Nine amazing health benefits of turmeric

Curcuma_longa_roots

It’s the superfood of the moment. Not an unusual fruit, or an exotic plant no one’s ever heard of, but an everyday spice: turmeric. It’s popped up in juice bars and in coffee shops as turmeric lattes, and is currently one of the most highly searched food terms in Google.

So what accounts for the sudden popularity of this simple spice? As well as imparting delicious flavour and stunning colour to curries, turmeric has actually been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine for its health benefits. Modern science – and popular culture! – are only now discovering just how powerful it can be.

Here are some of the reasons everyone’s talking about turmeric.

1. Anti-inflammatory

One of the most researched properties of turmeric is its anti-inflammatory activity. A specific compound in turmeric called curcumin is thought to have particularly powerful anti-inflammatory properties [1], but other substances may also play a role [2].

Inflammation is a natural process that’s necessary for repair and healing. But when it becomes long-lasting or out of control, it can cause health problems. These include painful conditions such as arthritis (where there’s pain, there’s nearly always inflammation). But many other common health conditions also involve ‘hidden’ inflammation – including heart disease, obesity, allergies, skin problems such as eczema, and even Alzheimer’s disease. In other words, many of the conditions that characterise 21st century living.

What’s more, inflammation can be caused – or made worse – by many of the challenges of modern life. Poor diet, high stress levels, lack of sleep and poor gut health can all contribute.

It’s clear that we’re in great need of anything that can help to balance and reduce inflammation! This is what gives turmeric such a huge potential to support our health.

2. Joint support

It’s this very anti-inflammatory activity that makes turmeric supportive for joint health. Joint pain and arthritis are among the most obvious signs of inflammation. And so anything that helps to balance inflammation may relieve symptoms – or even help prevent the problem occurring in the first place.

The results of several clinical trials suggest that turmeric or curcumin may indeed help to relieve joint pain and other symptoms of arthritis. This includes both common types of arthritis – rheumatoid arthritis, which is an autoimmune condition [3], and osteoarthritis – the classic ‘wear and tear’ type [4].

3. Digestive

Another traditional use of turmeric is to support digestion. It’s thought to work as a ‘cholagogue’, which means it stimulates bile production in the liver, and encourages the gallbladder to release bile into the digestive tract. Bile helps to break down and digest the fats in our foods. If that doesn’t sound like a good thing, then remember that we need fats in our body for a host of reasons, including keeping our brain, heart and eyes healthy, for making hormones such as testosterone and oestrogen, and for good skin health. We also need good digestion of fats in order to absorb fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin A, which is vital for our vision, skin and immunity. Bile also helps us to have normal bowel movements, and excretes toxins that have been filtered out of our blood by our liver.

4. Anti-microbial

Modern science was aware of turmeric’s anti-microbial activity even before its anti-inflammatory activity. Turmeric has been found to have anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-parasitic and anti-viral action, against a wide range of nasty bugs. [5] So next time you get a cold, try making a home-made turmeric latte or tea with fresh turmeric; or for an easier option, a turmeric supplement could be a good addition to your vitamin C, zinc and Echinacea!

5. Brain-protecting

Losing our memory as we age is among many people’s worst fears. This makes protecting our brain health a priority as we get older. There are many things we can do to help ourselves, including eating a diet based on whole foods, making sure we get enough healthy fats – especially omega 3s from oily fish, limiting sugar intake, and keeping up our activity – both physical and mental.

But turmeric could also help to protect our brain. Animal studies have found that curcumin from turmeric may have a beneficial effect on brain function and help to prevent dementia, thanks to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. [6] Research has even examined its potential to help prevent Alzheimer’s disease [6, 7]. More human trials are needed to prove that turmeric can help the brain, but the results look promising.

6. Heart-loving

We already saw that heart disease involves inflammation, and therefore the anti-inflammatory effect of turmeric could play a protective role.

But research suggests that the spice could also have other benefits for our heart. These may include helping to reduce cholesterol, thin the blood to keep it flowing normally, and prevent abnormal blood clotting [8]. Animal studies have also indicated that curcumin may help prevent the damage to blood vessels that can lead to atherosclerosis (plaque build-up in the arteries). [9]

7. Mood-enhancing

Our favourite super-spice may also have benefits for mood. Animal studies and some small human clinical trials indicate that curcumin in particular could have anti-depressant properties [10]. One study on 60 patients even suggested that taking high doses of curcumin had similar benefits to an anti-depressant medication [11]. It may work by increasing levels of serotonin – the ‘happy hormone’ – and dopamine, which is associated with feelings of reward and motivation [12].

There’s not enough evidence as yet to use curcumin or turmeric for diagnosed depression; and it’s always essential to consult a doctor if you think you may be experiencing depression. However, the ‘mood-lifting’ effects of turmeric could be an unexpected benefit of including it in our diet.

8. Healthy skin / anti-ageing

Yes, turmeric may even improve our skin health and protect against ageing.

A recent scientific review examined the results of 18 studies on turmeric or curcumin and skin health, looking at skin ageing as well as skin diseases such as acne, eczema and psoriasis. In 10 of the 18 studies, the turmeric or curcumin improved skin condition [13].

Curcumin may specifically protect against sun damage too, via its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity [14].

9. Weight management

If you thought this golden spice couldn’t have any more benefits, think again: turmeric may also support weight control and body composition. But how?

It’s been found that obesity is an ‘inflammatory state’ – in other words, people who are obese have a lot of inflammation in certain cells and tissues of their body [15]. This means that anything that reduces inflammation could have a beneficial effect in supporting their health and a return to a healthy weight.

Research on curcumin in particular indicates that it could indeed help with weight loss. It’s been found to have a direct effect on fatty tissue in the body, reducing inflammation [16]. It may also help reduce insulin resistance and lower blood sugar levels (both important factors in weight gain) [17] and even slow down the development of fat cells [16].

Turmeric / curcumin supplements

Using fresh turmeric in drinks and food is a fantastic way to get more of this amazing spice. But it can be messy, and a hassle to do every day!

An easier way to get your daily dose can be taking a turmeric or curcumin supplement. If you prefer turmeric in its most natural form, try a whole turmeric supplement such as Pukka’s Wholistic Turmeric or Terranova’s Turmeric 350mg. Or if you’d prefer a concentrated curcumin supplement (like those used in a lot of the scientific research), then try Good Health Naturally Curcumin X4000, which has been specifically formulated to be easier to absorb than a standard curcumin or turmeric.

 

References

  1. Bengmark S et al. Plant-derived health: the effects of turmeric and curcuminoids. Nutr Hosp. 2009 May-Jun;24(3):273-81.
  2. Aggarwal BB et al. Curcumin-free turmeric exhibits anti-inflammatory and anticancer activities: Identification of novel components of turmeric. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2013 Sep;57(9):1529-42.
  3. Chandran B, Goel A. A randomized, pilot study to assess the efficacy and safety of curcumin in patients with active rheumatoid arthritis. Phytother Res. 2012 Nov;26(11):1719-25.
  4. Henrotin Y et al. Decrease of a specific biomarker of collagen degradation in osteoarthritis, Coll2-1, by treatment with highly bioavailable curcumin during an exploratory clinical trial. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2014 May 17;14:159.
  5. Moghadamtousi SZ et al. A review on antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal activity of curcumin. Biomed Res Int. 2014;2014:186864.
  6. Goozee KG et al. Examining the potential clinical value of curcumin in the prevention and diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. Br J Nutr. 2016 Feb 14;115(3):449-65.
  7. Hamaguchi T et al. REVIEW: Curcumin and Alzheimer’s disease. CNS Neurosci Ther. 2010 Oct;16(5):285-97.
  8. Shishodia S et al. Modulation of transcription factors by curcumin. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2007;595:127-48.
  9. Shin SK et al. Long-term curcumin administration protects against atherosclerosis via hepatic regulation of lipoprotein cholesterol metabolism. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2011 Dec;55(12):1829-40.
  10. Al-Karawi D et al. The Role of Curcumin Administration in Patients with Major Depressive Disorder: Mini Meta-Analysis of Clinical Trials. Phytother Res. 2016 Feb;30(2):175-83.
  11. Sanmukhani J et al. Efficacy and safety of curcumin in major depressive disorder: a randomized controlled trial. Phytother Res. 2014 Apr;28(4):579-85.
  12. Kulkarni SK et al. Antidepressant activity of curcumin: involvement of serotonin and dopamine system. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2008 Dec;201(3):435-42.
  13. Vaughn AR et al. Effects of Turmeric (Curcuma longa) on Skin Health: A Systematic Review of the Clinical Evidence. Phytother Res. 2016 May 23. [Epub ahead of print]
  14. Heng MC et al. Curcumin targeted signaling pathways: basis for anti-photoaging and anti-carcinogenic therapy. Int J Dermatol. 2010 Jun;49(6):608-22.
  15. Gregor MF, Hotamisligil GS. Inflammatory mechanisms in obesity. Annu Rev Immunol. 2011;29:415-45.
  16. Bradford PG. Curcumin and obesity. Biofactors. 2013 Jan-Feb;39(1):78-87.
  17. Shehzad A et al. New mechanisms and the anti-inflammatory role of curcumin in obesity and obesity-related metabolic diseases. Eur J Nutr. 2011 Apr;50(3):151-61.
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