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Turmeric: An Ancient Spice with 21st Century Health Benefits

Turmeric: An Ancient Spice with 21st Century Health Benefits

  • Admin
  • Oct 09, 2019

You may be familiar with the slight bitterness that rounds out the flavors of curry and other Asian dishes. This taste comes from turmeric, an ancient golden-colored spice now enjoying a moment in the spotlight. Once traded along along the great Silk Road by Marco Polo, turmeric is acknowledged by today’s medical researchers as a source of numerous health benefits. These include relieving pain, (one study found turmeric as effective as Advil), as well as fighting inflammation, cancer, indigestion, and more.

Respected for Over 4000 Years

The turmeric plant grows from a rhizome (a fleshy, rootlike structure) and is in the same tropical family as ginger. You can even grow it at home, if you protect it from the cold. The spice is derived from grinding up that rhizome. The word “turmeric” comes from the Latin for “meritorious earth,” (terra merita), and for thousands of years it has been respected for reasons far beyond its flavor. Hindu brides in India are still given a string dyed with turmeric paste to wear as a necklace on their wedding day, and in some parts of Asia, a turmeric rhizome is worn as an amulet to keep away negative energies. You don’t have to rely on tradition and magic, however, to reap the health benefits of this remarkable plant.

An Abundance of Benefits

Modern-day chemists, intrigued by turmeric’s reputation as a healing substance, continue to investigate its properties. To date, they have identified over 100 individual components contained within this remarkable rhizome. The main bioactive ingredient is curcumin, shown by repeated research studies to be a powerful healing substance. Here’s an extensive (but by no means complete) list of curcumin’s beneficial properties:

  • Anti-oxidant: Like Vitamin C or E, curcumin enhances your cells’ resistance to damage by free radicals. This cell damage is called “oxidative stress,” and it can lead to a higher risk of heart disease, stroke, arthritis, immune deficiency and more. Anti-oxidants boost overall health by neutralizing these harmful free radicals.
  • Anti-inflammatory: Chronic low-level inflammation plays a role in many diseases, including cardiac problems, Type 2 diabetes, depression, Alzheimers and others. Curcumin reduces inflammation by lowering your body’s histamine levels and increasing the amount of cortisone produced by the adrenal glands. For this reason, the compound is valuable in easing arthritis and rheumatism symptoms, as well as lessening pain and fatigue.
  • Anti-microbial: Folk medicine in south Asia has long recommended turmeric as a salve for cuts and bruises, and modern dentistry research notes that curcumin’s antiseptic qualities make it potentially valuable as an antiseptic mouthwash and dental sealant ingredient. Curcumin also inhibits the growth of food borne pathogens, and in one test it killed 29 different kinds of skin fungus.
  • Anti-cancer: Curcumin is shown by research to combat cancer in several ways: If patients are receiving radiation therapy for an existing cancer, curcumin helps prevent new cancers from forming as a result of the radiation. It also slows the proliferation of existing cancer cells and interferes with tumor growth. Lab tests show that it prevents the spread of skin cancer to new locations, and it helps the liver safely process cancer-causing toxins.
  • Digestive healing agent: Curcumin supports the gall bladder, stomach, and kidneys. It promotes healthy digestion, and has long been used to reduce the discomfort of flatulence and gas.

Pay Attention to Bioavailability

If you take plain turmeric capsules or just mix the powdered spice into water, you won’t enjoy the full benefits of curcumin. By itself, curcumin is poorly absorbed by the stomach, being rapidly metabolized and quickly eliminated. One way to improve your body’s absorption of this substance is to combine it with black pepper. Piperine, the active component of black pepper, increases the bioavailability of curcumin by 2000 percent. A protein found in pineapples called bromelain also improves the body’s absorption of curcumin, as do vegetable oils. While you may enjoy cooking traditional curries that incorporate pepper, turmeric and pineapple, you can also look for curcumin supplements that include piperine and bromelain. 

There’s good reason that cultures across the world have revered turmeric since antiquity. Completely nontoxic and packed with health-giving deliciousness, it deserves a place in everyone’s daily diet.

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