Turmeric
Turmeric: What It Is, What It Does, and Its Many Health Benefits
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Fact Checked By Jill Armijo, PTA, CHC

Origins And Uses Of Turmeric

Turmeric comes from a perennial plant in the ginger family native in Southern Asia.

It's what gives Indian curry a yellow color and some of its fabulous, pungent, earthy flavor (1).

Most of the turmeric we use is grown in India and exported all over the world, but China, Vietnam, and Peru also produce and ship it (2).

You can buy it fresh in the produce department of some groceries, and it's usually available as a spice in most baking aisles.

Not only is it a spice, but it also contains biologically available properties that can decrease inflammation and provide many other health, wellness, and medicinal benefits.

Turmeric is one of the thousands of plants that help other organisms resist disease and infection.

It also has pharmacological attributes that benefit humans.

Plant-based preparations, including turmeric sold in capsules, are usually

  • Better for our bodies
  • More easily absorbed
  • Used more effectively

by our natural physiological processes than the artificial chemicals in over-the-counter and prescription drugs (3).

Modern western medical practitioners who receive sparse training about natural remedies in medical school often overlook these benefits (4).

On the other hand, natural medicine providers esteem curcumin as an optimal resource (5).

Curcumin is one of three naturally occurring phytochemicals in turmeric called curcuminoids, and it's the one with the most potent physiologically beneficial properties we know.

It has become the most researched and understood substance in turmeric (6).

Curcumin is one part of turmeric responsible for its remarkable health benefits.

Curcumin extract provides the highest level of effects as compared to turmeric powder.

Simply using the spice in foods won't be enough curcumin concentration for noticeable health changes or medicinal use.

Curcumin alone doesn't readily get absorbed into the bloodstream, but piperine, a natural substance in black pepper, enhances its absorption and bioavailability (7).

Curcumin is also fat-soluble and absorbs better with fatty food, so researchers recommended that supplements be taken with meals.

It has been found in the cerebrospinal fluid and, therefore, can cross the blood-brain barrier, making it of notable benefit to brain health (8).

What Do Turmeric And Curcumin Do?

An exciting and widely studied benefit of turmeric is the impact it has on inflammation.

Curcumin acts powerfully as an anti-inflammatory, which is vital in breaking the cycle of chronic inflammation responsible for many modern ailments (9).

In western society, where the average person ingests large amounts of sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats, chronic inflammation can lead to conditions such as obesity, heart disease, and diabetes (10).

Acute inflammation is a natural and appropriate reaction to injury or infection.

Our bodies become inflamed to reject and help rid us of foreign invaders such as bacteria and the waste products of injury repair.

The process of inflammation helps repair damage (11).

But when an inflammatory response becomes chronic, our bodies can become overwrought and attack themselves.

This continual attack on our tissues can be deadly, as with auto-immune disorders (12).

Chronic inflammation is responsible, in part, for many conditions that cause suffering and pain, including heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer's (13) (14) (15).

Curcumin has been shown to be a more potent anti-inflammatory than aspirin or ibuprofen and doesn't produce the side effects of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) (16).

What Are The Other Health Benefits?

In addition to fighting chronic inflammation, curcumin offers many other benefits, including:

  • Providing antioxidant protection
  • Supporting joint health
  • Decreasing arthritis pain
  • Improving oral health
  • Promoting healthy brain function
  • Lowering the risk of heart disease
  • Preventing the growth and spread of cancer
  • Fighting aging
  • Relieving depression
  • Increasing overall health (17).

Antioxidant Protection

Oxidative stress is produced by factors such as:

  • Over-exposure to UV rays
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Poor diet high in sugar, fats, and salt
  • Alcohol
  • Over-medication
  • Pollution
  • Harmful chemicals 18).

These can all cause damage to our bodies by creating free radicals which react with DNA, fatty acids, and proteins to trigger diseases (19).

Balancing free radicals and antioxidants promotes proper physiological function.

Because of its chemical structure, curcumin neutralizes free radicals by blocking them and boosts our body's antioxidant enzymes by stimulating their defenses (20).

Joint Health and Arthritis Pain

Many people suffer from joint pain due to the presence of chronic inflammation in their bodies from stress such as:

  • Frequent injury
  • Poor diet
  • Repeated infection.

There are different forms of arthritis, but they all stem from and produce inflammation in a vicious cycle involving one or more of these conditions.

Studies show that curcumin can decrease arthritis symptoms and interrupt this painful pattern, providing relief and improving joint function (21).

Oral Health

Curcumin is helpful for dentists and their patients in treating periodontal diseases and oral cancer.

Because of turmeric's anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antimicrobial, and antiseptic properties, among others, it can be used as a sealant, a mouthwash, and for irrigation.

Dentists also use it as a gel to provide local drugs during treatment (22).

Whether or not you're in the dentist's chair very often, your mouth will appreciate curcumin's natural, cleansing, and healing properties.

Healthy Brain Function

Alzheimer's disease is characterized mainly by a buildup of protein tangles called amyloid plaques (23).

Microglia destroys waste and toxins in healthy brains. Glial cells normally keep the brain free from debris, but with chronic inflammation, microglia cannot perform properly, and waste products, debris, and protein build up (24).

Curcumin has been shown to aid in clearing up this debris (25).

Alzheimer's disease and other brain disorders have also been linked to low levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a growth hormone that functions in your brain (26).

This hormone increases the number and capacity of neurons that form new connections (27).

Curcumin can increase BDNF levels in the brain, possibly delaying and reversing Alzheimer's and other age-related brain diseases (28).

Heart Disease

Curcumin improves the health of our blood vessel lining, or endothelium, which can help reverse heart disease (29).

The endothelium is responsible for preserving the integrity of the blood vessel walls, their permeability, and tone, regulating inflammatory responses, blood pressure, clotting, and other functions (30).

Dysfunction of the vascular endothelium is a principal driver of atherosclerosis and heart disease (31).

As already noted in this article, curcumin reduces inflammation and oxidation, further supporting proper heart function.

In a study of heart surgery patients, curcumin taken before and after surgery decreased their risk of heart attacks (32).

Depression

Depression is a complex mental condition manifesting in various ways. Many things can increase the chance of depression, such as:

  • Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse.
  • Aging, especially when lonely.
  • Some medications.
  • Conflicts between family and friends.
  • Death of a loved one or loss of a relationship.
  • Gender – women are more susceptible than men.
  • Genes – family history increases risk.
  • Stressful events.
  • Serious illness, pain, chronic conditions.
  • Substance abuse.

Serotonin, a "happy chemical" neurotransmitter, is received by receptors in the hippocampus, an area of the brain that supports learning and memory (33).

Research shows that this area of the brain is smaller in people with depression compared to those with healthier brains (34).

As in Alzheimer's, BDNF levels boosted by curcumin may help reverse depression due to the shrinking of the hippocampus (35).

Curcumin has been studied in treating depression by comparing and combining the administration of Prozac and curcumin in groups.

The outcome was more favorable for the participants who took both than the subjects who only took one (36).

Some evidence shows that serotonin and dopamine levels can also be bumped up by taking curcumin (37).

So What's The Verdict?

With its potent compound curcumin, turmeric has considerable potential and evidence for remarkable, science-backed health benefits, if only to stem the vicious cycle of inflammation, which plays a significant role in the onset of a plethora of miserable medical conditions.

Curcumin is also a potent antioxidant, antiseptic, enemy to cancer, hope for Alzheimer's research, and brain health support in various forms.

It can act as an oxygen radical scavenger and improve joint health, among many other benefits (38).

Supplement Recommendations

Remember that by itself, curcumin doesn't absorb into the body well. One common way to help us get the most benefit from the extract is to combine it into capsule form with a black pepper extract called piperine.

A recommended dosage is 500 mg turmeric root and curcumin extract with 5-6.7 mg of piperine extract.

Take three times a day with meals since it is more readily absorbed with fatty foods. (39).

Author

Fact Checked By Jill Armijo, PTA, CHC

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