Turmeric is yellowish spice with a discreet, almost neutral spice and flavor. Famous for giving curry its yellow color, it has been used for thousands of years in India, not only as a spice but also as a medicinal herb.
It is extracted from the Curcuma Longa root, from the same Zingiberaceae family as ginger. Its most valuable compounds are volatile oils and curcumin, a very powerful antioxidant.
Throughout the last decade, turmeric has been receiving growing attention, having numerous health benefits attributed to it. While its action mechanisms are still unclear, the studies performed on turmeric and curcumin so far are very encouraging. Here are some of the most important scientifically proven health benefits.
10 Proven Health Benefits of Turmeric and Its Active Compound, Curcumin
1. Anti-Inflammatory and Disease Prevention Activity
While short-term, acute inflammation is a beneficial response of the body to various threats and conditions, in some cases it becomes chronic and ends up attacking various tissues. Recent research actually revealed that chronic inflammation could play an important role in the development of several chronic diseases like:
Curcumin, the active substance in turmeric, is a powerful anti-inflammatory, as powerful as many of the drugs currently available on the market. The best part is that, unlike most drugs, it has no side effects.
Research regarding the use of curcumin to relieve inflammation began a long time ago. A systematic review published as early as 2003 concluded that the substance is safe for humans and able to inhibit several molecules responsible for inflammation.
2. Relief for Digestive Disorders
The active substance in turmeric seems to benefit digestion as well, acting as an adjuvant and treatment in several digestive disorders.
- A 1989 study proved turmeric’s ability to relieve dyspepsia (painful, disturbed, or difficult digestion, often accompanied by symptoms of heartburn, bloating, nausea, and vomiting).
- A 2013 systematic review concluded that curcumin is a very promising treatment option for gastrointestinal diseases.
- Another review published in 2016 anticipated that curcumin could be used to develop an effective treatment against Helicobacter pylori and the gastric ailments it mediates.
3. Powerful Antioxidant Effect
Oxidative damage and free radicals are some of the main reasons why our bodies age and get sick. Antioxidants are able to protect our bodies against free radicals and, thus, delay aging and prevent many diseases.
4. Potent Cancer Treatment and Valuable Adjuvant in Radiation and Chemotherapy
Cancer is the disease of the century, and scientists have been struggling to find a cure for it for decades. Although it cannot be called a cure per se, the active substance in turmeric has been shown to induce the apoptosis (death) of cancer cells, protect the body against the harmful effects of chemotherapy, and improve the effectiveness of radiotherapy.
A recent study suggests that, besides curcumin, other turmeric compounds have anti-cancer activity and has even found a solution to improve their delivery and boost their efficiency. The evidence available so far refers to the following types of cancer: renal and gynecological cancers, glioblastoma, breast cancer, hepatic cancer, leukemia, and more.
5. Improves Brain Function and Prevents Neurological Diseases
One of the explanations behind its therapeutic action is that it increases BNDF levels. The brain-derived neurotrophic factor is a sort of brain growth hormone influencing the division and multiplication of neurons.
Low levels of the hormones have been associated with brain disorders like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson, and more. Curcumin supplementation induces an increase in BDNF levels and, therefore, helps prevent neurodegenerative diseases and delays their progression.
6. Lowers the Risk of Heart Disease
Research shows that curcumin attenuates cardiotoxicity and can prevent diabetic cardiovascular complications. It has anti-thrombotic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-proliferative effects, and it decreases bad cholesterol levels, preventing the pathological changes associated with atherosclerosis.
It also inhibits p300-HAT, slowing down the evolution of cardiac hypertrophy and preventing heart failure. It could also prevent atrial and ventricular arrhythmia and correct Ca(2+) homeostasis. Other results refer to improvement of endothelial function and reduced heart attack risks.
7. Boosts Weight Loss and Slows Down Weight Gain
Besides the already discussed beneficial effects in preventing and treating metabolic syndrome, turmeric and its main compound, curcumin, seem to have beneficial effects in weight loss as well. According to research, curcumin boosts weight loss, reduces body fat, increases waistline and hip circumference reduction, and reduces the BMI.
Studies also show that curcumin protects against weight regain and improves metabolic control upon diet cessation, possibly by inhibiting inflammation and glucocorticoid action. This means it could be an excellent weapon against the yo-yo effect most dieters experience after returning to their usual eating habits.
8. Improves Ophthalmic Health
According to recent research, curcumin has the power to prevent and treat many ophthalmologic diseases. It is highly beneficial in major anterior segment eye affections (corneal diseases, dry eyes, conjunctivitis, uveitis, cataracts, glaucoma, etc.). Its therapeutic potential has been proven in most major retinal pathologies as well.
9. Promotes Mental Health and Has Anti-Depressant Effects
Although research on curcumin’s effects on mental health is scarce, the results available so far recommend it as a potent treatment for depression. Its effect is comparable to that of Prozac, one of the standard treatments for depression.
10. Protects against and Treats Hepatobiliary Disease
Recent studies have concluded that turmeric’s active substance has such cytoprotective effects and biological activities that it could play an important role in preventing and treating several hepatobiliary diseases:
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
- Cholestatic liver disease
- Liver cirrhosis, and more
Turmeric may have even more health benefits, as its potential is only beginning to be explored. Before you start including it into your diet and expecting to see the above describes results, there are a few things you should know about it.
Things to Know about Turmeric and Its Effects
Turmeric contains only 3% curcumin. Most of the studies cited above used approximately 1g per day. This means it will be close to impossible to consume sufficient quantities of turmeric, so you should consider supplementation.
There is more: curcumin is poorly absorbed into your bloodstream. To improve absorption, you always combine turmeric with black pepper or settle for supplements that contain Bioperine. Piperine enhances absorption by up to 2,000%. Another effective solution is liposomal curcumin.
Even though supplementation may be necessary in order to reap specific benefits, nothing prevents you from including turmeric in your diet. Its extraordinary color and barely perceptible taste make it easy to incorporate in many dishes. Here are just a few ideas.
7 Ideas to Boost Your Turmeric Consumption
1. Golden Milk – It is a delicious and easy-to-make drink best consumed in the evening. All you need to do is simmer some turmeric, honey, almond milk, and coconut oil, and you’ll obtain an earthy, comforting beverage.
2. Scrambles and Frittatas – Turmeric goes great with eggs, so don’t hesitate to add a pinch of it to your scrambled eggs, tofu scramble, and frittata. It will add color and flavor, without altering the taste.
3. Risotto – Rice,no matter how you call it or cook it, gains a delightful golden color and a mild but pleasant flavor from turmeric. It will look and taste extraordinarily, especially next to meat, vegetables, or seafood.
4. Vegetables – If you care about your health, eating more fruits and vegetables is probably one of your most ambitious plans. Turmeric can help you improve their taste and appearance, especially if you add it before roasting or to sautés and sauces.
5. Soups – Hot or cold,creamy or light, they look appetizing with a touch of golden spice. If you doubt it, try spicing them up with a pinch of turmeric, and you will no longer be able to imagine cooking without it.
6. Smoothies – If you like fruit smoothies, try giving them some color with turmeric. Since it has a neutral taste, it will not diminish the fruit flavor or sweetness, but it will surely make the creamy drink more appetizing.
7. Sauces and marinades – Think of turmeric as ground cayenne pepper, without the spicy taste, and with a more appealing color. Whether you use it to marinate meat or change the color of a sauce to impress your family and guests, you won’t be disappointed.
In fact, turmeric goes with just about anything, even sweets, so don’t hesitate to play with it in the kitchen. However, during your experiments, pay attention to the dishes and towels you use, as they may get stains. Avoid wood and porous materials, just to be sure.
Also, give yourself time to grow to love the spice. Start with a small quantity and increase it with time, when you’re sure you’ll love the taste and flavor. Finally, don’t forget to add black pepper. Think of it as the spark that lights up dynamite, the secret to enjoying the numerous and valuable health benefits of turmeric.