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It seems every day someone begins touting the many health benefits of a new herb or spice. As a result, if someone starts talking to you about turmeric benefits, it’s normal to be sceptical.
But when it comes to turmeric, there’s no reason to be in doubt. Not only does it provide great flavour for many dishes, but it also has tremendous medicinal and therapeutic properties. And this has been studied extensively, which has led to a scientific endorsement of this traditional medicine.
This guide will dive deep into turmeric, its history as more than just a flavour enhancer and its ability to promote physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.
To understand why we know so much about turmeric benefits, it’s important to take a step back and put the spice in context. It was first used in Southwestern India some 4000 years ago. And after it was introduced, it quickly spread throughout the subcontinent and the rest of Asia. Initially, it was used only in cooking, as it adds a distinct taste that many of us now consider synonymous with Indian food.
However, after becoming mainstream in Ancient India, healers and doctors of the time began to study it for its medicinal properties. Traditional Indian medicine, known as Ayurveda, has had turmeric at the center of its doctrine since ancient times.
In fact, turmeric appears in one of the first Ayurvedic texts, Compendium of Caraka, written between the 4th century BCE and the 2nd century CE. In this record, Ayurvedic healers identified turmeric as a good remedy for food poisoning. But since then, both practitioners and researchers alike have found turmeric to have a whole host of other health benefits.
As a still unknown entity outside of India and South Asia, it’s fair to ask why turmeric is so special. Sceptics might claim a placebo effect is at work, and that turmeric itself does not do what many of its proponents say. But this simply is not true. Scientific and medical researchers have studied turmeric enough to know exactly why it is so effective in treating such a wide range of health conditions.
In short, it’s not the turmeric itself that provides such a boost to your health. Instead, it’s the compounds found inside turmeric that are responsible for its ability to treat so many things. The main effective ingredient is the polyphenol curcumin. Polyphenols are organic chemicals known to have powerful anti-inflammatory effects.
Furthermore, turmeric contains turmerone. We know a little less about turmerone, but studies have found that it helps facilitate the absorption of curcumin.
Before we go further into detail about the many different benefits of turmeric and curcumin, it’s important to point out some of its limitations. For example, most of the turmeric you buy in a store, which is often labelled as “curry powder,” doesn’t have much curcumin in it. Studies suggest store bought turmeric contains only 3 per cent curcumin, which really isn’t enough to experience the positive effects of turmeric.
As a result, people interested in adding turmeric to their diet often end up consuming curcumin supplements, turmeric extracts, or other products, such as speciality turmeric drinks, that contain higher concentrations of curcumin.
And to help the body even more, make sure any turmeric product you buy comes with black pepper. This is because its main ingredient, piperine, has been shown to assist the body in absorbing curcumin, which increases its benefits to the body.
Turmeric, or curcumin, rather, has many different health benefits, ranging from pain relief to improved brain function. But before detailing each one of these effects, it’s important to point out that turmeric alone cannot solve all your problems.
It’s taken as a supplement for a reason: to supplement your diet. Thinking that taking a turmeric pill every morning will cure cancer is incorrect, and it doesn’t do justice to the herb’s medicinal powers. As a result, make sure to seek medical advice should you have a serious condition. Turmeric may be able to support your recovery, but it likely can’t solve your problem on its own.
Having said that, here are some of the ways turmeric has been found to improve your health.
Inflammation, also known as swelling, is a common health concern for many people, especially the elderly. Joints or other muscles can become inflamed as a result of overuse, underuse, or simply old age. And if left untreated, it can cause significant damage to the body.
Faced with this prospect, many people have turned to synthetic drugs, specifically acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, etc.) And while these drugs can provide short-term relief, they also have side effects. For example, ibuprofen thins your blood and acetaminophen can actually cause liver damage with overuse. These drugs can also interfere with other medications, such as blood pressure drugs, which can be very dangerous to your health.
Natural remedies present alternative treatment options, and turmeric is one of the most effective. In fact, clinical trials have found the anti-inflammatory properties in turmeric to be equally if not more effective than synthetic drugs in reducing swelling and inflammation. It can be applied topically in an ointment for immediate relief. Or, it can be consumed through supplements or specialty drinks, which can help permanently reduce pain from prolonged inflammation.
We’ve learned a lot about how the brain works in recent years. For example, a long-held belief was that neurons, what our brains are made of, could not divide and multiple after early childhood. This made sense, as people tend to plateau in terms of cognitive development as they get older. However, this has been proven to be false.
The brain’s ability to form new connections and create new neurons depends on the release of the hormone NDNF. Studies have found that decreased levels of NDNF are what lead to lower levels of brain function. And turmeric has been found to fight back and actually promote higher NDNF levels in the brain. This makes it easier for the brain to create new neurons and neural connections, which translates to increased cognitive capacity and memory.
Building on this, curcumin has also been found to be an effective treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, one of the world’s most rapidly growing brain diseases. This is because Alzheimer’s has been linked to decreased concentrations of NDNF in the brain. However, as we mentioned earlier, turmeric is not a silver bullet solution. Combining it with regular mental exercise, as well as quality sleep, will be most effective in helping you ward off and treat this devastating disease.
Digestion is one of those bodily functions we tend to only think about when we have a problem. And it’s when something goes wrong that we realize just how delicate this system is. For it to work properly, many different things need to work together, starting from the saliva in your mouth, and ending with your intestines’ ability to extract nutrients and dispose of waste.
It should come as no surprise then that the digestive system requires a mix of different nutrients to work properly. Fibre, vitamins, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents are all needed to help the body produce the enzymes and motions it needs to process food. We can get these nutrients through a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean meats. But this isn’t practical for all people.
Turmeric, or more specifically, curcumin, can give your body an injection of the different vitamins it needs to properly digest food. And research suggests it can be a useful remedy for many different digestive health issues, such as irritable bowel syndrome, offering sufferers the chance to use something more natural than synthetic drugs or laxatives.
Another benefit of turmeric that’s closely related to its ability to improve digestive health is that it can help the body burn fat. It’s true that weight is not the only indicator of overall wellbeing, but there are many reasons to want to keep body fat levels under control. And turmeric alone is not a weight loss miracle worker. Only a well-balanced diet of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and water can help you lose weight.
Yet if you struggle with your weight, turmeric can provide some relief. It has been shown to suppress inflammatory messaging in pancreatic, muscle and fat cells. This can help curb insulin resistance, and it can also lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
But turmeric can also help you avoid getting to the point where being overweight causes health problems. Specifically, it helps to boost your body’s metabolism, which makes it easier for you to break down fats and foods the body doesn’t need. And it has also been found to reduce the growth of fat cells in rats, suggesting turmeric may help your body from accumulating fat.
The human body is a delicate yet highly complex machine. And like many other machines, it performs better when it’s clean. Think about an engine. Oil buildups and sludge, or reduced friction from rust, can cause it to run less efficiently, which can produce all sorts of problems.
In the body, free radicals are primarily responsible for breakdowns in efficiency. Too many free radicals will put the body under considerable oxidative stress, and this can lead to many different health conditions, ranging from decreased brain function to lower immunity against germs and other foreign substances. As a result, we should all be concerned with trying to reduce the amount of free radicals in the body.
Turmeric is especially effective in doing this, which is why it’s considered to be one of the most effective antioxidants out there. It helps the body fight against free radicals and oxidative stress in two ways. First, turmeric’s chemical makeup blocks these free radicals from having an effect on the body. And second, it provides a boost to your body’s antioxidant mechanisms. The body recognizes the risk posed by free radicals, and it has a defense system in place to limit their effect. But sometimes it needs help, which turmeric can provide. Turmeric’s ability to provide a twofold defense against free radicals is what makes it such a powerful antioxidant.
It’s difficult to overstate the seriousness of cancer to human health. It’s one of the most common causes of death in the world, and despite the significant energy and resources we’ve dedicated to finding a cure, it continues to elude us. Chemotherapy and radiation have proven to be effective, but not in all cancers. And the side effects of these treatments can bring your life to a standstill.
As a result, researchers around the world have been trying to find alternative therapies that can attack cancer at its core and provide treatment that is less stressful and more effective. And research suggests turmeric may be one such treatment. Specifically, turmeric has been shown to be effective against cancer at the molecular level. It helps reduce the growth rates of cancerous cells and can even contribute to their death. And it helps slow the reproduction of tumour cells, a process known as angiogenesis.
Turmeric has also been found to be effective in reducing cancer rates, especially colorectal cancer. This makes sense considering turmeric’s effectiveness in improving overall digestive health. However, research on the effects of turmeric against cancer is still ongoing. One should not consider it the only option, but rather an alternative to other treatments that have serious side effects.
Depression is just one of the many mental illnesses we are just beginning to understand. Traditionally, depression was relegated to just feelings of being down, which has helped it gain a stigma in societies all around the world.
However, recent research into depression has found that much more is involved with this condition. Specifically, depression comes about as a result of an imbalance between serotonin and dopamine. These are the two chemicals in the brain primarily responsible for regulating mood.
Once again, turmeric can be quite effective in helping to treat this condition. In fact, studies have concluded that turmeric can work as well as, if not better than, Prozac, a popular prescription anti-depressant. And since turmeric is a natural substance, it’s cheaper and has fewer side effects, making it the preferred choice for many when seeking relief from depression.
While hair loss might not be considered as serious as other conditions, such as cancer, Alzheimer’s Disease and depression, it’s something that affects people all over the world. Entire industries exist to try and help people regrow hair. But most of these treatments require constant use of harsh chemicals that can irritate the skin and prevent long-term hair growth and health.
Because of turmeric’s unique chemical makeup, it can help provide the nutrients needed to maintain good hair health and prevent hair loss.
However, while nutritional deficiency may cause hair loss in some, for others it’s simply genetics, which is why turmeric’s link to hair loss prevention remains in question. But some anecdotal evidence suggests it’s an effective treatment for Alopecia. However, before proceeding, it’s important to be aware of why you’re losing your hair so as not to expect turmeric to reverse an unchangeable trend.
It’s true turmeric can help restore balance to your digestive system, but it can also result in gastrointestinal stress if consumed too much. Turmeric helps to restore balance to the digestive system, and so while increasing intake can help you make up for deficiencies, too much of it can have the opposite effect.
This is not a “more is always better” situation. Instead, pay attention to how much turmeric you’re ingesting per day, and if you experience stomach issues, such as indigestion, stomach aches, nausea or gas, consider cutting back slightly.
Furthermore, pregnant women should try to reduce their turmeric consumption. It’s safe for them to consume it in small amounts, as a spice in foods or other natural blends for example, but it might not be safe for them to take it as a supplement. This is because turmeric has an effect on hormonal levels in the body. Pregnant women are already under hormonal stress, and even though there’s limited evidence to suggest turmeric can be harmful, most suggest limiting consumption during pregnancy to avoid any issues.
The use of turmeric as a health supplement has a rich history. Ancient Indian doctors used it to treat a wide variety of conditions, helping to cement turmeric deep into the Ayurvedic traditions.
And nowadays, modern medicine is catching on to this centuries-old remedy and conducting research that supports many of the claims made by Ayurvedic doctors for years. This is giving people more and more confidence in the all-natural remedy, leading to more widespread use. And as more research continues to come out describing the health benefits of turmeric, we can expect to learn more about this magical root. And it tastes great, too, making it an ideal supplement to all of our diets and dishes.
If you haven’t already, consider adding more turmeric to your diet, either by drinking speciality turmeric drinks, cooking more curry, or taking a supplement. This will allow you to enjoy all the health benefits of turmeric both now and long into the future.