Turmeric: Research-Backed Health Benefits & Uses
Turmeric is one of the most well researched natural substances that we have access to. Its effects are unparalleled in nearly all domains to do with wellness and healing. This root is rich in polyphenols and antioxidants; its anti-inflammatory uses are unparalleled in the world of medicinal substances. Contributed by Chantelle Zakariasen of Roots and Sprouts.
What a wonder that nature has given us such a powerful plant ally to cope with high rates of modern disease. Without the nasty side effects we see from the alternatives like chemotherapy and NSAID and overuse of antibiotics.
Turmeric is a root which has been used traditionally in the Indian medicine system of Ayurveda for thousands of years. It’s active polyphenol curcumin has also been studied extensively and the therapeutic properties of this food are absolutely jaw dropping.
Curcumin isn’t the only active medicinal compound in turmeric, turmorones and curlone are other compounds which have anti-bacterial activity (1).
Traditionally turmeric has been used to treat conditions of the stomach like ulcers and inflammatory conditions. It’s also been used as an all natural textile dye.
How to Use Turmeric
There are many ways to incorporate the healing power of turmeric. A main ingredient in most curries, turmeric gives a beautiful burst of color but doesn’t offer much in the flavor domain.
That being said, its a versatile substance which you can add to just about anything. Find our top uses below:
- In Ayurveda, turmeric is consumed in the classic drink ‘golden milk’ in which it is mixed with turmeric, black pepper (which increases absorption) and sometimes warming chai spices like cinnamon and clove (2). You can use nondairy milk, of course.
- Another way to consume turmeric is to mix it with honey or agave and add it to your tea or hot water.
- Some people looking for a higher concentration of the potent polyphenol curcumin, opt for a supplement form which is particularly useful for chronic disorders.
- Add it to green smoothies.
- Add it to soups, stews and curries.
- Use it to tint foods a glorious golden yellow.
- Make turmeric oil by combining turmeric powder or freshly grated turmeric into a jar of your favourite oil.
- Juice the fresh root.
- Add it to salad dressings.
However you choose to harness the power of turmeric, there’s no question that everyone should be utilizing the anti-inflammatory medicine of this useful substance.
As we’ve discussed in previous articles, inflammation is at the root of all illness, if we can control inflammation we can protect ourselves from a bevy of chronic diseases.
There’s no downside to including turmeric in your diet, and the list of benefits continues to grow. So far there have been over 5000 research studies done on turmeric and that number grows as does people’s awareness about this nutritive substance.
“At the very least turmeric must be recognized as an embodiment of profound intelligence, as it possesses the ability to modulate over 170 distinct physiological processes within the body in a way that can ameliorate physical suffering.”- Sayer Ji (3)
Antioxidants play an important role in keeping us healthy. Utilizing antioxidant rich substances is the best way to protect against a myriad of illnesses caused by oxidative stress.
We think of antioxidants and pomegranate and blueberries come to mind, but turmeric is actually higher in antioxidants than most fruits and vegetables. Turmeric also raises the levels of glutathione, the bodies most abundant antioxidant.
Aging is of course a completely natural process, but today in a fast paced, toxin filled world, the process of ageing is significantly sped up. Most of us consume plenty of free radicals from the environment which cause damage to our cells, and few sources of healthy antioxidants to combat this damage.
Oxidative stress is linked to many diseases and the only way to fight it is consuming plenty of antioxidants.
Telomeres are the end cap portion of each DNA strand, they shorten as we get older and many researchers postulate that this is the main cause of ageing. Preservation of telomere length results in preservation of youth and vitality and avoidance of common issues associated with ageing.
Curcumin has been shown to preserve telomere length and it also has an abundace of antioxidants to combat oxidative stress (4).
The polyphenol in turmeric which gives it that brilliant saffron hue is known as curcumin, this substance has been found to be anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant (5).
There aren’t many substances in that world that can make the claims which turmeric can.
Potential Cancer Fighter*
Cancer stem cells are thought to be the root cause of cancer, if we could just find a way to target the stem cells, perhaps there would be hope?
Well, don’t think twice, turmerics active polyphenol curcumin has been shown to directly and indirectly influence at least three self renewal pathways in cancer stem cells (6).
Curcumin also has the capacity to differentiate between healthy cells and cancer cells (7).
A unique compound slightly different from isolated curcumin known as liposomal curcumin has a positive effect on treating pancreatic cancer, one of the worst forms of cancer, most people are given a very short time to live in the final stages of this disease.
Employing this special compound can inhibits tutor growth by up to 42% (8).
Rates of breast cancer are on the rise and its now estimated that 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer over her lifetime.
The most aggressive and treatment resistant form of breast cancer is called triple negative breast cancer, researchers in one study on TNBC utilized curcumin and found it induced apoptosis (cell death) in these resilient cancer cells (9).
Ar-tumerone is another compound found in turmeric and has been used to treat leukaemia and shown to induce programmed cell death (10).
*No, this is not a cure for cancer but the research and studies are exciting and noteworthy.
The rampant overuse and abuse of antibiotics has created quite a few problems. Internally, our essential gut flora is wiped out, leaving us susceptible to just about anything.
This creates a vicious cycle of illness where the only thing which can cure us is the very thing making us sick.
The best thing about utilizing the medicine of turmeric instead of relying on antibiotics, is that it won’t harm the gut flora, and it comes with a bevy of other benefits.
Another problem with overuse of antibiotics, is that many bacteria have evolved to become completely resilient to the antibiotics.
Curcumin has the capacity to resensitize infectious bacteria to conventional antibiotics(11), the implications of such a finding are profound.
Of course there are cases where antibiotics are life saving, but not when the bacteria have evolved to thrive in any circumstance.
Curcumin extract has been found to be effective even against resilient pathogenic bacteria such as Acinetobacter baumannii to which many antibiotic resistant super bugs have evolved (12).
Protects the Liver
Our livers are under a lot of stress these days, it’s their job to filter toxins and protect us from ingested pollutants. For anyone on any kind of drug the burden on the liver is even greater. There have been many studies done on curcumins effect on the liver and the results of these are promosing.
Turmeric also has glutathione boosting capacity, liver cells rely on glutathione to protect it against harmful free radicals.
Curcumin kills liver cancer cells and tumours (13) In this case, a 6 month old baby liver disease was treated successfully with curcumin and monitored over the course of six years.
Turmeric protects and heals the livers of diabetics (14)
Fermented turmeric inhibits liver damage by lowering alanine aminotransferase (ALT) levels which indicate liver damage (15)
Curcumin raises levels of HDL, the good cholesterol which protects against heart disease and lowers triglycerides (16). The role of cholesterol is often misunderstood. Cholesterol in the form of HDL is very healthy and necessary for hormone production.
A preparation of curcuminoids is a favourable alternative to the common cholesterol lowering drug Lipitor in its function to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress (17).
Curcumin treating lowered the risk of heart attack post coronary artery bypass grafting by more than 50% of the placebo (18), the study authors notes stated:
“we demonstrated that curcuminoids significantly decreased MI associated with CABG. The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of curcuminoids may account for their cardioprotective effects shown in this study.”
Curcumin has a cardioprotective effect comparable to the benefits obtained through regular exercise (19). Not that you should use it to replace exercise, as there are other important benefits gained from exercise alone.
Treating and Preventing Diabetes
Diabetes is a disease which we can conquer with the right tools and techniques. Turmeric is certainly one of them, along with a diet low in refined sugar and carbs and practices like juicing and exercise. There’s no reason why we should have such high levels of diabetes.
In pre-diabetic patients curcumin was shown to prevent development of type-2 diabetes 100% over the course of a nine month treatment (20)
There have been at least 30 studies done on the interaction and effects of turmeric for treating both type-1 (21) and 2 diabetes.
One study showed curcumins potential to regenerate liver tissues of diabetic rats (22).
Modern convenience pain medications like ibuprofen and other NSAID (non steroidal anti inflammatory drugs) aren’t a great long term pain solution. Their toxic to the liver and thought to contribute to thousands of deaths from heart disease annually.
The good news, is that recent trials show turmeric extract to be more effective at long term pain management and with far less negative side effects (23).
Inflammation is a natural mechanism brought forth because something has gone awry. Without this system to let us know we need to slow down, we would only continue to make the problem worse. Our inflammatory response wasn’t designed to be numbed by pain medication.
When we use painkillers we don’t get to the root of the inflammatory issue. How amazing is it that a substance like turmeric exists, which is actually more effective at helping with the pain as well as providing a long term solution that addresses the root of the issue.
The anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric are truly astounding, you won’t see another substance come close to this one in its effectiveness. If you delve deep to the root of every single disease that exists, you will find one common factor throughout them all, inflammation.
Turmeric shows promise to be just as effective as all common pharmaceutical drugs including aspirin, and ibuprofen.
Rheumatoid Arthritis is a painful autoimmune condition afflicting millions of individuals. The usual treatment involves pain killers which only work to mask symptoms.
Steroid injections are another treatment which has long term negative side effects. Turmeric extract curcumin in studies compared to treatment using diclofenac sodium (common NSAID drug) actually exceeded the NSAID in its efficacy (24).
Curcumin inhibits Autoimmune disorders (25) Sufferers of various autoimmune disorders including multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, lupus, psoriasis and more can benefit from supplementing with curcumin on a daily basis. It works by regulating inflammatory cytokines and signalling pathways in immune cells.
Can Improve or Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease, Dementia and Other Mental Health Problems
Why else, other than their cultural integration of turmeric, would India have the lowest rates of Alzheimer’s disease in the world. Multiple studies have now shown turmeric to have a regenerative effect on the brain, drastically improving symptoms from the all too common form of dementia, Alzheimer’s (26) (27)(28).
Rates for this devastating disease are expected to rise, so we’d better buckle our seat belts and have a game plan.
Other forms of dementia can also be treated with turmeric, curcuminoids have been shown to reverse physiological damage by restoring distorted neurites (29) One study even showed a pure curcumin supplement to drastically improve brain function in just one dose as compared to a placebo (30).
There’s a new body of evidence pointing to inflammation being linked to other mental health problems aside from the well known Alzheimer’s. Depression/Anxiety and Schizophrenia also have a link in regards to brain inflammation being partially at fault (31).
Antioxidants like turmeric have a anti-inflammatory effect on the brain as well as the body. Neurotoxicity is caused by oxidative stress so ensuring an abundance of antioxidants is the sure fire method for protecting the brains performance from decline (32).
Protection from Modern Pollution
Bisphenol-A (BPA) is a harmful environmental pollutant leeched from common plastics and petroleum based products. It’s a known carcinogen yet its still present in high concentrations in our environment, and thus, in our bodies.
Curcumin has been found to reverse the toxic effects of BPA in the body and protect against breast cancer, (33) commonly associated to high levels of BPA in the environment.
Turmeric has a protective effect against a few other well known environmental toxins as well. Including other carcinogenic petroleum based pollutants like phthalates which animal studies show to have an adverse effect of human reproductive development (34).
We’re all exposed to pesticides on the daily, even if you eat 100% organic, we can’t help but live in a world saturated with Big Ag chemicals.
It’s important to consume medicinal foods to help protect us from this environmental chemical warfare. Turmeric helps the cells to protect themselves by counteracting theoxidative stress responsible for the DNA damage caused by pesticides (37).
Fluoride is added to municipal city water supplies under the guise of being good for your teeth. In reality, fluoride is a neurotoxin and calcifies the pineal gland. Ruthlessly challenging to filter out of drinking water, one protective measure you can take is turmeric (38).
The neuroprotective compounds in turmeric don’t just stop at fluoride, studies show it protects the brain from numerous environmental toxins such as …
- aluminium (39)
- mercury (40)
- nicotine (41)
- cortisone (42)
- cadmium (43)
- arsenic (44)
- alcohol (45)
- various pharmaceutical drugs (46)(47).
Heavy metal toxicity is becoming a more common problem especially for people who live in close vicinity to factories. Turmeric also has protective effects against radiation.
Using a turmeric face mask regularly can help treat and prevent acne. Turmerics anti bacterial and anti inflammatory properties help to ward off skin problems and it can also be useful in conditions like eczema and psoriasis for that reason.
Make a paste with turmeric powder and lemon juice and apply to the affected areas for 10 minutes and then rinse off with warm water. Indian brides often use a turmeric mask the night before their wedding to achieve glowing skin.
Treating Scalp Conditions
Applying turmeric to the scalp can help alleviate conditions like dermatitis and alopecia. Fungal conditions can manifest as hair loss, turmerics anti fungal properties can relieve the problem as quickly as it started. Try combining it with apple cider vinegar for double the effectiveness.
Naturally Whitens Teeth
It may sound odd to whiten your teeth with something so yellow, but brushing with turmeric paste really does help to make your pearly whites more shiny. Simply mix some turmeric with your toothpaste and brush as usual.
Soothe Bug Bites and Burns
Soothe itchy sore bites and burns with turmeric powder mixed with aloe vera gel. The anti inflammatory compounds work to relieve swelling and ease the pain.