by Grace Lin
Natural plant products have been used throughout human history for many different purposes. Many of these have pharmacological or biological activity that can be used in pharmaceutical drug delivery and design. In fact, medicines derived from plants have played a pivotal role in the healthcare of many cultures, both ancient and modern. Ayurveda (the Indian system of holistic medicine) and traditional Chinese medicine are a couple of medicinal methods that use natural plant-based drugs to treat ailments.
Turmeric has had a long history of medicinal use, dating back nearly 4000 years, and now it seems to be catching the eye of the mainstream public. Turmeric root is a deep orange plant that also displays golden hues. You may most commonly encounter it in Indian and Asian cuisine – it gives curry it’s signature golden color and unique taste. In the past 30 years, modern medicine has begun to recognize the importance of turmeric. In fact, over 3000 publications have come out dealing with turmeric.
Curcumin is responsible for the golden color of turmeric, and it is the key player in all of the benefits that turmeric provides. Let’s dive into some of those benefits:
The root of a number of chronic illnesses that plagues the majority of our population is chronic inflammation. These illnesses include heart disease, cancer, metabolic syndrome, and Alzheimer’s to name a few. However, not all inflammation is bad. Acute inflammation is beneficial; it is the body’s response to protecting and localizing an infection or injury – or in our case, muscle repair after working out. But if inflammation is chronic due to an autoimmune reaction, allergy, or other health complication, then it can cause long-term problems. Too much of a good thing turns into a bad thing (pretty much a golden rule to live by).
Curcumin has been shown to significantly reduce inflammation in the body. In fact, its anti-inflammatory effectiveness matches the effectiveness of some anti-inflammatory drugs (without the side effects). It has also been used in a variety of treatments for arthritis because the anti-inflammatory properties help with the joint inflammation that causes arthritis.
Antioxidant has become a popular buzz word to throw around in the health food industry. Many people will say the word without really knowing what it means. Well, in order to know what it means, we must first understand what oxidation is. Oxidation is a chemical process that involves the loss of at least one electron when two substances interact. During oxidation, free radicals (highly reactive molecules with unpaired electrons) form. And when this happens in the body, the free radicals can react with fatty acids, proteins, or DNA – not good. Oxidative damage is believed to be one of the mechanisms behind aging and many diseases.
Enter antioxidants. You guessed it, just like the name suggests, antioxidants protect our bodies from free radicals. Specifically in turmeric, curcumin has been found to be a potent antioxidant that can neutralize free radicals, and even stimulate the body’s own antioxidant mechanisms – so it’s a 2-for-1. A buy one get one free!
The Heart and Brain
Some other benefits of turmeric (or the active ingredient, curcumin) include heart disease prevention and increased brain function. Curcumin has been shown to boost levels of the brain hormone, Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), which increases the growth of new neurons and fights various degenerative processes in the brain (e.g., Alzheimer’s). Additionally, increased BDNF levels has been linked to reversing depression.
Curcumin also plays a role in heart disease prevention. It’s been shown to improve the function of the endothelium (the lining of our blood vessels), which aids in the prevention of clotting. Its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, as stated earlier, also aid in heart disease prevention.
Finally, many studies have been conducted to show curcumin’s aid in cancer treatment and prevention. It has been shown to reduce angiogenesis, the growth of new blood vessels in tumors. It can also reduce metastasis (the spread of cancer) and even contribute to the death of cancerous cells.
Curcumin is poorly absorbed in the blood stream by itself, so it’s best to consume turmeric with black pepper. Black pepper contains piperine, which enhances absorption. Curcumin is also fat soluble, so adding turmeric to a fatty food would be ideal. The University of Maryland Medical Center recommends the following daily dosages for adults:
Raw root: 1.5-3 grams // Powdered turmeric: 1-3 grams // Curcumin standardized powder: 400-600 mg, three times a day
Many times when an ailment, like inflammation, strikes, people automatically reach for a quick fix by means of aspirin or ibuprofen. These are temporary fixes that come with side effects and, with long term use, may create a host of other health problems. Try to shift from a treatment mindset to a prevention mindset, and add some turmeric to your diet on a regular basis.
If you’d like a nice, calming drink that contains turmeric, try this recipe out! Golden Tea