Turmeric, specifically its most active compound Curcumin, has been historically used for numerous health reasons. This potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant have now been scientifically proven to be effective against arthritis and depression as well as several other more serious diseases.
I have recently discovered the glorious taste of Indian cuisine. My mother went on a trip to visit my grandma in Arizona and came back with a giant container of Turmeric and several smaller jars of Tandoori masala and curry powder. Apparently, my Grandmother has been including these spices in her cooking recently in an effort to help her arthritis and a few other health issues she’s been dealing with. This piqued my interest because while I’m an ardent fan of natural medicine, I’m still learning about it and I hadn’t heard about the health benefits of Turmeric before. I started doing my homework and I was floored by what I found.
Ready to have your mind blown?
OK so boring stuff first….THEN get ready to have your mind blown!
Turmeric was first recorded as being used over 4000 years ago in India. The yellow spice quickly traveled across Asia to china and then west to the Middle East and eventually Africa. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92752/) The Chinese are widely recognized as the first to use Turmeric in a medicinal manner, however there is some debate as to whether the health benefits were introduced to them by Indian Holy men. Regardless of who used it as a medicine first, the impressive results of its application were definitely noticed.
The Spice itself
Turmeric is a relative of the Ginger plant and just like Ginger, the spice is derived from the roots. Yellow in color, this spice has been known as Indian saffron or the golden spice and has been used in both Indian cuisine and Medicine (known as Ayur-Ved or directly translated, “the Science of Life”). Other names include Curcuma, Gauri, Haldi, and You Jin. The main active compound in Turmeric is called Curcumin and it is a potent anti-inflammatory as well as antioxidant.
The Medical uses of Turmeric
With Turmeric being such a wonderful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory substance, what are the applications you can use it for? Here is a list of various conditions you could potentially use turmeric to treat directly or at least treat the symptoms of.
1. Arthritis, Eczema, Headaches, and Tendinitis
These conditions are all the result of excess inflammation of the Joints, skin, brain, and tendons. Most people take an OTC like Ibuprofen or a steroid based cream like hydrocortisone to reduce inflammation, but in clinical studies, Turmeric has actually proven just as effective as both OTC’s without the harmful side effects.
This one was quite interesting to me because I struggle with depression and I am extremely careful about giving advice on treating it. So, before I explain why Turmeric may help with depression, I want to first state that if you are struggling with depression or suspect you may need medication, PLEASE SEE A DOCTOR! I can’t stress that enough. Depression is just like any other physical disease and needs to be treated as such. I am all for using natural medicine, but I still see a doctor regularly to help me monitor my condition and help me keep on top of my health. Speak to a Doctor before taking anything for depression. Ok, off my soapbox now. 😊
In three separate studies (Yu, Kong, and Chen 2002; Xia et al. 2006; Xia et al. 2007)Turmeric was found to decrease ”swim-stress induced serotonin, 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid, and noradrenaline and dopamine concentrations, as well as increases in serotonin turnover. The effects of 560-mg/kg turmeric were found to be more potent than those of the antidepressant fluoxetine. The extracts significantly inhibited brain monoamine oxidase (MAO)-A activity at a low dose, but at a higher dose, they inhibited brain MAO-B activity. In comparison, fluoxetine showed only a tendency to inhibit MAO-A and -B activity in animal brains. These results demonstrate that turmeric has specific antidepressant effects” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92752/
If you had a hard time following the medical jargon, allow me to interpret. Taking Turmeric daily was found to be as effective as taking a low dose anti-depressant pill. Neat yah? I thought so.
3. Heart Disease and Heart attack
Anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties are both good to help prevent and help treat heart disease. One source stated
“Perhaps the main benefit of curcumin when it comes to heart disease is improving the function of the endothelium, which is the lining of your blood vessels. It’s well known that endothelial dysfunction is a major driver of heart disease and involves an inability of your endothelium to regulate blood pressure, blood clotting and various other factors…..Several studies suggest that curcumin leads to improvements in endothelial function. One study found that it’s as effective as exercise while another shows that it works as well as the drug Atorvastatin.” This source (Healthline.com) quoted PubMed central as the source for the studies, but the links weren’t working in my browser so I wasn’t able to verify them by reading the studies myself. I’ll include the link to the article I read at the bottom here so you can check it out if you want.
This one took me by surprise. In all the research I did, Cancer was mentioned in most sources as one of the things that Turmeric (specifically the active compound Curcumin) was good for fighting against. Specifically, it acts as an inhibitor for the growth of Melanoma of the skin and lungs, certain types of myeloma and breast cancers. Now, the studies I read showed that Turmeric will not kill off these cancers. It simply acts as a growth inhibitor and it was only with addition substances (specifically the therapeutic proteasome inhibitor carfilzomib) added that they saw reduction in tumors. ( https://www.pnas.org/content/115/32/8155#ref-2 ) It also has the potential to aid in recovery from cancer by stimulating the immune system, (specifically the production of B and T cells) and helping to prevent lung damage during chemo and whole body radiation treatments (pg 136, Prescription for Herbal healing by Phyllis A. Balch). Curcumin is currently being widely studied as an effective cancer treatment so hopefully we’ll see the real world application of those studies soon.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common neurodegenerative disease in the world and while the medical community has made great strides in understanding the disease, they haven’t yet found a cure. This means that preventing the disease is paramount and Curcumin (the active compound in Turmeric) has been one of the few natural compounds that can cross the blood-brain barrier. Since oxidation and inflammation are both problems associated with aging and neurodegenerative disorders, Turmeric has an obvious application here. A lesser known fact is that “In addition, a key feature of Alzheimer's disease is a buildup of protein tangles called amyloid plaques. Studies show that curcumin can help clear these plaques” https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/top-10-evidence-based-health-benefits-of-turmeric#section7
Even if you aren’t dealing with these specific health issues, the antioxidant properties of Turmeric alone are worth adding it to your supplement regimen. I don’t know who said it first but I fully agree with the sentiment “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. Oxidation, free radicals in the body, and inflammation are all key factors to some of the most common chronic conditions on the planet and I, for one, would like to avoid them. So, in the spirit of promoting better health and sneaking something super healthy into my kids bodies, I’ll be instituting a new family tradition in my house. Curry Night!