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Benefits of Turmeric: The Science

Over the last few years, this golden spice has gained vast interest for its therapeutic potential. But what does the research have to say?


What is Turmeric?

A rich, yellow spice that is native to Asian regions, turmeric has been around for over 4000 years, long before it made its way into your lattes. Because of its vibrant colour, turmeric was labelled as the ‘Indian saffron’. In East-Asian civilisations, turmeric was used traditionally in culinary practice and for religious purposes. However, its potent effects on human health were noted long before modern research discovered its true potential. In Ayurvedic medicine, turmeric was used to treat ailments such as sinuses, diabetic wounds, and respiratory diseases (1).

Turmeric is obtained from the Curcuma Longa perennial plant. The rhizome (stem) of the plant is dried and ground to obtain the turmeric. After it is ground, it can be used for a plethora of applications, including cosmetic, foodstuff and medicinal purposes.


What are the active compounds?

Turmeric contains over 100 bioactive compounds, including volatile oils, curcuminoids, sesquiterpenes, polysaccharides and turmerone. In addition, turmeric is a rich source of iron and potassium (2).

Of particular importance, you’ve probably heard of curcumin, which is one of the most studied compounds in turmeric. After thorough research into the curcuminoid family, curcumin extracts are now widely available on the market, as well as turmeric extracts that provide higher levels of curcumin. Turmeric naturally contains 7-10% curcumin, where extracts can be as potent as 85-90%.

Curcumin is proposed to provide anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiviral and antioxidant effects once consumed. It is known that the root of diseases is caused by oxidative damage and/or inflammation. Therefore, could this wonderful spice prolong health and reduce the risk of developing diseases? Let’s take a closer look at what the evidence has to say.


Benefits of Turmeric & Curcumin:

Antioxidative benefits:
Oxidative stress can cause damage to your cells and DNA if they are not neutralised. The free radicals that cause oxidative damage can be brought on by a variety of factors, including stress, injury, poor diet, and environmental factors. In the long-run, chronic oxidative stress can lead to diseases if not dealt with properly.

Curcumin may help neutralise these free radicals, to prevent damage to our DNA. Thus, curcumin may reduce the risk of diseases brought on by oxidative stress (1).

Research suggests that curcumin has a high anti-oxidative capacity. In a trial testing curcumin supplementation (500mg/day) on patients with a blood disorder, curcumin reduced oxidative stress markers after one year of supplementation (3). Additionally, another study found that curcumin supplementation protected against DNA damage in a large sample of participants (4). Therefore, the anti-oxidative effects of curcumin are well-established in research.

Anti-inflammatory benefits:
Chronic inflammation in the body can also promote disease progression, and cause painful symptoms for sufferers. Inflammation can occur due to sports injuries, arthritis, aging, and underlying conditions. Additionally, inflammation can affect the brain, and lead to depression, anxiety, Alzheimer's, and other debilitating disorders. Science unravelled the potential use of curcumin and turmeric on combating inflammation in the body and has shown promising outcomes.

 Curcumin has been widely studied as an anti-inflammatory agent, particularly to help in joint pain and stiffness caused by arthritis. However, the same method can be applied to sports injuries, as curcumin may have the same effect on sore muscles. In a recent review on curcumin supplementation in arthritic patients, it was found that the golden spice significantly reduced pain severity and swelling in the joints compared to alternative treatment (5). It is suggested that curcumin can suppress the inflammation, by reducing the action of the inflammatory compounds present in these disease states.

In the same way, curcumin may reduce inflammation in the brain and protect brain cells from oxidative damage, thus reducing depressive symptoms. In 6 trials involving 277 patients, curcumin supplementation ameliorated depressive symptoms and anxiety compared to placebo (6). Thus, curcumin may bring hope to sufferers of inflammatory disorders. 

 

So, the science sounds great and you’d like to go ahead and supplement with turmeric. Where do you start?


When is supplementation with turmeric or curcumin necessary?

If you suffer from an inflammatory condition or are an athlete that experiences frequent aches and pains, supplementation can be of great benefit to you. However, curcumin is not a magic treatment for every condition.

What dose is suggested in research?

Sprinkling turmeric on your food isn’t enough to make the cut! Research shows that curcumin should be taken at doses between 200-1000mg/day depending on your health goals. You can be diligent about turning each of your meals into a turmeric delivery device, but it strongly flavoured and some culinary skill may be needed. Another easy option to mask the taste of turmeric is to combine it with honey. All things considered, supplementation with capsules can make usage easier and more consistent

Should I take curcumin or turmeric?

Curcumin is the main active component in turmeric. While they essentially would offer the same benefits, turmeric is milder and more useful for long-term supplementation. If you’d like something a bit stronger, curcumin is a great option for chronic inflammatory conditions.

Is black pepper necessary for absorption?

Black pepper along with ginger are thermogenic spices that may boot absorption and also slow down breakdown of the turmeric by the liver. This may lead to higher circulating blood levels. Turmeric is best absorbed if taken with fats and oils. So combine with a supplement like this Vegan Omega 3 or with a meal.

Conclusion:

Turmeric and curcumin can contribute to a myriad of health benefits if used correctly. However, it is critical to note that the golden spice is not a miracle drug that can solely treat you. Complementing a healthy diet and moderate exercise with turmeric can potentially optimise your health and wellbeing. If you are taking medication, it is best to check with a healthcare practitioner before you take turmeric. Results may take time - it’s not an overnight solution. Remember, health is not a quick-fix, it is a long-term lifestyle commitment.


References:
1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17569207
2) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92752/
3) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19900435
4) https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00213-008-1300-y
5) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5664031/
6) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28236605

Guest Author
Guest Author

This article was contributed by a guest author with expert knowledge in their field.



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