Turmeric: The Most Important Spice and Medicinal Herb?
If forced to choose only one spice/herb to use for the rest of my life, it would be turmeric, whose major compound and biological agent is the antioxidant and polyphenol curcumin. Curcumin comprises about 3-4% of turmeric. (Polyphenols ramp up the activity of the body’s natural detoxification system and help decrease inflammation. One of the reasons for the plethora of research on red wine is the study of the beneficial health impact of the amount and variety of polyphenols found in red wine.)
With regard to turmeric, Hippocrates was right on target when he said, “Leave your drugs in the chemist’s pot if you can cure the patient with food.” In fact, turmeric has been used as a medicinal herb in Ayurvedic medicine for over 6,000 years, and for at least that long in India, whose population has long recognized the health benefits of turmeric. In fact, one of the reasons posited for the very low rate of dementia and Alzheimer’s in India is the widespread use of turmeric.
Over 4,000 scientific studies have focused on turmeric’s detoxifying, anti-inflammatory, organ-protective qualities, and some results include the following:
- The ability of fermented turmeric to reduce ALT (alanine aminotransferase), AST (aspartate transaminase) and GGT (gamma-glutamyltransferase) – liver enzymes that, when elevated, indicate liver problems
- The ability of turmeric to protect the liver against a wide variety of environmental toxins and drug toxicity, as well as fluoride neurotoxicity
- The ability of turmeric to eradicate liver cancer cells and tumors
- The ability of turmeric not only to protect the diabetic liver, but also to aid in regenerating it
- The ability of turmeric extract to prevent pre-diabetics from incurring Type 2 diabetes
- The ability of curcumin to ameliorate autoimmune diabetes
- The ability of turmeric to help regenerate sick pancreatic tissue, as well as to reverse pancreatic damage in Type 1 diabetics
- Aids with a wide variety of gastrointestinal disorders, including aiding with digestion and helping prevent ulcers and diverticulitis
- Aids in preventing ulcerative colitis
- Helps prevent and eliminate gallstones by thinning out bile
- Can help lower blood sugar levels, increase insulin levels and protect against kidney damage
- Acts as a cardiovascular tonic in much the same way as physical exercise
- Helps to retard the formation and growth of beta-amyloid plaques (think Alzheimer’s)
- Aids in regeneration of brain stem cells
- Aids in fighting clinical depression, with some studies indicating it to be as effective as Prozac
- Equally impressive is that turmeric appears to be totally safe. Turmeric’s pharmacological benefits compare favorably with many prescription medications, including statins, steroids, antidepressants, anti-inflammatory drugs, chemotherapy drugs and diabetes drugs.
Some other health benefits of turmeric are that it:
- Directly aids in fighting infections and boosting the immune system
- Helps to control asthma and allergies
- Helps to control the pain of arthritis and osteoarthritis
- May have a therapeutic effect in treating obesity, not only by inducing the death of “bad” fat cells, but also in converting “bad” fat (white fat cells) to “good” fat (brown fat cells)
- May provide benefit not only in helping prevent telomere shortening, but also in promoting telomere lengthening
Lastly, turmeric has many anti-cancer attributes. In fact, studies indicate curcumin might be capable of decreasing the number of stem cells at the center of cancer malignancy. In addition, many studies indicate curcumin’s ability to inhibit and suppress neck and head squamous carcinoma proliferation.
Other purported cancer-related benefits of turmeric include that it:
- Aids in killing H. pylori, a pathogen that can cause peptic ulcers and stomach cancer
- Aids in colon cancer prevention, with some studies indicating not only enhanced benefit when combined with chemotherapy, but also that curcumin may be equally effective as chemotherapy in the treatment of colon cancer
- Plays a chemo-protective role against prostate and esophageal cancers
- Works compatibly with select chemotherapy drugs to aid in elimination of cancer cells
Normally, only a small percentage of curcumin taken orally will be absorbed into the blood. To compensate for this, and to aid bioavailability and absorption of curcumin, supplement manufacturers have developed products incorporating various bioavailable agents and special formulations. Special attention should be paid when purchasing turmeric/curcumin, in order to achieve maximum absorption of curcumin.
Additionally, one simple way to help increase absorption is to add freshly ground black pepper to turmeric when using turmeric as a food additive, as black pepper dramatically aids in the absorption of turmeric. One other suggested way to help increase absorption is to combine turmeric with agents that deliver phosphatidylcholine, such as lecithin. The amount of turmeric to be taken daily seems to be limited only by how much a person can ingest. If possible, when used in foods or purchased as a supplement, go organic.
DISCLAIMER: This article represents the views of the author and is not intended to constitute medical advice. The author’s views are not necessarily the views of The Wine Advocate.
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