Turmeric (also called curcumin) is a spice found in many kitchen cabinets. A cousin of ginger, this spice is often used in Indian dishes. Although loved for its deep and complex flavor, turmeric is also popular because of its many health benefits. If you have some of this spice tucked away in your kitchen, pull it out. There is a lot it can do for your health.
What Is Curcumin?
Many of the studies performed on turmeric focus on curcumin, which is the predominant active curcuminoid in turmeric. Curcumin is a natural phenol that gives turmeric its characteristic brilliant yellow color. It can be extracted from turmeric and is often sold as a dietary supplement. Curcumin has a faster effect on the body when taken on its own, but both curcumin and turmeric have health benefits.
The medical director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, Dr. Randy J. Horwitz, pronounced in a paper for the American Academy of Pain Management, that "Turmeric is one of the most potent natural anti-inflammatories available." Rats tested at the University of Arizona would agree. When pretreated with turmeric, the onset of rheumatoid arthritis in the rats was completely inhibited. Pre-existing cases of arthritis also saw a reduction in symptoms.
Several recent studies have shown that turmeric has an inhibiting effect on cancer. The first, a study conducted by UCLA, found that when people with mouth and neck cancer chewed tablets containing curcumin the advancement of cancer to other parts of the body was stopped. Researchers at the University of South Dakota also found that pretreatment with curcumin made certain types of skin cancer more vulnerable to treatment. The University of Texas found that curcumin can limit the growth of other types of cancer as well, including breast and lung cancer.
Turmeric’s role as a cancer-fighting spice is also evident in its antioxidant properties. While further study is needed to confirm its effectiveness, the University of Maryland Medical Center has found that turmeric contains powerful antioxidants that can help combat the free radicals that cause cancer.
An Effect on Alzheimer’s
The rate of Alzheimer’s disease in India is one-quarter that of the US rate in people aged 70 to 79. Researchers hypothesize that this may be due to of the significant amount of turmeric in Indian food. When reviewing over 700 studies regarding turmeric, Duke University found 50 studies that address the spice’s effect on Alzheimer’s. The studies found that turmeric extracts contain agents that can slow the formation of plaques that slow cerebral function and trigger this disease.
Adding Turmeric to Your Diet
One of the best things about turmeric is that you do not need a doctor’s prescription to take advantage of its health effects. Instead, all you need to do is head to the spice section of your local grocery store. Turmeric is relatively inexpensive and can be added to foods in a number of ways.
Despite its health benefits, turmeric is, at its core, a culinary spice. This makes it incredibly easy to add to your diet. Most Indian dishes work well with turmeric’s flavor. If you are a fan of curries you may be using it already. If not, add some to any Indian dish. If you like the flavor of turmeric enough, the spice can also be used to create a standalone tea.
Recent findings have found a relationship between the absorption of curcumin and piperine, a component of black pepper. Combining the two spices will allow for maximum absorption and health benefits. Again, Indian cuisine is a place where you will likely see these two flavors put together.
Some people are not fond of turmeric’s flavor, finding it bitter and off-putting. If you fall into this camp, consider adding a tablespoon or two to a large pot of soup or stew. The spice will add flavor to your soup without overwhelming you with the taste.
If you really cannot get over the way turmeric tastes, you don’t need to worry. A visit to the health food store will yield a selection of turmeric and curcumin supplements that can be added to your regular vitamin regimen.
This and other research has proven that adding turmeric to a healthy diet is an excellent way to naturally improve your health and reduce your risk of many diseases, so add some to your diet today!