Turmeric, the bright yellow spice with anti-inflammatory benefits, has a long history of being used in Asian cooking, for medicinal purposes, and in religious ceremonies. Its sunny, cheery color has been associated with good health and healing for over 4000 years. In India, for example, women rubbed it on their skin, dipped their hands in it at night, and used it to dye a string that they wore around their neck on their wedding day as a symbol of health and fertility.
As expressed in a more modern-day life, a New York Times reporter, Tejal Rao, wrote about her life growing up in Nairobi in a Kenyan-Indian family. In her essay that reads like an ode to turmeric, Rao writes that turmeric was ubiquitously used among her family for treating all sorts of ailments, “for a standard runny nose, the dizzy rush of a fever, the ache of moving away from my best friend. Turmeric for a breakout, a particularly tender, slow-to-heal bruise, the anxieties that kept me awake.”
Ancient cultures may have been originally drawn to this plant by its color – but as they experienced the health benefits, it became a staple in their dishes and in their rituals. What makes this spice so healthful? Well, the benefits of turmeric are now being studied and the research is both reaffirming and illuminating.
In fact, research suggests that curcumin can assist in managing a range of conditions related to inflammation in the body including wound-healing, arthritis, anxiety, and even hyperlipidemia. A review of numerous studies confirm how curcumin may exert its anti-inflammatory activity by inhibiting a number of different molecules that play a role in inflammation.
Indian scientists have also studied the cognitive benefits of turmeric. They found that curcumin improved the cognitive functions in patients with Alzheimer’s. One effect is that turmeric decreased the harmful effects of beta-amyloid plaques, in addition to “delayed degradation of neurons, metal-chelation, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and decreased microglia formation”. The overall memory in patients with Alzheimer’s improved.
Turmeric is mostly known for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits, but did you know that it’s main compound, curcumin, has also been found to inhibit tumor progression? According to an article published on Frontiers in Genetics, when curcumin interacts with DNA and RNA and proteins, there are potential positive effects on the growth of tumors.
For years, scientists have also considered its potential for treating and preventing cancer. One study even found that “curcumin fulfills the characteristics for an ideal chemo preventive agent with its low toxicity, affordability, and easy accessibility.”*
And, an article titled: “Curcumin: A Review of Its’ Effects on Human Health”, discusses the benefits of turmeric (curcumin) for healthy people, and how it plays a role in preventative health. This study found that the anti-inflammatory benefits of curcumin are systemic, which means that it influences conditions like metabolic syndrome, which includes insulin resistance, hypertension and high cholesterol, and obesity. Curcumin also improves insulin sensitivity and reduces elevated blood pressure. By lowering or preventing chronic inflammation people may be able to avoid or reduce conditions like insulin sensitivity or elevated blood pressure that lead to obesity, illness, and disease.
A recent article “Curcumin as an Alternative Epigenetic Modulator: Mechanism of Action and Potential Effects” is a fascinating look at the role curcumin plays in the behavior of genes.
How is curcumin an epigenetic modulator? As one of the most powerful antioxidants, curcumin helps reduce and balance oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is caused from the accumulation of free radicals, which is happening in the body all the time, but if too many “free radicals” are bouncing around the molecules become unstable and damaging.
Most of the time, the body takes care of this, with antioxidants and enzymes that target and clean up the free radicals – preventing them causing harm. But when the body becomes overwhelmed from oxidative stress, or it becomes a chronic state, it takes a significant toll on the body and can lead to a multitude of diseases. Alzheimer’s, cancer, and cardiovascular disease are all linked to chronic oxidative stress.
Cue the sunny yellow spice to the rescue. In fact, to illustrate its role, think of curcumin as an assistant, to the main performer, NRF2. NRF2 is a transcription factor protein that resides outside the nucleus of the cell. It is held there, blocked by another protein. In order to be “released” it needs the assistance of an antioxidant like curcumin. When the curcumin comes into play it binds to the protein that is holding NRF2 back, which then releases the NRF2, allowing the NRF2 to penetrate the nucleus. Once inside, it binds to an area of DNA which kicks off its power, which is NRF2’s ability to quickly eliminate oxidative stress.
In other words, curcumin harmonizes Nrf2 expression in various disorders including neurocognitive, diabetes, and renal conditions.
Including turmeric in your diet or as a supplement, is a great way to help balance oxidative stress. Making good, healthy choices like consuming a variety of vegetables, fruits, and protein, as well as limiting alcohol and doing your best to control stress, perhaps with sensible exercise and meditation, can also help balance your oxidative stress.
Another factor to consider is that the buildup and burdens of exposures to environmental toxins, heavy metals, chemicals from foods, pesticides and pollutants, increase the levels of free radicals and contribute to high oxidative stress. Try to eliminate or limit your exposures, and your body will not be overwhelmed or as unstable.
Some key takeaways on oxidative stress:
- Increase intake of antioxidants like curcumin from turmeric, or from supplementation. Other antioxidants like broccoli seed extract, dark green leafy vegetables.
- Take a good multivitamin or antioxidant packed nutritional powder (Exceed Greens)
- Lower toxin exposures for a healthier, more robust control of free radicals.
Food is a powerful medicinal – without negative side effects. I appreciate and respect ancient cultures, traditions and rituals that include turmeric. My recommendation is to adapt your own ritual of incorporating turmeric and/or a curcumin supplement into your routine for its many uses and benefits.
The taste of turmeric is distinct and flavorful and can be incorporated into so many wonderful dishes, and even beverages. Following is a list of some of my favorite recipes with this very beneficial, healthy and healing spice.
*Please consult with your physician if you are undergoing treatment for cancer, or if you want to start supplementing with Curcumin.
When looking for a turmeric recipe to share, I decided to make an immune boosting and healing soup. This recipe is also packed with cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower and kale (my favorite for their rich sulfur detoxifying compounds and added antioxidants), as well as onions, garlic and carrots. Add chicken for a protein boost or serve with more of your favorite vegetables.
The only downside may be that turmeric’s rich yellow color can stain teeth (especially dentures), so be sure to brush right after consuming. Click here for recipe.
More turmeric recipes and ways to use turmeric:
More Ways to Incorporate Turmeric into Meals:
- Mashed or riced cauliflower
- Zucchini noodles
- Sprinkle on scrambled eggs
- Add to chicken salad
- Homemade kale chips
Ravindran, P. N., et al. “Turmeric: The Genus Curcuma.” CRC Press, Taylor & Francis Group, 2007, www.crcpress.com/Turmeric-The-genus-Curcuma/Ravindran-Babu-Sivaraman/p/book/9780849370342.