Turmeric, the most popular spice in your kitchen is also one of the most powerful herbs on this planet that possess lots of health benefits.
A vast majority of studies have been done on turmeric and its active ingredient curcumin continues to surprise researchers.
Almost all the health benefits of turmeric are attributed to curcumin. Curcumin works as a polyphenol that regulates inflammation, oxidation, blood sugar levels, cell signalling, blood fat levels and levels of omega 3 fatty acids in the brain.
Over 6000 studies relating to curcumin confirm that it works as effectively as some conventional medications such as cholesterol medications, steroid medications, antidepressants, blood thinners, anti-inflammatory drugs, chemotherapy drugs and diabetes drugs.
Turmeric is also a potent source of nutrients such as vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, niacin, potassium, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, zinc, dietary fiber and protein.
In this article, we have put together some of the research backed health benefits of turmeric, side effects of turmeric and how to include turmeric in your daily diet.
What is the Role of Curcumin found in Turmeric?
Curcuminoids are the main bioactive compounds present in turmeric and the most important curcuminoid is curcumin with possess numerous medicinal properties. Curcumin is the main active ingredient in turmeric that has powerful anti-inflammatory effects and it is a strong antioxidant. Several studies suggest that curcumin can reduce inflammation and ease the symptoms of arthritis, prevent and treat breast cancer, colorectal cancer and skin cancer. Other preliminary labs studies suggest that curcumin can provide protection against, Alzheimer’s disease, skin diseases, diabetes, heart disease, etc.
Top 10 Health Benefits of Turmeric:
1. Potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant
Short term inflammation is necessary for the body to fight pathogens and promote damage repair. But chronic, low level inflammation can lead to heart disease, Alzheimer’s, Diabetes, etc. Research shows that curcumin, the bioactive component in turmeric is a potent anti-inflammatory compound that works as effectively as some anti-inflammatory drugs without causing any side-effects. It works by targeting multiple steps in the pathway of inflammation, at a molecular level.
Oxidative damage caused by free radicals is one of the main reasons for cancer. The free radicals react with DNA, protein and fatty acids in the body and change their normal structure. Antioxidants in turmeric protect the body from free radicals. Curcumin neutralizes the free radicals and also promotes the activity of the body’s natural antioxidant enzymes.
2. Improves brain function and reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s
Research shows that a particular growth hormone known as Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) can promote new connections in between neurons and also multiply and increase the number of neurons in the brain. Various common brain disorders such as depression, Alzheimer’s disease and age-related cognitive decline are linked to decreased levels of the hormone BDNF. Curcumin, however, increases the level of BDNF in the brain which helps to delay and even reverse certain brain disorders and age-related decline in brain function. It can also help to improve memory.
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that is caused due to inflammation and oxidative damage. In Alzheimer’s disease, protein tangles called Amyloid plaques build up in the brain. But studies show that curcumin can clear up these plaques and slow down or reverse the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
3. Prevent and treat cancer
Curcumin and cancer treatment is one of the most widely researched topics and a number of studies conducted in laboratories show that curcumin does have anticancer effects on cancer cells. It not only kills the cancer cells, but also prevents them from growing and multiplying. It is most effective in case of breast cancer, bowel cancer, stomach cancer and skin cancer.
A 2007 American study combined curcumin with chemotherapy to treat bowel cancer. It was seen that the combined treatment destroyed more cancer cells compared to chemotherapy alone. The cancer-fighting properties of turmeric can be attributed to its antioxidant mechanisms, anti-inflammatory mechanisms, immuno-regualtory mechanisms, enzyme-related mechanisms and cell signalling and cell cycle mechanisms. Curcumin also promotes Phase II detox activity in the body that allows the cells to bind harmful toxins with other molecules so that they can be flushed out from the body, which in turn reduces the risk of cancer development.
4. Protect the liver
The live is one of the most important organs of the body that produces bile that aids digestion, removes toxins from the blood and converts food into energy. But a number of external and internal factors can compromise the liver function. These factors include oxidative stress, alcohol consumption, hepatitis viruses, certain medications, etc. But turmeric can exert some positive effects of liver function by improving liver detoxification and protecting the liver against oxidative stress. Curcumin inhibits NF-KappaB activation which in turn stops the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines. A study published in the journal Fundamental & Clinical Pharmacology shows that curcumin can prevent and reverse cirrhosis by reducing TGF-beta expression.
5. Treat symptoms of arthritis
Arthritis is a painful condition caused by inflammation of the joints. The potent anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin help with rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. A study of patients with rheumatoid arthritis shows that curcumin is even more effecting compared to anti-inflammatory drugs. Another research shows that taking turmeric extract alone or in combination with other herbal ingredients reduces pain and improves range of motion is people with osteoarthritis. It also works as a potent painkiller that has ability to manage pain. The European Journal of Pharmacology published a research that showed that curcumin naturally activates the opioid system in diabetic rats that helps to activate the pain-relieving response in the body.
6. Relieves Depression
A number of research trials prove that turmeric is effective in relieving the symptoms of depression in laboratory animals. In another controlled trail, 60 depression patients were divided into 3 groups. The first group took Prozac, the second group took one gram of curcumin and the third group took both Prozac and curcumin. After 6 weeks it was seen that curcumin had led considerable improvements that was similar to Prozac. The group that took both Prozac and curcumin did the best. Depression can reduce the level of brain-derived neurotrophic factor which can affect memory and learning. Curcumin boosts the level of brain-derived neurotrophic factor. It also boosts serotonin and dopamine that boosts mood and happiness.
7. Better diabetes management
Curcumin present in turmeric can help to control the development of type 2 diabetes in people with prediabetes. A study published in the journal Diabetes Care found that patients with prediabetes who took curcumin capsules were less likely to develop type 2 diabetes compared to people who did not take the curcumin capsules. Turmeric works by reducing insulin resistance and prevents type 2 diabetes. Other than correcting the causes of diabetes, curcumin can also reverse a number of issues related to insulin resistance such as diabetic neuropathy and retinopathy thanks to the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of turmeric.
8. Reduce the risk of heart disease
Heart disease is one of the main causes of death around the world and there are a number of factors that contribute to it. Curcumin reverses a number of steps that are involved in the process of heart disease. First, curcumin improves the function of the endothelium, the lining of the blood vessels. Endothelial dysfunction is one of the major causes of heart diseases that play a key role in increasing blood pressure, blood clotting, etc. Curcumin also reduces inflammation and oxidation which prevents damage of the insides of the blood vessels and arteries.
9. Aid weight loss
Curcumin promotes weight loss and helps to reduce the risk of obesity-related diseases. The Tufts University researchers tested curcumin on adipose tissues and found out that it lower the level of serum cholesterol and proteins that play a role in fat production. Curcumin can speed up fat metabolism and cause overall lowering of body fat and total body weight. Turmeric also reduces other symptoms related to obesity. The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory mechanism of curcumin wards of weight gain and curcumin directly interacts with the cells to reduce inflammation and reverse insulin resistance and hyperglycaemia.
10. Improve skin health
The powerful antiseptic and antibacterial properties of turmeric fights pimples and acne and its anti-inflammatory property helps to clear out acne scars and reduce redness, swelling and pain associated with pimples. Its antiseptic property provides quick relief in case of burns and also treats a number of skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, poison ivy, etc. Topical application of turmeric paste is the best way to treat these skin conditions. Studies show that curcumin reverses and prevents photo-aging. The antioxidants in turmeric destroy free radicals and prevent premature aging of skin.
Side Effects of Using Turmeric:
- Turmeric is considered safe when taken orally or applied to the skin. But certain people can have allergic reaction to turmeric after skin exposure. The symptoms of the allergic reaction includes mild, itchy rash.
- People suffering from gallbladder problems or those who have bile duct obstruction should avoid turmeric because it can make gallbladder problems worse.
- People with diabetes should use turmeric with caution, because curcumin can make blood sugar too low.
- Turmeric may cause stomach upset in some people and it can worsen gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
- High amounts of turmeric may cause iron deficiency by preventing absorption of iron in the body.
- Turmeric may lower testosterone levels and reduce sperm movement in men when it is taken orally and this might affect fertility.
How to Use Turmeric?
Use it to spice up your food – You can include turmeric in your vegetables, eggs and meat dishes to add some zest, nice color, appetizing flavour and lots of health benefits. You can also add it to the boiling water while preparing rice, pasta, soups, etc.
Drink turmeric tea – You can also prepare a turmeric tea by boiling 4 cups of water and adding 1 teaspoon of ground turmeric to it. Reduce the heat and let the tea simmer for 10 minutes. Strain it into a cup; add a teaspoon of honey or lemon juice to taste.
Use a turmeric supplement – A wide variety of turmeric supplements is available in the market in the form of capsule. It is best to opt for a CO2 extracted form of turmeric. The recommended daily dosage of turmeric supplement is 800 to 100 mg.
Although, curcumin is the main active ingredient in turmeric, but curcumin content of turmeric is merely 3% by weight. So, it is very difficult to reach the daily recommended dosage of curcumin only by using turmeric in your foods. You need to take an extract or supplement that contains significant amount of curcumin. There is another problem with oral consumption of curcumin. It is poorly absorbed into the blood stream. Taking turmeric in combination with black pepper, which contains piperine, can improve the absorbability of curcumin throughout the body.
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