Turmeric is more than just a spice

Health benefits of turmeric

Turmeric is a popular culinary spice from southeast Asia that has some amazing potential benefits for human health.

This perennial herb is indigenous to India and south-east Asia. It grows up to one metre in height and has small elliptical green leaves and a deep orange or yellow root or rhizome. It is a member of the ginger family.

The brightly coloured root and rhizome has been used as a culinary spice in food preparation and as a part of curry powder, it has been mixed with coriander, cumin, black pepper, ginger and other spices. As a dye, it has been used in the clothing and textiles industry. It has also been used in cosmetics as well as the food and beverage industry. The root and rhizome have been described as pungent, bitter and earthy. It has also been used in Ayurvedic medicine for several thousand years.

The chemical constituents of turmeric have been identified as 1% to 6% curcumin, volatile oils, fibre, minerals, protein, fat and carbohydrates. Other sources have listed curcumin content from 1% to 8%. It should be noted the total curcumin content of the root is probably better referred to as total curcuminoid content. That reflects the fact there are several slightly different, but related, chemicals in the root and rhizome of this plant.

Curcumin is the name given to the chemical responsible for the bright yellow and orange colour of the turmeric plant in its root and rhizome. Curcumin has been identified as the main active ingredient of the plant. However, three main curcuminoid molecules have been identified in the turmeric plant. The naturally occurring content of curcumin has been identified to be between 60% to 70% of the total amount of curcuminoids.

Turmeric and curcumin have been described as plant compounds with a multiplicity of different biochemical effects on human health. Some of those effects include anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antifungal, antidiabetic, liver protection, wound-healing, cholesterol-lowering, antioxidant, immune-enhancing and nerve protection in the brain.

In some studies, curcumin shows anti-inflammatory activity comparable to Ibuprofen and other NSAIDs or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory compounds. The use of turmeric and curcumin compounds alone or in combination with other herbs can be useful in reducing osteoarthritic aches and pains. And like NSAIDs, turmeric and curcumin have blood thinning and anti-platelet activity.

In other studies curcumin and turmeric have antioxidant and neuroprotective effects for the brain and nervous system. Curcumin increases BDNP or brain derived neurotrophic factors that protect the nerves from oxidative damage and aid in proper maintenance and repair.

A recent study in the BMJ or British Medical Journal showed that turmeric consumption was as effective as a prescription proton pump inhibitor in alleviating stomach pain and discomfort. Turmeric can improve the flow of bile in liver and gall bladder and have antioxidant effects on hepatic cells. Curcumin may also be useful in inflammatory bowel disease.

The Linus Pauling Institute in Oregon has published an overview of the research of the medical benefits of curcumin. The authors point out that the mounting evidence of preclinical studies shows that curcumin modulates numerous molecular targets and exerts antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anticancer and neuroprotective activities.

They further elaborate that while a few preliminary studies show that curcumin has anti-inflammatory activity in humans, larger randomized controlled trials are needed to establish its efficacy in osteoarthritis and radiation induced dermatitis.

They continue to report that some evidence exists so far that curcumin improves cognitive performance in older adults with or without cognitive impairment. Also, its use for depression is very preliminary and long-term clinical trials are recommended.

The use of curcumin for patients with diabetes is also preliminary and more long-term trials are needed. And while in vitro testing of curcumin in cancer activity remains encouraging, human trials are very limited particularly in patients with breast, prostate, pancreatic, colorectal, lung and skin cancer.

Its use with cancer patients who are receiving chemotherapeutic drugs is cautioned. Some preliminary studies show it can help promote the benefits of chemo drugs, while having negligible side effects. However, its use with patients who receive chemo drugs should be evaluated and recommended on an individual basis.

Other benefits of curcumin have been reported for cardiovascular disease, dermatology and ophthalmology and while encouraging, the study’s authors conclude further investigation is warranted.

Turmeric is believed to be safe for human consumption in doses up to 12 grams per day. Reported side effects of curcumin consumption include gas, bloating, indigestion, heartburn, upset stomach, diarrhea, headache and, in some cases, skin rashes.

Its impact for use during pregnancy and lactation has not been determined, so it is not recommended beyond its use as a culinary spice. In vitro, studies show curcumin can inhibit platelet aggregation and its use with patients who use blood thinners and anticoagulant drugs is cautioned.

The information provided in this article does not, and is not intended to, constitute medical advice. All information and content are for general information purposes only.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Doug Lobay is a practicing naturopathic physician in Kelowna, British Columbia.

He graduated with a bachelor of science degree from the University of British Columbia in 1987 and then attended Bastyr College of Natural Health Sciences in Seattle, Washington, where graduated with a doctorate in naturopathic medicine degree in 1991. While attending Bastyr College, he began to research the scientific basis of naturopathic medicine. 

He was surprised to find many of the current major medical journals abounded with scientific information on the use of diet, vitamins, nutritional supplements and herbal medicines.

Doug is a member of the College of Naturopathic Physicians of British Columbia and has practiced as naturopathic family physician for more than 30 years.  He maintains a busy practice in Kelowna where he sees a wide age range of patients with various ailments.

He focuses on dietary modification, allergy testing, nutritional assessments, supplement recommendation for optimal health, various physical therapy modalities, various intravenous therapies including chelation therapy.

An avid writer, he has written seven books on various aspects of naturopathic medicine that are available on Amazon and was also a long-time medical contributor to the Townsend Letter journal for doctors and patients, where many of his articles are available to view on-line. He has also given numerous lectures, talks and has taught various courses on natural medicine.

Doug enjoys research, writing and teaching others about the virtues of natural health and good nutrition. When not working, he enjoys cycling, hiking, hockey, skiing, swimming, tennis and playing guitar.

If you have any further questions or comments, you can contact Dr. Lobay at 250-860-7622 or [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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