Health Benefits of Turmeric: What This Spice Can Do For You
Can you imagine a food that helps prevent the growth of cancer, improves brain function, prevents heart disease, alongside a plethora of other benefits? Seems too good to be true, right? Well, you do not just have to imagine, the health benefits of turmeric ticks all of these boxes and more! This superfood serves as an amazing flavor enhancer in any dish and provides major health benefits for your body as well. Known also as “Indian saffron” or the golden spice, turmeric comes from a root that is native to East Asia and related to the ginger family. (1) You may have enjoyed it in dishes such as curries or chutneys, but it is also added to many of our different foods as well, one being mustard! Turmeric is what gives mustard that striking yellow color.
After learning about all the health benefits of turmeric, you will definitely want to start incorporating this spice into your recipes. Its earthy aroma, with peppery and ginger-like taste, makes it the perfect addition to dishes with rice and lentils. You can also use it to add some flavor to vinaigrettes, soups, and stews. (2) Be careful when cooking though and wear your apron because turmeric tends to stain easily.
History of Turmeric: From Ancient Times to The Present Day
Like many spices around the world, the use of turmeric as both a culinary additive and medicinal supplement is rooted in a long and rich historical context. Its use dates all the way back to 4,000 years ago in ancient Vedic culture in India. It was used there as a fabric dye for its vibrant yellow coloring, along with its use in making cosmetics, cooking, and traditional medicinal practices. (3) Turmeric was believed to strengthen the overall energy of one’s body, improve digestion, relieve arthritis. Moreover, it was used as an antiseptic for cuts, burns, and bruises. Many also believed that the spice helped with respiratory conditions such as asthma or allergies. These treatments were not just endemic to India but were also practiced in traditional Chinese medicine. (4)
Its presence in India is still strong today. In fact, nearly all of the turmeric in the world is grown within the country, and 80% of it is consumed by its own citizens (4). However, Western cultures are also starting to take a notice of the spice in present times. Especially in the scientific community, it seems that the rest of the world is just now starting to realize what India has known for a long time: turmeric has amazing benefits not only for taste but for the body as well.
Curcumin: The Source of Turmeric’s Power
In recent times, a plethora of studies have recently been published diving deeper into exactly why turmeric is so amazing for our bodies and brain. They all conclusively seem to lead to one bioactive substance found in the spice: curcumin. This active ingredient only makes up 3% of turmeric by weight, and yet it is the source of its bright yellow color and major health benefits. It is a powerful anti-inflammatory and strong antioxidant. Both of which are properties playing major roles in regulating the function within our bodies and protecting our bodies from the daily wear and tear they experience. (5) Additionally, it also contains vitamin C, which boosts the immune system. It is also a great source of manganese, iron, and potassium. (6) In fact, recent studies have hailed turmeric as the most effective nutritional supplement in existence due to curcumin.
12 Evidence-Based Health Benefits of Turmeric
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1. Reduces the Risk of Heart Disease
As the number one cause of death, heart disease is something that we should all be aware of. That’s why we are kicking off our list of the health benefits of turmeric with a focus on heart health. While there are many different factors that contribute to it, curcumin may help prevent this disease by improving your endothelial cells which line your blood vessels. Heart disease mostly stems from an improperly functioning endothelium, so it is important to keep it in tip-top shape. (8) As evidence of the power of turmeric, a study was conducted on 121 patients undergoing coronary artery bypass surgery. It was found that those given 4 grams of curcumin per day before and after the surgery had a 65% decreased risk of experiencing a heart attack in the hospital.
By improving the endothelial structure, turmeric can help reduce blood pressure, the risk of blood clots, and strokes. In fact, a study found that turmeric works almost as well as the drug Atorvastatin at regulating cholesterol levels and blood pressure.
2. Relieves Pain From Arthritis
The Arthritis Foundation cites several studies in which the anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric have benefited those suffering from arthritis, which involves the inflammation of the joints. In fact, some studies even suggest that it is more powerful than prescribed drugs. The foundation recommends taking 400 to 600 mg of turmeric up to three times per day for inflammation relief. (11) However, remember that it’s important to consult your doctor before taking any form of supplements. (1)
3. Enhances Liver Function
By adding turmeric into your diet, you can prevent your liver from being damaged by the toxins it filters out. This, once again, is because of its antioxidant properties. This means turmeric may be a good addition to their diet for those taking strong drugs for chronic diseases, such as diabetes. (11)
4. Settles an Upset Stomach
After ingesting, turmeric stimulates your stomach to produce more gastric acid. This process typically is helpful in digesting food. However, for some this may cause major discomfort. So it is important to listen to your body when trying out this new spice. (11)
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5. Contains Natural Anti-Inflammatory Compounds
Inflammation is a natural process that can actually be beneficial for fighting off illness and repairing cell or tissue damage. However, once inflammation becomes chronic the damage outweighs the benefits. In fact, scientists now believe that constant, low-level inflammation may be the cause of every chronic, Western disease such as heart disease, cancer, metabolic syndrome, Alzheimer’s, and more. Therefore, regulating the inflammation of our bodies is key.
According to a study, curcumin’s anti-inflammatory properties are on par with many common medications such as Advil (ibuprofen) and aspirin. (7) It does so by fighting inflammation at the molecular level, as it blocks out NF-kB, a molecule that travels into your cells and turns on genes related to inflammation. (8)
Furthermore, those suffering from irritable bowel syndrome may also benefit by ingesting turmeric as well. As it can reduce swelling within the digestive tract. (3)
6. Boosts Immunity
Turmeric has been found to improve the health of your gut microbiome. With a healthy gut, our body is better equipped to fight off a variety of infections and diseases. (6)
Interestingly, many studies are being conducted to discover if turmeric may be a good preventive against Covid-19. It is thought that spice prevents the virus from entering cells, stops the disease from replicating in our bodies, and can even repair the damage done if one gets sick. However, these studies are just in their infancy. So, do not use turmeric as a treatment if you catch Covid-19 and listen to your doctor’s advice. (10)
7. Increases Antioxidants In the Body
Oxidative damage has been linked to early aging. As a result, it is also correlated to diseases that accompany this process, especially eye-related diseases including cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration.
Such damage is caused by our bodies being exposed to free radicals, which quickly and easily damage our cells, fatty acids, proteins, and DNA. Luckily, turmeric can prevent this damage. (8) As a potent antioxidant, curcumin can chemically neutralize these particles and stimulate our body’s own antioxidant defenses.
8. Possibly Prevents Cancer
Cancer is a serious disease characterized by uncontrolled cell growth. In various laboratory studies, turmeric has been found to inhibit the growth of cancer cells. It seems to be affected by curcumin supplements which stop its development at the molecular levels. This helps reduce the growth of tumors in blood vessels and stops metastasis or the spread of cancer into other organs. (8) It is even thought that this spice neutralizes some carcinogens found in processed foods.
New research suggests that turmeric may prevent cancer from developing in certain parts of the body, and most prominently within the digestive tract. In a 30-day study, 44 men diagnosed with lesions in the colon, which often turn cancerous, were prescribed 4 grams of curcumin per day. By the end, many of the lesions were reduced by 40% already.
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9. Calms the Causes of Depression
Depression is directly linked to a reduced level of BDNF and shrinking of the hippocampus, or the area of the brain responsible for learning and memory. Since curcumin increases this substance, it can possibly reverse these effects. While also simultaneously boosting your body’s serotonin and dopamine levels.
In support of these claims a study of 60 people diagnosed with depression were separated into three groups. Group one was given Prozac, group two was given 1 gram of curcumin and the third group took both. After 6 weeks, the group who took both fared the best, and group two fared the second best. Thus, the study attests that turmeric plays some role in helping those with depression. (8)
10. Soothes Skin Conditions
Turmeric’s anti-inflammatory properties play a vital role once again and this time in relation to our body’s largest organ: our skin! This spice has been found to reduce irritation caused by psoriasis and eczema. Further, it can even help wounds heal faster. (3) (9) This is because the spice is thought to boost tissue and collagen regeneration levels.
If you want to attain the coveted glow for your skin you can try out a turmeric mask made up of Greek yogurt, honey, and some of the spice. Watch out though! The spice can temporarily stain your skin, so make sure to test it out on your hand first. (9)
Fun Fact: In Indian weddings, a special ceremony called Haldi, which translates to turmeric in Hindi, occurs. A lovely mixture of turmeric, sandalwood, milk, rosewater, and chickpea flour is rubbed on the bride and groom.
11. Improves Cognitive Function and Lowers the Risk of Brain-Related Diseases
As we go along through our lives, behind the scenes our neurons are constantly forming new connections. They can even multiply in certain areas of the brain. This process is driven by the growth hormone, the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). (8) As you can imagine, lowered levels of this hormone can lead to some serious issues, including depression and Alzheimer’s.
However, a daily dose of turmeric may help fight off these diseases, as the spice actually increases the levels of BDNF in the brain. Not only will you be protecting your brain from these unfortunate illnesses, but your memory and cognitive function will also improve.
12. May Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s is the most common neurodegenerative disease in the world and often leads to dementia. Unfortunately, as there is no viable treatment available, it is extremely important to prevent the onset of this disease.
As previously discussed, curcumin increases BDNF levels, thus preventing Alzheimer’s. In addition, it also clears amyloid plaques, which are a build of protein tangles, and are key features of Alzheimer’s disease. While more studies need to be performed, it doesn’t hurt to add turmeric into your diet to begin protecting your brain. (8)
How To Get The Most Out of Tumeric
Though the health benefits of turmeric seem endless, the spice is actually poorly absorbed by our bodies. (3) So this means that most of the curcumin that we ingest moves through too quickly to have any real effects. This is why it is important to learn how to cook with turmeric in order to get the most out of this superfood.
As curcumin is fat-soluble, you should cook your dishes with some type of healthy fat. This includes olive or coconut oil. It will help the substance be more readily absorbed by your gut.
Another tip is to add some black pepper to your dishes. Piperine, a major component of black pepper, actually enhances the body’s absorption of curcumin by 2000%! (3)
You can also mix turmeric with some other powerful spices including cinnamon and ginger. Not only do their flavors pair well, but the benefits you receive are even greater.
Those Who Should Avoid Turmeric
Though turmeric is an amazing spice with a plethora of health benefits, it should actually be avoided by some groups.
- Those with Anemia
Some studies suggest that turmeric may inhibit the body’s absorption of iron, so those taking supplemental iron are recommended to steer clear. (6)
- Those About To Have Surgery
As turmeric helps thin your blood, it also prevents clotting. This may cause some problems when healing after a major operation. (6)
- Those Who Are Pregnant
It is recommended that women who are pregnant should avoid turmeric supplements. They should instead receive the benefits by adding it to various dishes. (6)
It’s time you spice up your life with some turmeric. If you’re interested, try out our very own healthy pumpkin spice latte recipe with a bit of added turmeric as a nutritious and warming drink. Have your own recipes with turmeric? Share them with us on Instagram @cookandculture for a chance to be featured.
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