Turmeric has something of a reputation for being as good as gold; a cure for many ailments, even cancer. How much of this is true?
Turmeric has long been revered for its health benefits. The history of this bold orange spice as a therapeutic goes back at least 4,000 years with the origins of Ayurveda in India. It is also a mainstay of traditional Chinese medicine.
Interest in alternative and complementary therapies is on the rise in the UK. So it’s not surprising that more people are investigating the power of turmeric to help prevent or treat a range of ailments.
And the research backs up the medicinal magic. Turmeric’s active ingredient is curcumin, which gives the spice its bright colour and rich flavour. But this versatile member of the ginger family is not just a delicious addition to curries. Studies have shown that curcumin has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. So what are the health benefits of turmeric?
Beyond the curry pot: health benefits of turmeric
According to studies from across the world, including from Spain’s Institute of Health Research, the American University of Beirut, and the University of Michigan Medical School, turmeric’s anti-inflammatory properties can help a range of conditions, including heart disease, metabolic syndrome, joint pain, and rheumatoid arthritis.
The antioxidant properties of turmeric have been examined closely in a study by India’s Annamalai University’s biochemistry department. Researchers found that curcumin is a potent antioxidant that can neutralise free radicals. Free radicals are unstable atoms that can damage cells.
The antioxidant effect can help reduce the risk of cancer. And fend off the effects of infections and pollutants that can cause disease and hasten the ageing process. Such as cigarette smoke exposure, alcohol, and poor diet.
As we get older, these health issues tend to become more common. But turmeric or turmeric supplements can help ensure that our quality of life does not have to decline as soon as we celebrate certain birthdays.
Benefits for the mind as well as the body
Along with improving joint health and playing an important role in fighting serious diseases, curcumin has been found to have benefits for the brain.
It is thanks to scientists better understanding of neurons that we have learned that they can form new connections and even multiply long after childhood. A study by Argentina’s Universidad Favaloro focused on the role of a protein in the brain that is responsible for promoting the life of neurons. A depletion in this protein has been linked to the onset of Alzheimer’s and dementia. A combined study between Korea’s Kyung Hee University and the University of Pennsylvania found a link between curcumin and an increase in this essential protein.
Susan’s story: An anti-ageing insurance policy
Executive coach Susan Castle is a long-term advocate for the benefits of turmeric. She started taking turmeric supplements for joint pain and hasn’t looked back.
“I wasn’t convinced my turmeric supplement was that effective until I ran out. I woke up the next morning feeling like I’d aged 50 years,” she says, “so I wouldn’t be without it now.”
“…turmeric is genuinely more effective than paracetamol or ibuprofen if I’ve overdone it at the gym”
Susan saw how her mother was affected by arthritis, so she is motivated to maintain her joint health.
“My mum suffered really badly, so it’s something I really need to keep on top of,” she says. “For me, at the moment, it’s just general creakiness first thing in the morning or if I’ve been stuck at my desk for too long.”
“It’s more than just an insurance policy for old age – turmeric is genuinely more effective than paracetamol or ibuprofen if I’ve overdone it at the gym.
“I was really surprised at how quick the effects are,” Susan says. “I went for a run and woke up the next morning feeling terrible. So I went to the local health food shop to buy a turmeric supplement, took it and noticed the benefit almost immediately.”
As well as taking supplements, Susan uses turmeric in her cookery. And in smoothies with black pepper to further boost the absorption of curcumin.
How to use turmeric
Supplements are an easy way to take turmeric and experience the benefits of curcumin as rapidly as Susan has.
Along with supplements, turmeric can be incorporated into a balanced diet. Most of us are familiar with adding turmeric to a curry for colour and taste. But there are other ways to enjoy this magical spice.
Turmeric will liven up soups, stir-fries, egg dishes and dips – and a little will go a long way. Or blend it into smoothies with some black pepper or soy lecithin to add a healthy flavour punch. If presentation is your thing, a dash of turmeric brings a pop of colour to rice, couscous or quinoa, especially in salads.
In a career that has spanned Australia, the Middle East and the UK, Georgia has written about all sorts of things, including sex, cars, food, oil and gas, insurance, fashion, travel, workplace safety, health, religious affairs, glass and glazing… When she’s not writing words for fun and profit, she can usually be found with a glass of something French and red in her hand.