Turmeric: the golden spice for health
With its bright yellow colour and unique flavour, turmeric has been used in curry powders and spice mixtures for centuries. Now new evidence is emerging as to the health benefits of this golden spice, including its effect as an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant.
What is turmeric?
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a perennial plant and is part of the ginger family. Turmeric powder is made by boiling the root of the turmeric plant, drying it in an oven and then grinding it into a powder.
Turmeric powder is rich in iron, potassium, magnesium and vitamin B6, but the ingredient that has got so many health professions interested is that turmeric contains compounds called curcuminoids. The best known of this, curcumin, has anti-inflammatory properties and is a strong antioxidant.
Curcumin is present in low concentrations in turmuric powder, at around 3%, so the majority of studies into its effects have used concentrated extracts to create a dosage of around 1 gram of curcumin. Curcumin is also not readily absorbed by our bodies, and evidence has shown that combining turmeric with piperine can increase absorption by up to 2000%.(1)
Turmeric as an anti-inflammatory
Chronic long-term inflammation can occur as a result of injury or conditions such as arthritis. Curcumin has been shown to match the effectiveness of some anti-inflammatory drugs, as it targets several stages in the inflammation pathway. Most noticeably, it block NF-kB, a molecule that switches on genes relating to inflammation. (2) What makes curcumin special is that is appears to have none of the side effects of pharmaceutical anti-inflammation drugs.
Turmeric as an anti-oxidant
Damage to our bodies by free radicals (known as oxidative damage) is believed to be one of the major mechanisms behind the ageing process. Antioxidants help protect our bodies from free radicals, and therefore may contribute to keeping us healthy for longer. The curcumin in turmeric is a powerful antioxidant that both neutralizes free radicals and also stimulates your body to produce more antioxidant enzymes. (3)
Boosting brain function with turmeric
Under certain conditions, the neurons in our brains are capable of not only creating new connections but also of increasing in number. This process is partially controlled by the hormone BDNF, or Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor. People with disorders such as depression and Alzheimer’s can have low levels of BDNF, and curcumin has been shown to increase levels of this hormone in the brain. While there is no hard evidence from human clinical trials yet, it might be that curcumin could help delay decreases in brain function due to age or disease, and improve memory function too. (4) Curcumin may also act as an anti-depressant (5), by boosting the BDHF levels
Turmeric and heart disease
Curcumin may help improve the function of the lining of our blood vessels (the endothelium). Malfunctions of the endothelium are a significant factor in heart disease. The restoration of these functions could help those with heart conditions, when used in conjunction with other lifestyle changes such as exercise and diet. (6)
Should I take turmeric extract or curcumin?
The simple answer is: consult your doctor first, especially if you are currently undergoing treatment or taking prescription drugs. It is important to talk through all the options, and as seen for those with a heart condition, curcumin should be considered as part of a holistic approach to health and wellbeing, rather than a “golden cure-all”.
Talk turmeric with AMG London
Rather like turmeric in a spice mix, at AMG London, our experts blend together to offer a complete lifestyle medicine service, each complementing the other. Our patients benefit from a ‘joined-up’ approach to health and wellbeing that includes the best in medical advice, diet and nutrition, exercise, therapies and associated services such as gait analysis and dental care – all in our state of the art London ON clinic.
For more details call us here at AMG London, or pop in and make an appointment. We’ll be happy to see you.