Tumeric is old news in Asia, where people have been reaping the benefits of this native spice for thousands of years. But it seems that the western world is only just cottoning on to how much this wonder root can help improve our everyday health and wellbeing, with many newspapers reporting on one woman’s recent claims that it has helped her recover from blood cancer.
So, with the help of Shona Wilkinson, Nutritionist at Superfooduk, we’ve put together a comprehensive list of everything you need to know about this particular spice.
What is it?
Turmeric, a member of the ginger family, is a root most commonly known in it’s ground spice form. Until now, you probably only cracked it out in order to flavour a curry or give your kedgeree a kick. You’d probably recognise it for it’s fiery orange colour and peppery taste.
“As well as imparting delicious flavour and stunning colour to curries, turmeric has actually been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine for its health benefits,” says Shona. “Modern science – and popular culture – are only now discovering just how powerful it can be.”
Turmeric originates from the root of the Curcuma Longa plant, and has been widely used in the east as a medicinal spice due to its variety of health benefits for the body and brain. These benefits come from the root’s main active ingredient, curcumin, the healing compound that gives Turmeric it’s bright colour and, more importantly, is responsible for it’s healing properties.
What can it do for me?
Studies have found strong links between curcumin and improved health and longevity. It has been proven to have huge anti-inflammatory and therapeutic impacts, and in some cases has even been cited as being as effective as certain drugs.
1. It is anti-inflammatory
One of the most researched properties of Turmeric is its anti-inflammatory activity, which is pretty important when you consider that many western diseases count chronic inflammation as a key cause. Shona says:
“Curcumin is thought to have particularly powerful anti-inflammatory properties, but other substances may also play a role. Inflammation is a natural process that’s necessary for repair and healing, but when it becomes long-lasting or out of control it can cause health problems. These include painful conditions such as arthritis (where there’s pain, there’s nearly always inflammation). But many other common health conditions also involve ‘hidden’ inflammation – including heart disease, obesity, allergies, skin problems such as eczema, and even Alzheimer’s disease. In other words, many of the conditions that characterise 21st century living.”
What’s more, such inflammation can be caused – and certainly exacerbated – by the many challenges of modern life. Poor diet, high stress levels, lack of sleep and poor gut health can all contribute, so it’s clear that we’re in great need of anything that can help to balance and reduce inflammation!
2. It provides joint support
By reducing inflammation, turmeric in turn plays a huge role in providing joint support.
“It’s this very anti-inflammatory activity that makes turmeric supportive for joint health. Joint pain and arthritis are among the most obvious signs of inflammation. And so anything that helps to balance inflammation may relieve symptoms – or even help prevent the problem occurring in the first place.”
Indeed, studies have proven the spice to play an active role in reducing joint degradation and aid in joint maintenance. As a result, organisations such as Arthritis Research UK recommend turmeric as a complimentary medicine.
3. It supports digestion
Turmeric works as a ‘cholagogue’, which means it stimulates bile production in the liver, and encourages the gallbladder to release bile into the digestive tract. Bile helps to break down and digest the fats in our foods.
“If that doesn’t sound like a good thing, then remember that we need fats in our body for a host of reasons, including keeping our brain, heart and eyes healthy, for making hormones such as testosterone and oestrogen, and for good skin health. We also need good digestion of fats in order to absorb fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin A, which is vital for our vision, skin and immunity. Bile also helps us to have normal bowel movements, and excretes toxins that have been filtered out of our blood by our liver.”
Turmeric also works to protect the liver, which is responsible for converting food into energy – making it one of the most important organs in the body. It contains compounds that prevent the liver from damage and improve its ability to detoxify – perfect for a hangover!
Increasing your turmeric intake
Increasing your turmeric intake is relatively easy, from simply adding an extra spoonful of powder to your meals, to eating it raw, to investing in turmeric supplements such as CurQuMax.
“You do need to take a lot per day to get the full effects, as you need an extract that contains a significant amount of the curcumin. Add it to your food (you can add a pinch or two of ground turmeric to your smoothie, toss some fresh vegetables in turmeric and a dash of olive oil or smash an avocado with turmeric and chilli flakes and use it as a spread) and consider taking it in supplement form.“
Shona advises looking for a supplement which also contains piperine (black pepper) as this helps the absorption of the curcumin in turmeric by roughly 2000%. It’s also worth bearing in mind that it is fat soluble, so for best results eat it alongside some fat such as olive oil or coconut milk.