Turmeric has exploded in popularity recently as people are beginning to discover all the amazing health benefits that the spice has to offer. Turmeric, in case you didn’t know, is an ancient golden spice that has been used in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years. You may have taken turmeric to treat symptoms of the common cold or flu, but did you know that new studies show it has the potential to prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes, lower the risk of heart disease and cancer, as well as treating some forms of cancer and depression?
Ayurveda is a branch of alternative medicine that treats mind, body and spirit together, and turmeric has played a big part in it for thousands of years. It is thought to improve the overall energy of the body, and with curcumin as it’s active ingredient, like modern-day prescription drugs this bioactive compound has been used to aid in the treatment and prevention of:
- Digestion regulation
- Hay fever
- Skin irritations
- Breathing problems
- Gas relief
- Back pain
- Rheumatoid arthritis
It is the combination of antibacterial, antioxidant and antiinflammatory qualities that allow curcumin to prevent the above conditions as well as promoting healthy circulation and lowering cholesterol levels.
When it comes to preventing the onset of type 2 diabetes, we all know that adopting a balanced diet is the most important criteria for controlling blood sugar levels! But studies have shown that curcumin, the yellow pigment of turmeric, may improve the function of the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. In a Diabetes Care study, people who had prediabetes (raised blood sugar levels) were given a daily curcumin pill or a placebo. None of those who took the curcumin pill had developed type 2 diabetes nine months later, whilst nearly a fifth of those given the placebo had the condition.
Other preliminary studies suggest that turmeric’s potential antioxidant effects could fight against free radicals to protect cells from damage, thus reducing the risk of cancer! Curcumin’s anti-inflammatory benefits could also help prevent the risk of heart disease by lowering bad (LDL) cholesterol, elevating heart protective (HDL) cholesterol and preventing plaque build-up in the arteries!
So how is it taken?
According to Ayurveda, curcumin is a warming spice – this means it is most efficiently absorbed through the gut. Like most herbs it is probably best suited to those with chronic rather than acute ailments. Turmeric powder can be taken as a drink or mixed with food (and if it’s active constituent is synthesised, in the future it could be made into a powerful drug!) or it can be made into a paste to be used for skin complaints.
Unfortunately however, your body doesn’t actually absorb that much curcumin when you eat turmeric. By weight, a turmeric root is roughly around 3% curcumin, of which your body can only absorb about 25%. So in many of the studies they are using up to 25g/day of turmeric in order to get significant results. Nevertheless, new studies are coming out all the time that prove the benefits of turmeric so if they do find a way to make it more absorbable then we might never have to worry about our health again!
The research on curcumin and its health benefits is extensive to say the least. So here are some examples to back up the above claims.
From The International Journal of Biochemistry and Cell Biology:
“The wisdom and scientific credentials of curcumin in the Ayurvedic and Chinese systems of medicine have been corroborated by numerous studies conducted over the past 30 years. These observations are also supported by epidemiological data suggesting lower incidence of chronic diseases in people from countries where curcumin is consumed. The various effects of curcumin have been widely studied in Western systems of medicine for decades, and has been found to possess antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities. Considering that inflammation plays a major role in most chronic illnesses, anti-inflammatory agents are needed for prevention purposes. Although several different steroids and NSAIDS (such as celecoxib, aspirin, ibuprofen, phenylbutazole, etc.) have been approved for treatment of inflammatory conditions, most of them have side effects, especially when consumed over long periods of time. Because curcumin inhibits multiple proinflammatory pathways and is affordable, this phytochemical should be further explored for prevention and treatment of various chronic diseases. Further clinical trials are needed to fully develop the potential of this ‘age-old NSAID’”.
Curcumin Enhances the Effect of Chemotherapy Against Colorectal Cancer Cells From The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Centre:
“In conclusion, the data presented in this study demonstrate that a pro-survival, anti-apoptotic signaling response of CRC cells to 5-FU is mediated via the NF-κB and PI-3K signaling pathways and curcumin modulates this response by targeting these inducible signaling pathways… Overall, our results indicate that the combination of curcumin, which is a pharmacologically safe natural compound, with conventional chemotherapeutics like 5-FU could provide an improved strategy for colon cancer therapy.”.
From Journal of the American Medical Director’s Association:
“In patients with depression, the pooled standardized mean difference from baseline Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression scores support the significant clinical efficacy of curcumin in ameliorating depressive symptoms. Significant anti-anxiety effects were also reported in 3 of the trials. Notably, no adverse events were reported in any of the trials. Most trials had a generally low risk of bias, except for an open trial of curcumin and a single-blinded study… In conclusion, Curcumin appears to be safe, well-tolerated, and efficacious among depressed patients. More robust randomized controlled trials with larger sample sizes and follow-up studies carried out over a longer duration should be planned to ascertain its benefits”.
Curcumin appears to be a safe, well-tolerated and effective treatment for a variety of conditions with ongoing research that supports what the ancient medicinal systems of the East have been telling us. But due to absorption issues, further research needs to be done into how it can be used as a regulated alternative, or complement, to mainstream drugs. In Ayurveda, they don’t typically prescribe healing herbs or spices in their pure form – they are generally formulated into medicinal jams, oils or powders with many other ingredients added in order to increase absorption and potency. So with all the mounting evidence curcumin might seem like a wonder drug, but unfortunately you cannot heal yourself or others simply by raiding your supermarket spice aisle!