relieving arthritis than extracts containing other turmeric compounds as well. And yes, curcumin is one of the few curcuminoids in turmeric.
Turmeric is known to scavenge free radicals, inhibit peroxidation, and reduce iron complex – all of which are a direct result of its antioxidant properties. And not just ground turmeric, but even its oil has antioxidant properties.
In another study conducted on rats, turmeric was able to prevent diabetes-induced oxidative stress – owing to its antioxidant properties.
Another study reveals that the antioxidant properties of curcumin can improve memory retention in humans. In yet another study, the compound had also inhibited apoptosis (the death of cells as a part of an organism’s development) – attributing the effects to curcumin’s antioxidant properties.
Curcumin in turmeric can also boost the regeneration of brain cells. And aromatic-turmerone, another bioactive compound in turmeric, can increase neural stem cell growth in the brain by as much as 80%.
Given the potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of turmeric, the herb can also offer overall protection to the brain. It can even prevent the accumulation of beta-amyloids, destructive agents present in the brain of Alzheimer’s patients. And since patients with Alzheimer’s tend to have higher levels of inflammation in their brains, turmeric could be a direct help.
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Also, curcumin can cross the blood-brain barrier (a semipermeable membrane barrier that separates the extracellular fluid in the brain from the circulating blood) – an ability that makes it an important neuroprotective agent. More interestingly, statistics show that the risk of developing Alzheimer’s is 25 percent lower in India than in the US, given the extensive use of turmeric in the cuisines of the former. Rats that were fed turmeric developed fewer amyloid plaques (linked to Alzheimer’s) than rats that weren’t. You can simply add turmeric to any of your curry dishes or salads. Sprinkling a pinch of turmeric in your soup can also work wonders.
And here’s another stunning study – scientists have found that turmeric might prevent new fear memories from getting stored in the brain. The curcumin in turmeric might also eliminate pre-existing fear memories, paving the way for groundbreaking treatment options for psychological conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder. As per researchers, the anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin could be the reason behind this.
One Mexican study had proved that curcumin restores the levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor in diabetes and obesity patients. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF, is a vital protein in humans that contributes to nerve cell survival and functioning.
Curcumin also prevents neurotoxicity caused by metals like lead or cadmium. The compound has also delayed the degradation of neurons in patients with Alzheimer’s. Numerous other mice studies showed that turmeric not only helps reverse Alzheimer’s symptoms but also lowers the risk of neurodegenerative diseases.
Curcumin in turmeric can also aid in the treatment of depression, tardive dyskinesia (impairment of voluntary movement), and diabetic neuropathy. In other animal studies, curcumin had also exhibited beneficial effects towards chronic stress.
The compound has shown to benefit patients with multiple sclerosis, a disease that affects the central nervous system (the brain and the spinal cord). Curcumin achieves this by regulating the inflammatory cytokines. Multiple sclerosis also involves the breakdown of the blood-brain barrier and autoimmune attack – and as per a study, neuroprotective approaches (like the intake of turmeric) work better before the initiation of damage.
The antioxidant properties of turmeric are known to offer cardiac protection, especially in the case of diabetes. Curcumin in turmeric also helps reduce the serum cholesterol levels, thereby contributing to heart health.
Research shows that turmeric was used for treating chest pain in ancient Indian and Chinese medicine. In other cases of obesity, the herb had reduced cholesterol concentrations – and more importantly, had increased the levels of good cholesterol. Curcumin had also shown to prevent numerous heart disorders, the most prominent of them being myocardial infarctions (obstruction of blood supply to the tissues in the heart).
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As per a report by the Michigan State University, curcumin can also prevent the clogging of arteries. Another study states the benefits of curry powder, with turmeric being one of its primary ingredients. We often experience a spike in our blood sugar levels post a meal. This sudden sugar rush can lead to the build-up of plaque in the arteries, eventually causing a heart attack. The curry powder with turmeric as one of the ingredients could increase the blood flow of the individual, averting danger.
In yet another study conducted by the University of Indonesia, curcumin had reduced the cholesterol levels in patients with acute coronary syndrome.
Curcumin had exhibited anticancer properties in numerous studies). In fact, countries that consume about 100 to 200 milligrams of turmeric every day were found to have lower incidences of cancer. In some cancer patients who were given turmeric, the tumors had shrunk. In a few others, the chemicals of the immune system that destroy cancer cells became more concentrated.
Laboratory studies have shown that curcumin in turmeric can slow cancer growth and even make chemotherapy more effective. It also protects the healthy cells from damage from radiation. More research is underway.
Curcumin is also found to suppress the initiation, progression, and metastasis of numerous kinds of tumors. Curcumin also employs numerous mechanisms for killing cancer cells because of which the cells may not develop any kind of resistance against the compound. Other studies have proven that curcumin is well tolerated even at higher doses. It is known to offer protection against the cancers of the brain, breast, bone, and the gastrointestinal system.
In one Chinese study, curcumin was found to be effective in the treatment of breast cancer. The compound was also found to protect against colorectal cancer in yet another study. It achieves this by sensitizing the cancer cells to chemotherapy, which paves the way to their smoother elimination. Curcumin can also work in the mouths of patients suffering from neck and head malignancies and reduces cancer growth. It was also found that curcumin binds to an enzyme named IKK, and prevents its functioning (the enzyme promotes cancer growth).
Curcumin has incredible potency, speaking from the perspective of curing cancer. One metabolite in curcumin, which could be available in very low amounts in the blood post its ingestion, could still have remarkable anti-metastatic effects. Curcumin can also prevent cancer of the prostate.
What is more interesting is that curcumin also activates certain proteins in the body that suppress tumors. It can even differentiate a healthy gene from a sick gene, and stunningly enough, can alter the expression of the sick gene. This simply means that curcumin can change DNA, alter the course of genes, and totally turn around the health of cells.
Another Chinese study had discovered that curcumin could inhibit cancer-associated fibroblasts (connective tissues that produce collagen and other fibers) – which might lead to prostate cancer. The compound also prevents prostate cancer metastases. It makes the tumor cells synthesize less of cytokines, which promote metastasis. This leads to a reduced frequency of metastasis formation.
Though not clinically tested yet, curcumin also shows great promise in treating melanoma (or skin cancer). In studies, it had stopped the laboratory strains of melanoma and provoked the cancer cells to commit suicide.
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Turmeric has also been found to shield the DNA from exterior pollutants that can cause leukemia. In fact, turmeric spice can also reduce the risk of childhood leukemia by cutting the effects of some of the risk factors.
Turmeric contains curcuminoid pigments that turn on the genes that enhance the body’s synthesis of antioxidants. This protects the cells of the brain and skin from free radical damage, improves concentration, and even slows down the formation of fine lines and wrinkles.
In one animal study, curcumin and its metabolite (tetrahydrocurcumin) were found to increase the lifespan. This was found to be achieved by regulating the responses to oxidative stress and age-related genes. Aging is also caused by random errors in DNA replication – and curcumin might correct these errors, slowing down the aging process. Another study states the possibility of curcumin extending the lifespan of humans.
As per a scientific review, curcumin can lower the glucose levels in the blood, thereby helping prevent diabetes. In another study, people with prediabetes who were given a dose of curcumin for 9 months were found to be less likely to develop the disease . The compound can also change how the overactive immune system works in patients with type 1 diabetes. It can also boost the immunomodulatory medicines prescribed for the patients with type 1 diabetes. In another study, curcumin supplementation had reduced the oxidative stress experienced by diabetic rats.
Curcumin in turmeric can also aid in the treatment of liver disorders associated with diabetes. It had suppressed diabetic cataracts in rats in yet another study conducted by the Beijing University of Chinese Medicine.
Ingestion of 6 grams of turmeric was found to increase postprandial insulin levels. This could be due to the stimulation of beta-cell functioning by the curcumin in turmeric. Turmeric may also be supplemented as an adjuvant to prevent molecular complications in type 2 diabetes.
According to one Iranian study, curcumin can promote bone resorption in diabetic animals. It can also be beneficial for diabetes-induced endothelial dysfunction. Curcumin supplementation had also shown to reduce insulin resistance, improve the functioning of pancreatic beta-cells, and enhance glucose tolerance.
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The anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric can help boost immunity to a great extent. It was found that curcumin stops the recruitment of certain immune cells which, when overactive, can lead to ailments like heart disease and obesity.
Curcumin was also found to stimulate the immune system and destroy the bacteria that cause drug-resistant tuberculosis. It also induces apoptosis (a mechanism used by human immune cells to kill bacteria). Curcumin also changes the way immune cells communicate with each other, enhancing the overall immunity of the individual.
The curcuminoids in turmeric also modulate the response of various types of immune cells – these include the T cells, B cells, neutrophils, macrophages, dendritic cells, and natural killer NK cells. This action improves the immune system of a person.
Turmeric displays excellent antibacterial properties against various types of bacteris, some of them which include E.coli, Staphylococcus aureus, and Salmonella typhi – accentuating its antiseptic properties.
In yet another study, curcuminoids in turmeric had shown inhibitory activities against 8 types of dangerous bacteria. The application of aqueous curcumin extract to cheese had reduced the bacterial counts of S. typhi bacterium. The compound had also demonstrated a synergistic effect in combination with certain antibiotics. And not just bacteria, but turmeric had exhibited its protective properties against various kinds of fungi and viruses as well.
Another study states that turmeric has been extensively used for ages for its antiseptic properties. It even helps treat dental pain and other periodontal problems.
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, curcumin in turmeric stimulates bile production by the gall bladder. The liver, as we know, uses bile to flush out toxins. Bile also rejuvenates the cells in the liver that break down harmful compounds.
The detoxification effects of curcumin are so good that the compound can also be used to treat mercury intoxication.