Turmeric is a wonderful spice, full of flavour and colour with health benefits to boot. It is the colour of golden sunshine and is used in Indian cookery in particular to add flavour and colour to food. A member of the ginger family, the spice is made from the dried rhizome (underground stem) of the plant.
Turmeric has a long history of traditional use in Ayurvedic medicine in India, with the whole herb used to support blood, liver, joints, immunity and digestion. However, in the last decade the scientific community has woken up to its benefits and there has been an explosion of research into turmeric and compounds within it, such as curcumin. What has also become apparent recently is that curcumin isn’t the only hero in turmeric, there are a host of other compounds in smaller amounts which all contribute to its beneficial properties.
Most of the health benefits attributed to turmeric and curcumin are due to their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which have widespread effects throughout the body. Let’s travel round the body to look at how it can help.
Unsurprisingly, it all starts with digestion: when it is consumed, it comes into contact with the lining of the digestive tract, a huge area that operates as a gateway to the inside of our body. It increases blood flow to the digestive area, stimulates the secretion of bile acids which aid digestion and also beneficially effects the good bacteria living in the gut, it may help with IBS symptoms, and soothe the gut in conditions like ulcerative colitis.
From the gut, turmeric is absorbed into the circulatory system. Here its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties may protect the cardiovascular system by improving and protecting cholesterol levels. Turmeric modulates the immune system and dampens inflammation in a number of conditions. Research has demonstrated that it influences healthy blood glucose levels, improves pancreatic function and insulin secretion, crucial to help prevent the onset of insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes.
For our joints, turmeric has pain-reducing qualities. By helping combat inflammation and modifying the immune response, it may improve movement and pain in osteoarthritis and reduce inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis.
The brain also benefits from the wonders of turmeric. It may help protect against the development of conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and to improve cognitive function by reducing damage to nerve cells from oxidation and inflammation. In fact, one study showed that elderly Asians who ate curries regularly had better cognitive function than those who rarely ate curry, although admittedly there are many other spices in a curry. Inflammation is also an underlying factor in the development of mood disorders and there has been promising research on the benefit of turmeric in depression.
Finally, even our skin benefits from a turmeric boost. Not only adding glow to our skin by improving digestion and offering antioxidant protection, dermatologists have found it may also help with many skin conditions such as acne and psoriasis.
Generally found in amongst our spices at home, cook up a curry or spice up a meal, make a turmeric latte or try adding it to smoothies and cereals. Additionally, take a supplement to enjoy the many benefits of this therapeutic spice!