Health Benefits of Turmeric

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Turmeric

is an ancient root used for its healing properties for centuries. Turmeric comes from the rhizome (rootstock) of the Curcuma longa plant. To manufacture it, the roots of the plant are boiled, dried and then ground into a powder. Traditionally used in Chinese and Indian folk medicine, turmeric benefits are amazing and able to treat a wide range of illnesses. The powerful anti-inflammatory and antiseptic qualities of turmeric have made it a precious commodity for ages!
Referred to as “Indian saffron” in medieval England, turmeric wasn’t understood or valued for a long time. People used it as natural food dye instead of as the unbelievable healing agent it really is. The many turmeric health benefits are truly incredible!

With a peppery, warm and bitter flavor, the mild fragrance of turmeric resembles orange and ginger, which makes it a national favorite in curry dishes dating back centuries. Today, it’s widely used in yellow mustard and as a natural health supplement.

Next to essential oils, few natural remedies have reached mainstream use like turmeric has these past few years. Interestingly enough, you’d expect that Americans would catch on sooner, considering that we’ve doused our Ball Park franks in yellow mustard since 1904. That was the year R.T. French Co. first started to use turmeric as a preservative and color agent for “creamy salad mustard.”

Turmeric Health Benefits:

A Potent, Yet Safe Anti-Inflammatory

The volatile oil fraction of turmeric has demonstrated significant anti-inflammatory activity in a variety of experimental models. Even more potent than its volatile oil is the yellow or orange pigment of turmeric, which is called curcumin. Curcumin is thought to be the primary pharmacological agent in turmeric. In numerous studies, curcumin’s anti-inflammatory effects have been shown to be comparable to the potent drugs hydrocortisone and phenylbutazone as well as over-the-counter anti-inflammatory agents such as Motrin. Unlike the drugs, which are associated with significant toxic effects (ulcer formation, decreased white blood cell count, intestinal bleeding), curcumin produces no toxicity.

An Effective Treatment for Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Curcumin may provide an inexpensive, well-tolerated, and effective treatment for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) such as Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis, recent research suggests. In this study, mice given an inflammatory agent that normally induces colitis were protected when curcumin was added to their diet five days beforehand. The mice receiving curcumin not only lost much less weight than the control animals, but when researchers checked their intestinal cell function, all the signs typical of colitis (mucosal ulceration, thickening of the intestinal wall, and the infiltration of inflammatory cells)were all much reduced. While the researchers are not yet sure exactly how curcumin achieves its protective effects, they think its benefits are the result of not only antioxidant activity, but also inhibition of a major cellular inflammatory agent called NF kappa-B. Plus, an important part of the good news reported in this study is the fact that although curcumin has been found to be safe at very large doses, this component of turmeric was effective at a concentration as low as 0.25 per cent—an amount easily supplied by simply enjoying turmeric in flavorful curries.

Relief for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Clinical studies have substantiated that curcumin also exerts very powerful antioxidant effects. As an antioxidant, curcumin is able to neutralize free radicals, chemicals that can travel through the body and cause great amounts of damage to healthy cells and cell membranes. This is important in many diseases, such as arthritis, where free radicals are responsible for the painful joint inflammation and eventual damage to the joints. Turmeric’s combination of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects explains why many people with joint disease find relief when they use the spice regularly. In a recent study of patients with rheumatoid arthritis, curcumin was compared to phenylbutazone and produced comparable improvements in shortened duration of morning stiffness, lengthened walking time, and reduced joint swelling.

Help for Cystic Fibrosis Sufferers

Curcumin, the major constituent of turmeric that gives the spice its yellow color, can correct the most common expression of the genetic defect that is responsible for cystic fibrosis, suggests an animal study published in the Science (April 2004). Cystic fibrosis, a fatal disease that attacks the lungs with a thick mucus, causing life-threatening infections, afflicts about 30,000 American children and young adults, who rarely survive beyond 30 years of age. The mucus also damages the pancreas, thus interfering with the body’s ability to digest and absorb nutrients.

Researchers now know that cystic fibrosis is caused by mutations in the gene that encodes for a protein (the transmembrane conductance regulator or CFTR). The CTFR protein is responsible for traveling to the cell’s surface and creating channels through which chloride ions can leave the cell. When the protein is abnormally shaped because of a faulty gene, this cannot happen, so chloride builds up in the cells, which in turn, leads to mucus production.

The most common mutation, which is called DeltaF508, results in the production of a misfolded protein. When mice with this DeltaF508 defect were given curcumin in doses that, on a weight-per-weight basis, would be well-tolerated by humans, curcumin corrected this defect, resulting in a DeltaF508 protein with normal appearance and function. In addition, the Yale scientists studying curcumin have shown that it can inhibit the release of calcium, thus allowing mutated CTFR to exit cells via the calcium channels, which also helps stop the chloride-driven build up of mucus. Specialists in the treatment of cystic fibrosis caution, however, that patients should not self-medicate with dietary supplements containing curcumin, until the correct doses are known and any adverse interactions identified with the numerous prescription drugs taken by cystic fibrosis sufferers.

Cancer Prevention

Curcumin’s antioxidant actions enable it to protect the colon cells from free radicals that can damage cellular DNA—a significant benefit particularly in the colon where cell turnover is quite rapid, occuring approximately every three days. Because of their frequent replication, mutations in the DNA of colon cells can result in the formation of cancerous cells much more quickly. Curcumin also helps the body to destroy mutated cancer cells, so they cannot spread through the body and cause more harm. A primary way in which curcumin does so is by enhancing liver function. Additionally, other suggested mechanisms by which it may protect against cancer development include inhibiting the synthesis of a protein thought to be instrumental in tumor formation and preventing the development of additional blood supply necessary for cancer cell growth.

Inhibits Cancer Cell Growth and Metastases

Epidemiological studies have linked the frequent use of turmeric to lower rates of breast, prostate, lung and colon cancer; laboratory experiments have shown curcumin can prevent tumors from forming; and research conducted at the University of Texas suggests that even when breast cancer is already present, curcumin can help slow the spread of breast cancer cells to the lungs in mice.

In this study, published in Biochemical Pharmacology (September 2005), human breast cancer cells were injected into mice, and the resulting tumors removed to simulate a mastectomy.

The mice were then divided into four groups. One group received no further treatment and served as a control. A second group was given the cancer drug paclitaxel (Taxol); the third got curcumin, and the fourth was given both Taxol and curcumin.

After five weeks, only half the mice in the curcumin-only group and just 22% of those in the curcumin plus Taxol group had evidence of breast cancer that had spread to the lungs.

But 75% of the mice that got Taxol alone and 95% of the control group developed lung tumours.

How did curcumin help? “Curcumin acts against transcription factors, which are like a master switch,” said lead researcher, Bharat Aggarwal. “Transcription factors regulate all the genes needed for tumors to form. When we turn them off, we shut down some genes that are involved in the growth and invasion of cancer cells.”

In another laboratory study of human non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma cells published in Biochemical Pharmacology (September 2005), University of Texas researchers showed that curcumin inhibits the activation of NF-kappaB, a regulatory molecule that signals genes to produce a slew of inflammatory molecules (including TNF, COX-2 and IL-6) that promote cancer cell growth. In addition, curcumin was found to suppress cancer cell proliferation and to induce cell cycle arrest and apoptosis (cell suicide) in the lung cancer cells. Early phase I clinical trials at the University of Texas are now also looking into curcumin’s chemopreventive and therapeutic properties against multiple myeloma and pancreatic cancer, and other research groups are investigating curcumin’s ability to prevent oral cancer.

Turmeric and Onions May Help Prevent Colon Cancer

Curcumin, a phytonutrient found in the curry spice turmeric, and quercitin, an antioxidant in onions, reduce both the size and number of precancerous lesions in the human intestinal tract, shows research published in the August 2006 issue of Clinical Gasteroenterology and Hepatology.

Five patients with an inherited form of precancerous polyps in the lower bowel known as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) were treated with regular doses of curcumin and quercetin over an average of six months. The average number of polyps dropped 60.4%, and the average size of the polyps that did develop dropped by 50.9%.

FAP runs in families and is characterized by the development of hundreds of polyps (colorectal adenomas) and, eventually, colon cancer. Recently, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs such as aspirin, ibuprofen) have been used to treat some patients with this condition, but these drugs often produce significant side effects, including gastrointestinal ulcerations and bleeding, according to lead researcher Francis M. Giardiello, M.D., at the Division of Gastroenterology, Johns Hopkins University.

Previous observational studies in populations that consume large amounts of curry, as well as animal research, have strongly suggested that curcumin, one of the main ingredients in Asian curries, might be effective in preventing and/or treating cancer in the lower intestine. Similarly, quercetin, an anti-oxidant flavonoid found in a variety of foods including onions, green tea and red wine, has been shown to inhibit growth of colon cancer cell lines in humans and abnormal colorectal cells in animals.

In this study, a decrease in polyp number was observed in four of five patients at three months and four of four patients at six months.

Each patient received curcumin (480 mg) and quercetin (20 mg) orally 3 times a day for 6 months. Although the amount of quercetin was similar to what many people consume daily, the curcumin consumed was more than would be provided in a typical diet because turmeric only contains on average 3-5 % curcumin by weight.

While simply consuming curry and onions may not have as dramatic an effect as was produced in this study, this research clearly demonstrates that liberal use of turmeric and onions can play a protective role against the development of colorectal cancer. And turmeric doesn’t have to only be used in curries. This spice is delicious on healthy sautéed apples, and healthy steamed cauliflower and/or green beans and onions. Or, for a flavor-rich, low-calorie dip, try adding some turmeric and dried onion to creamy yogurt.

Turmeric Teams Up with Cauliflower to Halt Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer—the second leading cause of cancer death in American men with 500,000 new cases appearing each year—is a rare occurrence among men in India, whose low risk is attributed to a diet rich in brassica family vegetables and the curry spice, turmeric.

Scientists tested turmeric, a concentrated source of the phytonutrient curcumin, along with phenethyl isothiocyanates, a phytochemical abundant in cruciferous vegetables including cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, kohlrabi and turnips.

When tested singly, both phenethyl isothiocyanate and curcumin greatly retarded the growth of human prostate cancer cells implanted in immune-deficient mice. In mice with well-established prostate cancer tumors, neither phenethyl isothiocyanate nor curcumin by itself had a protective effect, but when combined, they significantly reduced both tumor growth and the ability of the prostate cancer cells to spread (metastasize) in the test animals.

The researchers believe the combination of cruciferous vegetables and curcumin could be an effective therapy not only to prevent prostate cancer, but to inhibit the spread of established prostate cancers. Best of all, this combination—cauliflower spiced with turmeric—is absolutely delicious! For protection against prostate cancer, cut cauliflower florets in quarters and let sit for 5-10 minutes; this allows time for the production of phenethyl isothiocyanates, which form when cruciferous vegetables are cut, but stops when they are heated. Then sprinkle with turmeric, and healthy sauté on medium heat in a few tablespoons of vegetable or chicken broth for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and top with olive oil, sea salt and pepper to taste.

Reduce Risk of Childhood Leukemia

Research presented at a recent conference on childhood leukemia, held in London, provides evidence that eating foods spiced with turmeric could reduce the risk of developing childhood leukemia. The incidence of this cancer has risen dramatically during the 20th century, mainly in children under age five, among whom the risk has increased by more than 50% cent since 1950 alone. Modern environmental and lifestyle factors are thought to play a major role in this increase.

Childhood leukemia is much lower in Asia than Western countries, which may be due to differences in diet, one of which, the frequent use of turmeric, has been investigated in a series of studies over the last 20 years by Prof. Moolky Nagabhushan from the Loyola University Medical Centre, Chicago, IL.

“Some of the known risk factors that contribute to the high incidence of childhood leukemia are the interaction of many lifestyle and environmental factors. These include prenatal or postnatal exposure to radiation, benzene, environmental pollutants and alkylating chemotherapeutic drugs. Our studies show that turmeric—and its colouring principle, curcumin—in the diet mitigate the effects of some of these risk factors.”

Nagabhushan has shown that the curcumin in turmeric can:

  • inhibit the mutagenicity of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) (carcinogenic chemicals created by the burning of carbon based fuels including cigarette smoke)
  • inhibit radiation-induced chromosome damage
  • prevent the formation of harmful heterocyclic amines and nitroso compounds, which may result in the body when certain processed foods, such as processed meat products that contain nitrosamines, are eaten
  • irreversibly inhibit the multiplication of leukemia cells in a cell culture

Improved Liver Function

In a recent rat study conducted to evaluate the effects of turmeric on the liver’s ability to detoxify xenobiotic (toxic) chemicals, levels of two very important liver detoxification enzymes (UDP glucuronyl transferase and glutathione-S-transferase) were significantly elevated in rats fed turmeric as compared to controls. The researchers commented, “The results suggest that turmeric may increase detoxification systems in addition to its anti-oxidant properties…Turmeric used widely as a spice would probably mitigate the effects of several dietary carcinogens.”

Curcumin has been shown to prevent colon cancer in rodent studies. When researchers set up a study to analyze how curcumin works, they found that it inhibits free radical damage of fats (such as those found in cell membranes and cholesterol), prevents the formation of the inflammatory chemical cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2), and induces the formation of a primary liver detoxification enzyme, glutathione S-transferase (GST) enzymes. When the rats were given curcumin for 14 days, their livers’ production of GST increased by 16%, and a marker of free radical damage called malondialdehyde decreased by 36% when compared with controls. During this two week period, the researchers gave the rats a cancer-causing chemical called carbon tetrachloride. In the rats not fed curcumin, markers of free radical damage to colon cells went up, but in the rats given turmeric, this increase was prevented by dietary curcumin. Lastly, the researchers compared giving turmeric in the diet versus injecting curcumin into the rats’ colons. They found injecting curcumin resulted in more curcumin in the blood, but much less in the colon mucosa. They concluded, “The results show that curcumin mixed with the diet achieves drug levels in the colon and liver sufficient to explain the pharmacological activities observed and suggest that this mode of administration may be preferable for the chemoprevention of colon cancer.”

Cardiovascular Protection

Curcumin may be able to prevent the oxidation of cholesterol in the body. Since oxidized cholesterol is what damages blood vessels and builds up in the plaques that can lead to heart attack or stroke, preventing the oxidation of new cholesterol may help to reduce the progression of atherosclerosis and diabetic heart disease. In addition, turmeric is a good source of vitamin B6, which is needed to keep homocysteine levels from getting too high. Homocysteine, an intermediate product of an important cellular process called methylation, is directly damaging to blood vessel walls. High levels of homocysteine are considered a significant risk factor for blood vessel damage, atherosclerotic plaque build-up, and heart disease; while a high intake of vitamin B6 is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease.

In research published in the Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology, when 10 healthy volunteers consumed 500 mg of curcumin per day for 7 days, not only did their blood levels of oxidized cholesterol drop by 33%, but their total cholesterol droped 11.63% , and their HDL (good cholesterol) increased by 29%! (Soni KB, Kuttan R).

How Turmeric Lowers Cholesterol

Tumeric’s cholesterol-lowering effects are the result of the curry spice’s active constituent, curcumin, which research reveals is a messaging molecule that communicates with genes in liver cells, directing them to increase the production of mRNA (messenger proteins) that direct the creation of receptors for LDL (bad) cholesterol. With more LDL-receptors, liver cells are able to clear more LDL-cholesterol from the body.

LDL-receptor mRNA increased sevenfold in liver cells treated with curcumin at a concentration of 10 microM, compared to untreated cells. (Liver cells were found to tolerate curcumin at levels of up to 12. microM for 24 hours). (Peschel D, Koerting R, et al. J Nutr Biochem)

Practical Tips:

Help increase your liver’s ability to clear LDL-cholesterol by relying on turmeric, not just for delicious fish, meat or lentil curries, but to spice up healthy sautéed onions, potatoes and/or cauliflower; or as the key flavoring for a creamy vegetable dip. Just mix plain yogurt with a little omega-3-rich mayonnaise and turmeric, salt and pepper to taste. Serve with raw cauliflower, celery, sweet pepper, jicama and broccoli florets. Be sure to choose turmeric rather than prepared curry blends. Recent research indicates the amount of turmeric (and therefore curcumin) in curry blends is often minimal.(Tayyem RF et al.,Nutr Cancer)

For the most curcumin, be sure to use turmeric rather curry powder—a study analyzing curcumin content in 28 spice products described as turmeric or curry powders found that pure turmeric powder had the highest concentration of curcumin, averaging 3.14% by weight. The curry powder samples, with one exception, contained very small amounts of curcumin. (Tayyem RF, Heath DD, et al. Nutr Cancer)

Protection against Alzheimer’s Disease

Growing evidence suggests that turmeric may afford protection against neurodegenerative diseases. Epidemiological studies show that in elderly Indian populations, among whose diet turmeric is a common spice, levels of neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s are very low. Concurrently, experimental research conducted recently found that curcumin does appear to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s in mice. Preliminary studies in mice also suggest that curcumin may block the progression of multiple sclerosis. While it is still unclear how it may afford protection against this degenerative condition, one theory is that it may interrupt the production of IL-2, a protein that can play a key role in the destruction of myelin, the sheath that serves to protect most nerves in the body.

A number of studies have suggested that curcumin, the biologically active constituent in turmeric, protects against Alzheimer’s disease by turning on a gene that codes for the production of antioxidant proteins. A study published in the Italian Journal of Biochemistry (December 2003) discussed curcumin’s role in the induction of the the heme oxygenase pathway, a protective system that, when triggered in brain tissue, causes the production of the potent antioxidant bilirubin, which protects the brain against oxidative (free radical) injury. Such oxidation is thought to be a major factor in aging and to be responsible for neurodegenerative disorders including dementias like Alzheimer’s disease. Another study conducted jointly by an Italian and U.S. team and presented at the American Physiological Society’s 2004 annual conference in Washington, DC, confirmed that curcumin strongly induces expression of the gene, called hemeoxygenase-1 (HO-1) in astrocytes from the hippocampal region of the brain.

Description

Turmeric was traditionally called Indian saffron since its deep yellow-orange color is similar to that of the prized saffron. It has been used throughout history as a condiment, healing remedy and textile dye.

Turmeric comes from the root of the Curcuma longa plant and has a tough brown skin and a deep orange flesh. This herb has a very interesting taste and aroma. Its flavor is peppery, warm and bitter while its fragrance is mild yet slightly reminiscent of orange and ginger, to which it is related.

History

Turmeric is native to Indonesia and southern India, where it has been harvested for more than 5,000 years. It has served an important role in many traditional cultures throughout the East, including being a revered member of the Ayurvedic pharmacopeia. While Arab traders introduced it into Europe in the 13th century, it has only recently become popular in Western cultures. Much of its recent popularity is owed to the recent research that has highlighted its therapeutic properties. The leading commercial producers of turmeric include India, Indonesia, China, the Philippines, Taiwan, Haiti and Jamaica.

How to Select and Store

Even through dried herbs and spices are widely available in supermarkets, explore the local spice stores or ethnic markets in your area. Oftentimes, these stores feature an expansive selection of dried herbs and spices that are of superior quality and freshness than those offered in regular markets. Just like with other dried spices, try to select organically grown turmeric since this will give you more assurance that the herb has not been irradiated. Since the color of turmeric varies among varieties, it is not a criterion of quality.

For the most curcumin, be sure to use turmeric rather curry powder—a study analyzing curcumin content in 28 spice products described as turmeric or curry powders found that pure turmeric powder had the highest concentration of curcumin, averaging 3.14% by weight. The curry powder samples, with one exception, contained very small amounts of curcumin. (Tayyem RF, Heath DD, et al. Nutr Cancer)

Turmeric powder should kept in a tightly sealed container in a cool, dark and dry place. Fresh turmeric rhizome should be kept in the refrigerator.

Tips for Preparing and Cooking

Tips for Preparing Turmeric

Be careful when using turmeric since its deep color can easily stain. To avoid a lasting stain, quickly wash any area with which it has made contact with soap and water. To prevent staining your hands, you might consider wearing kitchen gloves while handling turmeric.

If you are able to find turmeric rhizomes in the grocery store, you can make your own fresh turmeric powder by boiling, drying and then grinding it into a fine consistency.

How to Enjoy

A Few Quick Serving Ideas
  • Add turmeric to egg salad to give it an even bolder yellow color.
  • Mix brown rice with raisins and cashews and season with turmeric, cumin and coriander.
  • Although turmeric is generally a staple ingredient in curry powder, some people like to add a little extra of this spice when preparing curries. And turmeric doesn’t have to only be used in curries. This spice is delicious on healthy sautéed apples, and healthy steamed cauliflower and/or green beans and onions. Or, for a creamy, flavor-rich, low-calorie dip, try mixing some turmeric and dried onion with a little omega-3-rich mayonnaise, salt and pepper. Serve with raw cauliflower, celery, sweet pepper, jicama and broccoli florets.
  • Turmeric is a great spice to complement recipes that feature lentils.
  • Give salad dressings an orange-yellow hue by adding some turmeric powder to them.
  • For an especially delicious way to add more turmeric to your healthy way of eating, cut cauliflower florets in half and healthy sauté with a generous spoonful of turmeric for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.

 

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