Turmeric (Curcuma longa), the main spice in the Indian dish curry, is argued by many to be the most powerful herb on the planet at fighting and potentially reversing disease. Turmeric benefits are incredibly vast and very thoroughly researched; currently, there are over 10,000 peer-reviewed articles published proving turmeric benefits, especially one of its renowned healing compounds, curcumin.
What Is Turmeric?
It comes from the Curcuma longa plant, which grows in India and other Southeast Asian countries. The dried root of the Curcuma longa plant is ground into the distinctive yellow turmeric powder. There are several chemical compounds found in it, known as curcuminoids. The active substance in turmeric is curcumin. Curcumin is what makes turmeric a “functional food,” defined by the Mayo Clinic as “foods that have a potentially positive effect on health beyond basic nutrition.”
What Is Turmeric Good For?
One ounce of turmeric gives you 26% of your daily requirement of manganese and 16% of your daily requirement of iron. The herb is also a wonderful source of fiber, potassium, vitamin B6, magnesium, and vitamin C. It improves your body’s ability to digest fats. It reduces gas and bloating as well. The herb treats other skin conditions like psoriasis, acne, and eczema.
It works wonders for inflammation – given that is has been used as a powerful anti-inflammatory agent both in Indian and Chinese medicine for thousands of years. More importantly, turmeric can help prevent grave diseases like cancer and diabetes arthritis – and even aids in the treatment of certain brain conditions like Alzheimer’s and depression.
Even turmeric water can help in various ways. All you need are filtered water, half a teaspoon of turmeric, and honey (optional). You can add the turmeric after heating the water a little – stir in honey if you want. Drinking this mixture in the morning can give you a healthy dose of antioxidants and take care of your overall health in the long run. Raw turmeric can help too. It prevents inflammation and wards off heart disease and stroke. For this very purpose, the turmeric root extract is extensively used in Indian cuisine. You can improve the absorption of turmeric by consuming it in whole food. Even taking turmeric root can enhance absorption – as the natural oils present can enhance the bioavailability of curcumin multifold.
10 Proven Health Benefits of Turmeric
1.Turmeric Contains Bio active Compounds with Powerful Medicinal Properties
Turmeric is the spice that gives curry its yellow color. It has been used in India for thousands of years as a spice and medicinal herb. Recently, science has started to back up what the Indians have known for a long time… it really does contain compounds with medicinal properties. These compounds are called curcuminoids, the most important of which is curcumin. Curcumin is the main active ingredient in turmeric. It has powerful anti-inflammatory effects and is a very strong antioxidant. However, the curcumin content of turmeric is not that high… it’s around 3%, by weight.
Most of the studies on this herb are using the extracts that contain mostly curcumin itself, with dosages usually exceeding 1 gram per day. It would be very difficult to reach these levels just using the turmeric spice in your foods. Therefore, if you want to experience the full effects, then you need to take an extract that contains significant amounts of curcumin. Unfortunately, curcumin is poorly absorbed into the bloodstream. It helps to consume black pepper with it, which contains piperine, a natural substance that enhances the absorption of curcumin by 2000%. I personally prefer to swallow a few whole peppercorns along with my curcumin supplement, in order to enhance absorption. Curcumin is also fat soluble, so it may be a good idea to take it with a fatty meal.
2.Turmeric is a Natural Anti-Inflammatory Compound
Inflammation is incredibly important. It helps the body fight foreign invaders and also has a role in repairing damage. Without, pathogens like bacteria could easily take over our bodies and kill us. Although acute (short-term) inflammation is beneficial, it can become a major problem when it is chronic (long-term) and inappropriately deployed against the body’s own tissues. It is now believed that chronic, low-level inflammation plays a major role in almost every chronic, Western disease. This includes heart disease, cancer, metabolic syndrome, Alzheimer’s and various degenerative conditions. Therefore, anything that can help fight chronic inflammation is of potential importance in preventing and even treating these diseases.
It turns out that curcumin is strongly anti-inflammatory; it is so powerful that it matches the effectiveness of some anti-inflammatory drugs. Curcumin actually targets multiple steps in the inflammatory pathway, at the molecular level. Curcumin blocks NF-kB, a molecule that travels into the nuclei of cells and turns on genes related to inflammation. NF-kB is believed to play a major role in many chronic diseases. Without getting into the gory details (inflammation is extremely complicated), the key takeaway here is that curcumin is a bioactive substance that fights inflammation at the molecular level. In several studies, its potency has compared favorably to anti-inflammatory pharmaceutical drugs.
3.Turmeric helps in curing arthritis
The anti-inflammatory properties have been instrumental in treating osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. The antioxidant also destroys the free radicals in the body that damage the cells. Anybody suffering from the condition should consume the spice on a daily basis to relieve themselves of mild joint pains and inflammation, though it should be understood that it does not stand as a substitute for medication.
4.Turmeric prevents blood clots
For many people, the formation of blood clots is a major concern. How do you develop a clot (also called a thrombus)? Blood clots form through a process called “platelet aggregation,” where blood platelets concentrate in one area and eventually clot. In both lab and animal studies, the use of curcumin from turmeric greatly reduces instances of platelet aggregation and potentially reduces the risk of a clot forming. Curcumin modifies an internal process known as eicosanoid biosynthesis.
Eicosanoids consist of four different molecules within the body that are involved in the natural inflammation process. It has been suggested that one reason that curcumin has anti-clotting properties is the way it affects the biosynthesis of thromboxane, one of the four eicosanoids. This same mechanism is one reason, turmeric is an anti-inflammatory substance. One combination lab and animal study conducted in 1986 even suggests curcumin may be a preferable treatment method for people “prone to vascular thrombosis and requiring anti-arthritic therapy.” However, this result still needs to be replicated in human trials.
5. Turmeric reduces depression
Although few studies have been conducted on humans, dozens of research trials have proven that turmeric benefits include being especially effective in reducing depression symptoms in laboratory animals. (9, 10, 11, 12) These results seem to be connected to the way curcumin impacts neurotransmitter function through the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). To address this issue, the journal Phytotherapy Research published the results of an amazing, innovative study in 2014.
The study took 60 volunteers diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD) and split the group to determine how patients treated by curcumin fared against fluoxetine (PROZAC®) and a combination of the two. Not only was it discovered that all patients tolerated curcumin well, but they discovered curcumin was equally effective as fluoxetine in managing depression by the six-week mark. Combining fluoxetine with curcumin resulted in a slightly higher improvement, but it was not considered statistically significant. According to the authors, “This study provides first clinical evidence [emphasis added] that curcumin may be used as an effective and safe therapy for treatment in patients with mild depression.” Since that breakthrough trial, at least two other studies have observed the impact of turmeric’s major compound, curcumin, in patients with depression.
The first involved 56 individuals (male and female), and the second involved 108 male participants. Both used a placebo but did not compare curcumin to any antidepressant, and both studies found that curcumin effectively reduced depression symptoms more than placebo. As antidepressants on the market currently only yield about a 10–20 percent effectiveness rating when you remove the placebo effect, I’d call that a pretty significant result.
6.Turmeric boosts skin health
The benefits include anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that have proven effective in treating multiple skin conditions. It benefits for skin include increasing “glow and luster” of the skin, speeding up wound healing, calming the pores to decrease acne and acne scarring and controlling psoriasis flares. One uncontrolled pilot study involving 814 participants even suggests that turmeric paste could cure 97 percent of scabies cases within 3–15 days. Try my Turmeric Face Mask for Glowing Skin. Just keep in mind that turmeric can stain the skin and it may cause an allergic reaction. Do patch tests by applying a dime-size amount to your forearm. Then, wait 24–48 hours to check for any reaction before applying turmeric to your face.
7.Turmeric has anti-oxidant properties
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.
8.Turmeric promotes Brain Health and Prevents Neurological Diseases
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.
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 neurotropic factor in diabetes and obesity patients.
Brain-derived neurotropic 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.
9.Turmeric prevents heart diseases
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).
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.
10.Turmeric delays aging
Turmeric contains curcuminoids 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 ahead of time and stored for a very long time since both ingredients is shelf stable.
Turmeric: What to Avoid
This powerful root has many benefits, but also a few important cautions. As I mentioned, it is very important to talk to a doctor before using it as a remedy for those who have any medical condition or who are pregnant or nursing. Culinary use is generally considered safe. Some folklore info suggests that it was used as a birth control and it should not be taken by women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant (though using it in cooking is fine). When used externally, it will give the skin a light yellow hue for a little while after use and this can easily be washed off.
Sources disagree about using turmeric in hair. Some say that it helps improve hair and stop dandruff, while others swear it is a natural way to remove hair. I haven’t found strong enough evidence for the potential benefits in hair to make me brave enough to try it though.