Turmeric is a spice with a thousand beneficial properties, used for some time in the oriental tradition and recently introduced in modern medicine. Discover the properties, benefits and contraindications of this spice.
Turmeric is a spice rich in beneficial properties. The most used type of turmeric is Curcuma longa, a spontaneous herbaceous plant belonging, together with ginger, to the Zingiberaceae family.
Popularly known as turmeric or, thanks to its yellowish color, “saffron of the Indies”, it is in fact often used in restaurants as a substitute for saffron, whose cost is considerably higher and has a decidedly different flavor. It is used as a food coloring and indicated in the nutritional tables with the initials E100.int
The growth of the rhizomes, the bulbs that are processed to obtain the spice, needs an ambient temperature between 20 ° C and 30 ° C and abundant rain, up to a height of about 1 meter. Cultivation areas are mostly found in Southeast Asia, where rhizomes are harvested, boiled, dried and ground into a powder, which is part of an Indian spice mix, known as masala or curry, used to flavor many dishes, for example with rice or chicken.
Turmeric: characteristics and nutritional values
The main components of turmeric, whose effect is a reason of scientific interest, are curcuminoids, molecules composed of two aromatic rings that give the powder its yellowish color. Of these, 80% is represented by diferuloylmethane, called curcumin, the rest by demethoxy curcumin and bis-demethoxy curcumin and by volatile oils such as turmerone, atlantone and zingiberene. The latter are responsible for the particularly characteristic aroma of the spice and similar to mustard. Let’s now see the nutritional values of turmeric, shown in the table below.
|Nutrient (unit)||Values for 100g||Values per serving 3g|
|Vitamin E (mg)||4.43||0.13|
|Vitamin C (mg)||0.7||0.021|
Turmeric: health benefits
The use of turmeric in Ayurvedic Indian medicine dates back to over 2000 years ago and was used as a general purifying, digestive, anti-inflammatory and much more. Later it was also introduced in traditional Chinese medicine both as a preventive and therapeutic treatment for numerous acute and chronic ailments. Only later, with the re-evaluation of alternative medicine, were herbs and spices, such as turmeric, introduced, with not a few initial doubts, even in modern medicine, much more recent.
Right from the start, the first scientific works showed how this spice and the main component, curcumin, showed various beneficial activities for human health: antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory and antitumor. Let’s find out in detail what are the benefits of turmeric for which pathologies its intake is particularly suitable.
✓ Antioxidant property of turmeric
There are numerous studies that have attributed antioxidant properties to turmeric. Its antioxidant effect is to be found in the chemical structure of curcumin and, therefore, in its ability as a scavenger, i.e. to reduce free radicals, responsible, if in excess, of tissue aging, degenerative and tumor pathologies.
Its antitumor activity is attributed precisely to its antioxidant effect capable of reducing DNA damage and lipid peroxidation, critical events in the proliferation of cancer cells, as demonstrated by an Indian study.
A recent study, on the other hand, reports how the antioxidant activity of curcumin is responsible for reducing the toxicity of amyloidogenic aggregates, responsible for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson.
✓ Turmeric root and anti-inflammatory properties
The anti-inflammatory property of turmeric is exerted by inhibiting the activity of a key enzyme COX-2 and a crucial transcription factor NF-κB of the inflammatory cascade, as well as the production of cytokines, intermediaries of the process itself, as reported by an important review just published. In fact, the consumption of powder or, better still, supplements, based on turmeric, with a high dosage is recommended for those who suffer from chronic inflammatory diseases , for example on a rheumatic basis, such as rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis, but not only.
✓ Benefits of turmeric on insulin secretion
A recent clinical trial confirmed that taking curcumin is able to increase insulin secretion in the postprandial phase. It seems that this polyphenol is able to positively stimulate pancreatic cells following the consumption of carbohydrate meals. This data is particularly interesting for those suffering from type 2 diabetes.
✓ Anti-obesogenic and metabolic stimulating effect
The oral intake of curcumin is reported to stimulate the energy metabolism of adipocytes, the cells of our adipose tissue, reducing the accumulation of fats and, through its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity, is responsible for improving the syndromic pathological profile of obesity, that is characterized by heart disease, insulin resistance, diabetes, arthritis.
✓ Turmeric and skin protective effect
Thanks to the antioxidant action, many natural topical products have recently introduced turmeric as the main compound able to prevent skin aging processes, reducing oxidative stress from excess free radicals induced by exposure to UVB rays, ie from the sun. This effect is also interesting in the prevention of melanomas.
✓ Anti-inflammatory and help against allergies
Curcumin, the primary active ingredient in turmeric root, is able to inhibit the release of histamine, the molecule that triggers the allergic reaction. Histamine can trigger eczema outbreaks for example and is also known to increase inflammation in people with asthma.
Several studies on both animals and humans indicate that curcumin can affect various cells of the immune system, such as T lymphocytes, macrophages, B lymphocytes and natural killer cells, resulting in a decrease in the severity of various diseases linked to alterations in the response. immune. It is for this reason that turmeric root can be a useful support for those suffering from allergic conditions.
✓ Contrasts arthritis, reduces joint and rheumatic pains
Numerous studies have documented turmeric’s strong anti-arthritis properties. It is also a precious support for osteoarthritis, a painful and disabling disorder for those who suffer from it.
This property of turmeric is always due to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant characteristics, especially curcumin. Of course, it cannot replace the adequate therapy defined by a specialist, but it can help in any case to give relief and can help with mild joint pain.
✓ An aid for colitis, relieves stomach pains
For those who simply suffer from irritable bowel or for those with more severe gastrointestinal diseases such as ulcerative colitis, the use of turmeric has been shown to be effective in reducing inflammation of the intestinal mucosa.
In general, this spice has positive effects on the entire gastrointestinal system as it is able to relieve stomach pains and helps to regulate states of diarrhea or constipation.
✓ A support for the mind, improves cognitive performance
An interesting study has shown how people over 60 who consume curry (whose basic component is turmeric) both occasionally and constantly, have a higher cognitive performance than those who have never consumed curry.
Some laboratory studies have shown that the neuroprotective property of turmeric could play in favor of the control of some neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
Curcumin also stimulates the production of the DHA molecule (docosahexaenoic acid), which is very important for brain function and is also able to reduce anxiety states (verified in an animal model).
✓ Ally in cancer prevention
Curcumin has been extensively studied for its anticancer properties thanks to its effects on different biological mechanisms involved in the cell cycle of tumors, in sensitization to chemotherapy and radiotherapy, in the development of metastases.
Several studies have shown how turmeric can be used, together with the necessary oncological therapies, in the treatment of many cancers in particular against those of the liver, skin, pancreas, prostate, ovary and head and neck.
For the latter, for example, curcumin has shown some anti-tumor effects, low toxicity and can therefore be used as supportive therapy (under medical supervision) even when the currently available therapies lose effectiveness. There is also encouraging data for lung cancer, but research has yet to continue.
✓ Antibacterial, purifying and against hypertension
As we have seen, this spice can be of great help for our health in general thanks to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties in the first place.
We also do not underestimate its antibacterial role, for example during the winter and seasonal ailments. There are several studies that show how the use of turmeric, even together with antibiotics, is able to accelerate the effectiveness of drugs and promote recovery from an infection.
We also find evidence of a positive effect of turmeric in patients with diabetes and some studies carried out in rats show a benefit against hypertension. Finally, remember that turmeric is an excellent ally of the liver, helping it in purification and detoxification.
How and how much turmeric to take to get benefits
Although its use in the kitchen is highly recommended and, to date, very common even in the West, the poor bioavailability of curcumin, which we remember is the main beneficial agent of the spice, limits the enthusiasm of lovers of alternative medicine.
In fact, only about 6% of turmeric is represented by curcumin and of this only a small amount enters the circulation. Due to the poor absorption from the intestine, only a small part reaches the liver which in turn will result in a partial release of the free and active curcumin into the blood. One way to reduce the limiting action of the liver is to bind piperine which will increase the passage into the bloodstream by about 20 times, thereby increasing the benefits of turmeric.
We recommend taking 2 to 3 teaspoons of turmeric daily together with a sprinkling of black pepper in meals that include a portion of fat such as extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil, in order to increase intestinal absorption. and reduce hepatic limitation. In case of intestinal disorders, one tablespoon of turmeric can be dissolved in a glass of hot water; this will help you digest better and benefit from all the properties of turmeric.
The best way to consume turmeric as a spice constantly is to introduce Golden Milk or golden milk with turmeric into our daily life. It was suggested by the yoga master Yogi Bhajan to improve the functionality and elasticity of the joints of his students.
Here is the Golden Milk recipe revisited by us:
- ¼ cup of turmeric
- ½ cup of water
- 1 cup of milk (also vegetable)
- 1 teaspoon of almond or coconut oil
- black pepper
The process involves preparing the turmeric paste by boiling the water and mixing the turmeric powder until it becomes thick and pasty. It can be stored in the refrigerator for at least a month. Add the turmeric paste to your liking in a cup of coconut milk, for example, honey, a sprinkling of black pepper and almond oil.
The use of the spice in the kitchen is mainly indicated as a preventive approach, but in case of therapeutic needs and to obtain a more concrete effect, it may be advisable to take turmeric-based supplements, with certified bioavailability. A good supplement should contain turmeric titrated to at least 95% curcumin and possibly associated with piperine, to increase its bioavailability. In order for turmeric extracts to be effective against inflammatory states, the most appropriate dosage is 450/500 mg of curcumin, twice a day.
Turmeric: Contraindications and Potential Negative Effects
Although curcumin and turmeric are recognized as safe, human research has tested the absence of side effects up to a consumption of 8-12 grams per day of turmeric powder, so we do not recommend exceeding the consumption of 3-4 teaspoons a day of the spice. As for the use of supplements, however, it is advisable not to exceed the doses recommended by the manufacturer.
In general, given its direct effects on the liver and beyond, turmeric is contraindicated:
- In gallstones and biliary stasis;
- In patients with impaired coagulation parameters and treated with anticoagulant drugs (aspirin, ibuprofen, heparin and warfarin);
- In a pregnant state;
- In subjects taking insulin or analogues it is recommended to consult the attending physician.
The potential of this spice and curcumin has now been demonstrated by the scientific community and currently applied in clinical practice, convincing the most skeptical and we are also sure our readers that its intake and consumption can help in the prevention of numerous diseases and positively support drug therapy.
Although turmeric is also called Indian saffron, it is believed to originate from China and then spread throughout Asia. For centuries it has been used by Indian Ayurvedic healers and even the Greeks have mentioned the benefits of turmeric in a medical book, Paracelsus in fact recommended it for liver problems.