Turmeric* may not initially ring a bell but you’ve probably eaten it many times. The west is finally catching up to traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda (the traditional medicine of India) in recognizing turmeric as a super spice in treating a range of health problems—joint pain, eczema, cancer, and Alzheimer’s, just to name a few. It can also be used topically to treat acne, hyper-pigmentation, wrinkles and even remove unwanted hair.
Medical researchers at the U.S National Institute of Health are said to be currently conducting studies to investigate the special qualities of this spice – to fight a host of diseases. And research is revealing far more serious restorative qualities of this yellow spice.
History of the Spice
Turmeric was traditionally called Indian saffron since its deep yellow-orange color is similar to that of the prized saffron. It has been used throughout history as a condiment, healing remedy and textile dye.
Turmeric comes from the root of the Curcuma longa plant and has a tough brown skin and a deep orange flesh. This herb has a very interesting taste and aroma. Its flavor is peppery, warm and bitter while its fragrance is mild yet slightly reminiscent of orange and ginger, to which it is related.
Turmeric is native to Indonesia and southern India, where it has been harvested for more than 5,000 years. It has served an important role in many traditional cultures throughout the East, including being a revered member of the Ayurvedic pharmacopeia. While Arab traders introduced it into Europe in the 13th century, it has only recently become popular in Western cultures. Much of its recent popularity is owed to the recent research that has highlighted its therapeutic properties. The leading commercial producers of turmeric include India, Indonesia, China, the Philippines, Taiwan, Haiti and Jamaica.
Uses for Turmeric
Health claims for turmeric include treatment of the following conditions:
- prostrate health
- kidney stones
Turmeric is also used to stimulate digestion, boost liver function, and regulate menstruation. Additionally, some proponents suggest that turmeric can help prevent cancer.
Benefits of Turmeric
While a number of animal-based and test-tube studies have shown that turmeric may offer a host of health benefits, few studies have explored turmeric’s effects on human health. Here’s a look at some key findings from the available research on turmeric:
1) Turmeric and Cancer
Curcumin shows promise as a means of reducing breast cancer risk among women undergoing hormone replacement therapy during menopause, according to an animal study published in 2009. In tests on rats, researchers found that treatment with curcumin inhibited the growth of progestin-accelerated tumors (a common health risk for women receiving combined estrogen and progestin hormone replacement therapy).
If you’re considering the use of any natural remedies in combination with hormone replacement therapy, make sure to consult your health-care provider before beginning treatment.
2) Turmeric and Alzheimer’s Disease
When paired with vitamin D, curcumin may help protect against Alzheimer’s disease. In a 2009 study of nine Alzheimer’s patients and four people without the disease, investigators determined that a combination of curcumin and vitamin D may prompt the immune system to clear the brain of amyloid beta (a substance that forms the brain plaques associated with Alzheimer’s disease).
3) Turmeric and Diabetes
Tests on mice indicate that curcumin may help keep blood sugar in check and, in turn, reduce risk of type 2 diabetes. In their 2008 study, scientists also found that turmeric may help tame obesity-related inflammation.
4) Turmeric and Liver Health
In a 2007 study on rats, scientists discovered that curcumin can protect against liver damage. Study results suggest that curcumin can help curb the production of certain proteins known to promote inflammation.
Turmeric may help relieve the symptoms of osteoarthritis because of its ability to reduce pain and disability.
6) Menstrual problems of Woman
For women who experience monthly menstrual cramps, try using turmeric extract or bitters twice daily for two weeks prior to expected menstruation. Turmeric is an antispasmodic to smooth muscles so it reduces digestive and menstrual cramping. It should reduce the severity of pain, if not ease them completely. Certainly, diet and standard of living have a reflective influence on the menstrual cycle, but turmeric is a great addition.
7) Bacterial Infection / Wounds
Turmeric is useful as an external antibiotic in preventing bacterial infection in wounds.
8) Eye Disorder
Curcumin may prove to be as effective as corticosteroids in the uveitis (inflammation of the uvea, the middle layer of the eye between the sclera – white outer coat of the eye and the retina – the back of the eye) the type of eye disorder.
9) Other Health Disorders
Turmeric is anti-inflammatory to the mucous membranes, which coat the throat, lungs, stomach and intestines. Regular use of turmeric can benefit from Colitis, Crohn’s disease, diarrhea, and post-giardia or post salmonella conditions. The itching and inflammation that accompanies hemorrhoids and anal fissures can reduce by use of turmeric. Turmeric can also benefit skin conditions including: eczema, psoriasis and acne, for those it is potent detoxifier.
How to Use Turmeric
Turmeric is widely available in supplement form. You can also increase your turmeric intake by using curry powder in your cooking.
Since few clinical trials have studied turmeric’s health effects, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine cautions against using turmeric to treat any health condition. If you’re considering the use of turmeric supplements for health purposes, make sure to consult your physician before starting your supplement regimen.
Is Turmeric Safe?
Although turmeric is generally considered safe, high-doses or long-term use may cause indigestion. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine advises people with gallbladder disease to avoid using turmeric supplements, as they may worsen this condition.
*Too much Turmeric can cause numbness in your mouth, tongue and throat.