Turmeric: The spice of life

Turmeric is a herb that belongs to the ginger root family. For thousands of years, people in China and India have used turmeric to cook and for medicinal purposes. Turmeric is also a spice. It gives Asian and Middle Eastern food that warm, peppery and slightly bitter taste. It gives food that golden colour. Today, almost everyone cooks with turmeric.

Turmeric doesn’t only enhance food flavours, it also increases the nutritional value of your meal. Ancient healers used turmeric to cure mental or physical ailments. Today, Western medecine is slowly unveiling what our ancient healers knew all along – that the spice can heal, reduce symptoms and prevent disease.

The health benefits of curcumin

Turmeric contains a powerful chemical called curcumin. Curcumin has anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds. These compounds help alleviate a wide range of health conditions.

According to the University of Maryland Medical Centre, curcumin can help prevent atherosclerosis and improve circulation. It can prevent heart disease and reduce osteoarthritis symptoms. It may also prevent or treat certain types of cancers, such as prostate, breast, skin and colon cancer.

Turmeric tea

Curcumin can also help with indigestion. It can reduce gas or bloating. It can ease chronic digestive problems, such as irritable bowel syndrome and ulcerative colitis. Turmeric tea in the morning or with meals can help reduce digestive symptoms. Bring water to a boil and drop a thumb-size turmeric root and let it soak for about 15 minutes. You can add honey if you want. Alternatively, you can mix one or two grams of powdered turmeric in a cup of warm water.

Curcumin for mental health

Curcumin is also good for your brain. It can increase the growth of new neurons and improve your memory. It can slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Curcumin breaks up brain plaque and reduces inflammation that cause dementia.

Health experts agree that lifestyle and nutrition have an impact on the human brain and so the health benefits of spices in our foods cannot be overlooked. In India, the consumption of curcumin at an early age and on a regular basis may explain why the rate of AD is about 4½ times less than in the U.S.

Further, there is growing evidence, here, here, here and here, that curcumin can alleviate depressive symptoms. However, unlike anti-depressant drugs, curcumin is poorly absorbed in the bloodstream and supplements should not be prescribed as a substitute for anti-depressant therapy, particularly in major depression. More studies on human subjects taking various dosages of curcumin are needed to accurately evaluate the benefits of curcumin on clinically depressed patients.

How safe is curcumin?

Turmeric used as a spice in foods is safe. You can sprinkle it on eggs or add to stir fries, soups, beverages, meats, stews, curries or noodles. I like to make Indian Dal with turmeric, fresh coriander and other spices that give Indian food that unique taste. You can view the Dal recipe here. Alternatively, for full effect, some people prefer taking turmeric supplements or extracts because they contain higher concentrations of curcumin, with dosages often exceeding 1 gm per day.

For better absorption of curcumin supplements, try consuming it with a few whole peppercorns. Black pepper contains piperine, a natural substance that increases the absorption of curcumin.

Always check with a health care professional before self-treating with herbs or supplements. Turmeric supplements or extracts can interact with other herbs or medication. Turmeric supplements used with blood thining medication, such as Warfarin or Aspirin, can increase your risk of bleeding. You should stop taking turmeric supplements at least 2-3 weeks before a surgical procedure.

Turmeric supplements can also lower blood sugar levels and interfere with diabetic medication. They can also interfere with medication that reduce stomach acid, such as Cimetidine. Pregnant or lactating women should NOT take turmeric supplements.

Turmeric photo courtesy of: Howard Walfish

Julie Zimmer

Julie has extensive experience in nursing practice and education in a wide range of fields from intensive/coronary care, to medical-surgical to community and public health. Julie has Bachelor Degrees in Psychology and Nursing, and a Master’s Degree in Community Health Nursing Education. She has taught in faculties of nursing and in various communities in Toronto, Canada and in Geneva, Switzerland, and is a consultant to the International Council of Nurses (ICN). Julie also has years of experience teaching English as a foreign language (EFL) in addition to coordinating an English department in a Swiss private school.

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