Turmeric has been getting a lot of attention lately. A member of the ginger family, it has been used since ancient times as a medicinal herb – the first documented use of turmeric dates back to 600 BC by the Assyrians.
The “active ingredient” in turmeric is curcumin, which is a rhizome (a plant with subterranean stems.) It is what gives turmeric its rich dark yellow-to-orange color. (Nutrition tip: plants with the deep vibrant colors are extremely nutrient dense!)
Today there have been numerous – perhaps thousands – of research studies on the beneficial effects of curcumin on heart disease, autoimmune disorders, bronchitis, Alzheimer’s Disease and even cancer. However it’s important to note that most of these studies used concentrated extracts of curcumin and were tested in the laboratory or on animals.
A Potent Anti-Inflammatory – and More
Inflammation is now considered to be the root cause of many chronic conditions that are common today. A paper published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information in 2008 looked at studies over a 30-year period on the anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin, as well as conducting their own experiments. In these studies, curcumin was shown to inhibit the biomarkers associated with the inflammatory response that leads to cancer, Alzheimer’s Disease (neurodegenerative), heart disease (cardiovascular), allergies, asthma and bronchitis (pulmonary), Type II diabetes (metabolic), and autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis. It concluded that curcumin is an “attractive agent” could be as effective in reducing inflammation as common NSAIDS (ibuprofen, aspirin.) But it is more than a simple pain reliever: turmeric actually has the potential to prevent and treat these diseases.
Additionally, according to the University of Maryland Medical School, turmeric has been shown to be an effective treatment for indigestion or dyspepsia, ulcerative colitis, stomach ulcers, bacterial and viral infections, Uveitis (an inflammatory condition of the eye) and osteoarthritis.
How to Get the Benefits of Turmeric
More is not necessarily better! Resist the temptation to run out and find a convenient turmeric supplement to take – you will get good benefits from using it in its original ground form in cooked food. I must admit, turmeric was long ignored on my own spice rack. But now it is one of my favorites – I have come to appreciate its peppery, warm and gingery flavor. I use it in butternut squash soup and to season black beans and lentils. It’s also great on cauliflower and brown rice. Its health benefits are increased by exposure to heat and when you add black pepper along with it. As a regular ingredient in curries and other recipes, a half-teaspoon per serving combines well with other common kitchen spices, especially black pepper, ginger root, or cumin seed. So keep some good quality turmeric among your frequent go-to spices on your spice rack.
It also makes a great tea – I enjoy a tasty and relaxing cup of organic Ukon (Japanese turmeric) tea every day.
Turmeric is a smart addition to a health-promoting, low fat, whole food plant-based diet. Remember, whole foods are are always best! Consult with a holistic health care practitioner before using turmeric for more than dietary use, especially if you are pregnant or diabetic.