Turmeric Benefits

Turmeric, or Indian saffron, is a spice within reach in kitchen cupboards, but high up in nutritional and medicinal benefits to merit a sacred place in Ayurvedic medicine.  It is a shrub related to ginger, and is widely cultivated throughout India, where it was first used as a fabric dye, food coloring and spice (because of its golden color and warm, bitter taste), and other parts of Asia and Africa, where they are popular ingredients in curries and cheeses.

In Indian folklore, turmeric is a symbol of prosperity (most likely because of its golden color).  Ayurvedic practitioners have been using the shrub’s stalk and rhizomes to cleanse all parts of the body.  Both plant parts are used to color, preserve and add flavor to everyday foods. In the Philippines, the dried root is powdered and used similarly.  Fresh roots are peeled and sliced and mixed with vinegar for added aroma and spice.

Traditionally, turmeric was applied to aid digestion, treat infection, alleviate arthritis symptoms and jaundice, and lower down fever, long before the shrub was discovered to contain powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties.  A plethora of research further suggests that turmeric is more golden that it already is.

Turmeric is packed with curcumin, the chemical responsible for the yellow coloring of the spice.  Modern science confirms the applications of turmeric in Ayurvedic medicine, and then some.  What makes turmeric “spicier” is the research finding that it holds promise as an anti-carcinogen.

Clinical trials on rats and mice have discovered that when the animal subjects were given curcumin in their diets, they had lower incidence of colon cancer.  In rats and mice that had already developed cancer cells, curcumin in fact caused the cancer cells to die, without causing death to healthier cells.  This discovery holds great promise in the area of oncology, because present chemotherapy treatments not only kill cancer cells, but also kill healthy ones.  If results can be isolated to humans, then it might very well be that the cure to cancer is simply to “spice” up our lives.  Curries look bland and lack the zing without turmeric anyway, so why not start your hand in Asian cooking today?

There are also exciting research projects underway about the effects of curcumin on brain health. In fact, Chinese medicine used turmeric to treat depression.  Today, a study commissioned by the University of California-Los Angeles has found out that curcumin broke up plaque formations in the brain caused by Alzheimer’s:  the higher the plaque build-up, the more serious the degree of Alzheimer symptoms.  Turmeric therefore may hold the key to delaying or slowing down the progress of Alzheimer’s disease.

Apart from using it directly as spice in cooking, turmeric stalks can be steeped in hot water to make tea.  This is how it was prepared to aid digestion or alleviate digestive problems.  It can also be mixed in warm milk in its powdered form.  Drink three times a day to reduce pain associated with arthritis. In smokers, a small amount –1.5 grams – of turmeric powder taken daily can stave off the effects of mutagens (substances that speed up the cancerous mutation in cells).

Given the additional benefits it confers as listed below, turmeric is indeed true to its golden form:

  • It is useful in disinfecting cuts and burns and speeds up healing of wounds because of its antiseptic and antibacterial qualities;
  • It detoxifies the liver;
  • It is a natural painkiller;
  • It helps heal skin damage, like that caused of psoriasis and other skin conditions;
  • It reduces cholesterol level and therefore minimizes heart problems due to atherosclerosis;
  • It treats heartburn and stomach ulcers;
  • It helps prevent prostate cancer if consumed with cauliflower.

However, there is only so much curcumin that the body can absorb.  To increase the rate of absorption and derive greater benefits from this spice, use turmeric along with black pepper.  That may sound too spicy for your taste, but to get the most zing out of turmeric, cook like an Indian.