Turmeric is a spice which belongs to the ginger family, and helps to give curries their yellow colour. Used in traditional Indian and Chinese medicine for thousands of years, turmeric is praised for it’s powerful natural medicinal properties and is since gaining popularity as a dietary supplement and through drinkable form as golden lattes.
The main reason for this are the curcuminoid compounds turmeric contains, most importantly curcumin. Research shows that this is both a powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant, which is important in the prevention and potential treatment of many chronic illnesses and diseases.
Why should I supplement with Turmeric?
Curcumin is a natural anti-inflammatory
Almost every chronic Western disease, including heart disease, cancer, metabolic syndrome, arthritis and Alzheimer’s, is now believed to be linked to chronic levels of inflammation.
Curcumin helps to block NF-kb, a molecule which turns on genes related to inflammation at a cellular level.
It’s a powerful anti-oxidant
Oxidative damage is another major health concern, which is linked in aging and a variety of diseases, hence the marketed popularity of anti-oxidants.
The damage occurs in our body thanks to nasty free radicals, which can react with fatty acids, proteins and DNA.
Curcumin helps to fight against free radicals in two ways. As a powerful anti-oxidant it helps to neutralize free radicals and as well as fighting against them it also boost the body’s own anti-oxidant enzymes. Yay team!
More and more we’re learning about the important of gut health and the pivotal role this plays not only on our overall physical health but our mental health too.
Curcumin helps digestion in a number of ways; it stimulates the gall bladder and produce bile, which helps to digest fat, helps to protect the stomach lining against ulcers, and it’s also shown to be helpful in treating indigestion and reducing bloating and gas.
Helps to prevent Cancer
The big C is obviously something we all know about and want to avoid. Studies are showing that curcumin may be beneficial in assisting to prevent and fight this nasty disease.
Studies have shown that curcumin can assist to reduce the growth of blood vessels in tumours (angiogensis), the spread of cancer (metastasis) and also help contribute to the death of cancerous cells.
Curcumin has been shown to be especially effective against cancers of the digestive system, such as colorectal cancer, and when combined with other nutritional powerhouses such as brocolli and cauliflower can help fight prostate cancer. It’s also been linked to fighting various other forms of cancer including breast, skin, pancreatic and leukemia.
Aids in the relief of Arthritis and other inflammatory conditions
Suffering from inflammatory auto-immune conditions myself (ankylosing spondlyitis), the main reason I became aware of the benefits of tumeric were thanks to it’s anti-inflammatory properties as mentioned in the point above.
Some studies have shown that it can be more effective than anti-inflammatory drugs (which often also come with a range on unwanted side effects such as stomach ulcers after long term use), especially for rheumatoid arthritis. It’s also been shown to be helpful in a range of inflammtory conditions also including Uveitis (inflammation of the eyes), Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Osteoarthritis and Multiple Sclerosis.
Protects against Heart Disease
Heart disease is yet another major health concern facing Western society and a leading cause of death for Australians.
Curcumin plays it’s role in preventing heart disease, alongside an overall healthy diet and exercise, by preventing the building up of “bad” cholesterol LDL (low density lipoprotein) which can clog the arteries.
It’s also been shown to help improve blood flow and endothelial function. Studies now believe an underlying cause of cardiovascular disease to be due dysfunction of the blood vessels (endothelium) which results in reduced ability to regulate blood pressure and flow.
Boosts Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor
Curcumin helps to increase levels of Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF).
BDNF is a type of growth hormone in the brain which helps existing neurons to survive, as well as encouraging the growth of new neurons and synapses. It also plays an important role in long term memory.
Physical activity, especially moderate to high intensity aerobic activity, also helps to boost this function, also showing the importance of a healthy diet and active lifestyle.
Helps to protect against Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s is a neuro-degenerative disease and the most common form of dementia. There is currently no cure, so prevention is key.
Chronic inflammation, low levels of BDNF and oxidative stress are all linked to this disease, which as explained in the points above curcumin can help to reduce and fight. It also plays a particular role in the potential prevention of Alzheimer’s, as it can assist in the breakdown of amyloid plaques (a sticky build up which is linked to AD).
May be useful in assisting to treat Depression
Low levels of BDNF have been shown to be linked with depression, which as shown above curcumin can help to boost. It is also potentially linked to boosting feel good hormones serotonin and dopamine.
People suffering from depression have also been shown to have higher levels of inflammation and oxidative stress.
Helps to balance blood sugar levels
Finally, curcumin is also believed to assist the body to improve insulin resistance and help control blood sugar levels.
How should I take?
While curcumin itself is shown to be quite powerful, the content in turmeric is only about 3%. The majority of studies show results from a dose of around 1g per day, meaning you’d have to be ingesting a lot of the golden spice!
Curcumin is also not absorbed into the blood stream very well, and so it’s ideal to combine with piperine (found in black pepper) which helps to boost the absorption by up to 2000%!
As with most vitamins and minerals, it’s also fat soluable so it’s a good idea to take with a meal containing fats.
There are still many studies underway into the effectiveness of curcumin in the prevention and treatment of various diseases, but it’s definitely a good natural substance to add into your routine if you’re concerned about any of the above. I also love to incorporate into my food prep each week, to spice up mince or also use as a spice rub for chicken (thighs especially thanks to the higher fat content).
While any serious disease or condition still requires professional medical advice and treatment, there is no harm in adding a turmeric or curcumin supplement to your diet to hopefully help with prevention and aide symptoms where possible.