The Benefits of Turmeric & Curcumin

by Tim Shaw

The Benefits of Turmeric & Curcumin

Turmeric has gained a lot of publicity over the last few years. It has gone from underused curry ingredient to food supplement and health hero.

However, it’s not all been golden lattes and tropical turmeric cleansers, it’s had its critics too. The fragrant root occasionally comes under fire for having little benefit and not living up to the hype.

This is because several characteristics of turmeric mean that very little of its active ingredient reaches your bloodstream. Choking down powdery spoonfuls from the jar at the bottom of your spice rack just won’t cut it.

Turmeric can be a supplement of immense power, but it needs to be prepared correctly. Taken in the right way or even paired with other useful substances it can be a powerful way to boost health and wellbeing.

Let’s take a detailed look at the benefits of turmeric and curcumin, how to take them and what to pair them with.

The history and global use of turmeric

Okinawa Japan Turmeric Discovery
Turmeric is the vibrant orange root of Curcuma longa which is a member of the Ginger plant family (turmeric, 2019). It can be chopped up and used fresh or dried and pulverised to create a fragrant powder.

While it has a long history of use in food it also plays a role in religious ceremonies. Turmeric paste is often smeared on the face and hands of the bride and groom at Indian wedding celebrations as a blessing (Rana, 2017).

It also has a long history in the Hindu medicinal system of Ayurveda. Ayurveda seeks to keep balance in all body systems to restore and maintain health.

Turmeric is used in this way to support the blood, liver, joints, immune system, and digestive tract as well as for its cleansing energy (Turmeric, 2018).

Turmeric is also a key part of the diet in blue zones. Blue zones were identified by Dan Buettner as parts of the world where people live for longer than average (Dan Buettner, 2008). Studies have been conducted in these areas and many lessons have been learnt.

One discovery was that, particularly in Okinawa, those who have lived a long life keep a medicinal garden (Buettner, 2008). This often contains turmeric plants and the root is regularly used in their meals for its many benefits.

What is the difference between turmeric & curcumin?

Turmeric vs CurcuminCurcumin is the best-known active ingredient in turmeric and is often credited as being responsible for its beneficial effects. It can be found in between 2% and 8% in most turmeric powders (Bradford 2013).

When isolated, curcumin can be taken in larger amounts and does indeed produce several important effects. However, it is not the only beneficial ingredient found in turmeric.

Curcumin is one of three curcuminoids and one of many of turmeric’s active ingredients. While a curcumin isolate does provide useful features, research has found that the interaction between curcumin, its fellow curcuminoids and other substances create a wider and slightly more potent effect (O’Brien, 2018).

To get the best of both curcumin and its companions, look for specially prepared natural turmeric and full spectrum extracts. These can vary but often contain larger amounts of the key ingredients and can even be fermented or adapted for easier absorption into your body.

What are the benefits of turmeric?

Turmeric has many medically recognised benefits and is already involved in both current and developing treatment protocols (Nagpal & Sood, 2013).

Most of the research mentioned here uses a form of curcumin extract or a turmeric preparation with an increased amount of curcumin to get focused results.

It increases the antioxidant properties of your body

Turmeric has been found to be a powerful antioxidant (Gunnars, 2018). Oxidation is linked to the cell degeneration associated with ageing and a range of chronic diseases (Gunnars, 2018).

The free radicals in our body build up from stress, chemicals and even lack of sleep. They can cause damage to your body’s DNA and proteins which is believed to result in many chronic conditions including cancer and neurodegenerative disease (Menon & Sudheer, 2007).

Turmeric can play a role in preventing this by neutralising free radicals that cause it. While there are lots of antioxidant superfoods to choose from, turmeric goes a step further and also supports your bodies own methods of fighting oxidation (Petrucci, 2017).

It has anti-inflammatory properties

Turmeric Anti-Inflammatory Belly Gut HealthTurmeric’s anti-inflammatory properties are at the centre of many of its key benefits. Inflammation of the body has been linked to the cause and symptoms of many diseases.

It is actually a natural response of your immune system, but it can become out of control. If the inflammation becomes chronic it is believed to be linked to some cancers and rheumatoid arthritis (Menon & Sudheer, 2007).

The curcumin in turmeric can reduce and suppress the causes of this inflammation. One way that it does this is by lowering your histamine levels.

The safety of turmeric is particularly useful here. Because of its small number of mild side effects, there is potential for long term use where many other anti-inflammatory medications are only safe in the short term (Daily, 2016).
It can boost your digestion.

Both the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric contribute to good digestion. Digestive efficiency is also based on gut permeability and turmeric may be able to promote and enhance this. (Peterson, et al., 2018).

Curcumin, in particular, has also been observed making alterations to gut microbiota over time which supports gut health and eases digestion (Peterson, et al., 2018). It has also been shown to ease gas and bloating effects from some food as well and acting as an antispasmodic and reducing digestive cramps.

Because of its soothing properties and gut, positive interactions turmeric is also being looked at as a potential treatment for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (Kandola, 2018).

It protects your liver

Linked to its anti-inflammatory properties turmeric protects the liver from a range of toxins including carbon tetrachloride and may even be useful for treating gallstones (Lee, et al., 2016).

Its antioxidant properties are also useful in maintaining your liver health. Oxidation can be introduced to the liver by alcohol, drugs, viral infections, environmental pollutants and diet these then result in a range of liver complaints and diseases. Turmeric has been found to act as an antioxidant shield in some of these cases and reduce negative effects (Mohamed, et al., 2018).

It may have anti-cancer properties

Turmeric SpicesTurmeric has shown promise as being able to interfere with three early stages of cancer. It may prevent the development of cancerous cells as well as degrading some lesions (Carroll, et al., 2011). At this stage, there is more research to be done but it may, one day, be used alongside current cancer treatments.

There is no current conclusive evidence that turmeric could be used as a standalone treatment for cancer but in 2013 an international laboratory study on bowel cancer cells concluded that a combined treatment of chemotherapy and turmeric may be more effective than chemotherapy on its own (Cancer Research UK).

It supports your cardiovascular system and reduces the risk of heart disease

Curcumin can reduce the grouping together of platelets in the blood and therefore improve circulation. It is also able to reverse most of the stages of heart disease. Studies have found links to an improved endothelial system which can regulate and improve necessary circulation functions (Wongcharoen & Phrommintikul, 2009).

Aspirin has previously been used to reduce the risk of heart attacks by slowing clotting and reducing inflammation (Tumboken, 2018). Turmeric produces a similar mechanism and is gentler on the body (Tumboken, Feb. 16, 2018).

It bolsters your immune system

Turmeric Plant ImmunityInflammation is one of the body’s immune responses. Not only can turmeric prevent inflammation, but it can also support its proper action. This gives a boost to your immune system which is also supported by the general nutritional benefits of turmeric (avogel, 2018).

Turmeric has also been linked to the T-cell action of recognising foreign pathogens and triggering the production of antibodies. This makes your T-cells more vigilant and able to respond to viruses that bring things like cold and flu (avogel, 2018).

It may play a role in the future treatment of Alzheimer’s

Turmeric can cross the blood-brain barrier and seems to have some promise in being able to clear amyloid plaques which have strong links with Alzheimer’s development. There is still lots of research to do but early indications are positive.

Turmeric also contains a substance called turmerone. Studies conducted with animals have indicated that it may be able to stimulate the production of new brain cells from stem cells (Alzheimer’s Society).

With both possibilities, the conclusive evidence, effective delivery and targeting methods are not there yet. However, turmeric’s antioxidative and anti-inflammatory effects are an already effective way to promote general health including that of the brain (Menon & Sudheer, 2007).

It boosts molecules that fight depression

Turmeric Fights Depression CoupleCurcumin appears to be able to boost levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor and dopamine which both have a role in reducing the symptoms of depression. Studies have indicated that it can be as effective as Prozac in some cases.

It is widely recognised that “curcumin does have an effect on several physiological systems that are implicated in the causes of depression,” Roger S. McIntyre, MD, a professor of psychiatry and pharmacology and head of the Mood Disorders Psychopharmacology Unit at the University of Toronto (Rodriguez, 2015).

Studies have shown a correlation between turmeric and a reduction in depression symptoms. However, at the moment they are unable to pinpoint the specific mechanisms responsible.

This has meant that it can not yet be used as a definitive treatment but does show promise. It has also been shown that people with depression have greater inflammation and oxidative stress, making turmeric promising as a future treatment.

The best ways to take turmeric

An effective dose that reflects current research is between 500-2000mg of turmeric per day. While this is a safe dose it is relatively high (Meixner, 2018).
High doses have not been thoroughly tested for the long term, so, limit the amount of time you use it as a daily dose.

All turmeric supplement retailers currently advise getting the advice of your doctor before adding it to your routine. Side effects with turmeric are rare but can include stomach ache, sickness, dizziness and diarrhoea (Turmeric, 2018).

Bear in mind that how you take your turmeric or what preparation you use will affect how much curcumin and other active substances reach your bloodstream:

Ingested as a root

Turmeric RootTurmeric root can be eaten or chewed providing an excellent source of curcumin naturally (Marie, 2018). To do this, prepare a small piece of the root by peeling it and slicing it into small pieces.

Turmeric root provides other nutritional benefits and is a great source of fibre if chewed or eaten as part of a meal (Billings-Smith). It can be used fresh if ground up or chopped small and cooked into dishes. It is also good to give a peppery hit to smoothies and makes a great pairing with ginger or spicy teas.

Turmeric has a distinctive deep yellowy orange colour and is notorious for staining hands, teeth and clothes. This is even more true of the fresh root so if possible, wear gloves when peeling and chopping it.

Taken as a powder

Turmeric powderTaking turmeric as a powder can be an easier way to add this beneficial spice to your dishes and teas. It mixes well and gives a milder flavour than the root.

Culinary turmeric powder is a great way to give an extra health benefit to your meals, but turmeric powder prepared as a supplement may have a higher percentage of curcumin or be formulated to be easily absorbed into your bloodstream.

Adding the powder to your diet is simple and easy, try creating a golden latte, spiced smoothie or adding it to an aromatic curry. If you want to take a regular standard dose there are capsules available which ensure you will get the correct amount in a convenient manner.

The properties of fermented turmeric

Organic Turmeric Root Fermented CurcuminWhen looking for turmeric capsules or specially prepared powders you may come across fermented turmeric. Fermented foods have been used for centuries to preserve, enhance and break down substances.

Fermented turmeric begins to break down the turmeric in such a way that its component parts are easier to digest. Along with easier digestion, fermented foods also promote gut health and good bacteria (Valente). If you’re looking for a potent product with extra health benefits fermented turmeric is the way to go.

Pepper increases its bioavailability

The major drawback of turmeric is that it contains a very small amount of its most active ingredient, curcumin, and only a tiny percentage will reach the bloodstream. The amount of a substance that reaches is your bloodstream is referred to as bio-availability.

There are several ways, including fermentation, to increase the bio-availability of turmeric. The most effective is to pair it with black pepper. This contains a substance called piperine which when ingested alongside curcumin can increase its bio-availability by up to 2000% (Prasad, 2014). However, it is to be used sparingly because pepper can cause side effects, and interact with several medications when taken in large amounts (Web MD, Black Pepper).

When is it best to take turmeric?

Turmeric can be taken effectively at any time of day. Depending on what you are taking it for will help you decide how often you should dose each day and for how long for (Web MD, Turmeric).

Turmeric is most effective when eaten with other foods and combined with fats and substances like black pepper. It can be used equally effectively in a zingy breakfast smoothie, to get you going for the day, and a soothing nighttime turmeric latte, to settle you for sleep.

Turmeric in synergy with other superfoods

While turmeric has many of its own benefits there are more to be unlocked by matching it with other superfoods. Many of these pairings unlock extra potential from their synergy that they don’t contain on their own:

Turmeric and collagen

Collagen is a protein found in great abundance in the human body. It keeps everything together and provides body tissue with elasticity. It is this that is often linked to keeping us youthful (Elliott, 2018).

Combining collagen with turmeric allows them to work simultaneously on reducing inflammation and boosting elasticity. This can have a soothing and anti-ageing effect on the skin (Redonline, 2017).

They also make an effective pairing to fight arthritis: Collagen supports bone, tissues and joints while turmeric reduces the production of COX-2 the enzyme responsible for the excessive inflammation linked to arthritis (Tan, 2011).

The final benefit of this collaboration is that together they can support the healing of small wounds and blemishes. This makes them a go-to for soothing and rejuvenating tired skin and joints (Elliott, 2018).

For example, Collagen Peptides with Celadrin, MSM and Glucosamine from Planet Paleo.

Or, Anti-Ageing Pack - Skin & Hair Vitamins with Collagen by G&G Vitamins.

CBD oil with turmeric

Curcumin + Black Pepper CBD oilCBD and Turmeric share many similarities which make them a useful combination. Many of turmeric’s key actions are supported by the presence of CBD.

For example, by combining turmeric with CBD its anti-inflammatory effects are increased, creating a powerful force for health and wellbeing. Both are fat soluble so can be combined with oils to boost their absorption into the body (Food Pharmacy, 2017).

They are both naturally sourced products and can be produced organically and toxin free from some retailers. They have been noted to have minimal side effects and work together well to increase your overall wellness (WHO, 2018).

For example, 5% CBD Oil Drops with Curcumin and Black Pepper by Pharmahemp.

Mushrooms paired with turmeric

Many mushrooms are well known for their host of benefits as well as being amazing in a stew, a soup or even on toast. Particular pairings with turmeric, however, can give you an invigorating boost and even provide powerful support for your brain health.

Turmeric and shiitake

This partnership combines antioxidant properties with essential amino acids, vitamins B and D and selenium. Together they can support your overall health leaving your body and skin feeling revitalised (Muenter, 2018).

Many people who use this combination use it for general health, anti-ageing properties and report that it has given their skin a radiant glow. Additionally, shiitake is an adaptogen which provides an energy boost as well as protecting your body from stress (Rome, 2017).

They have also been shown to adapt their function to meet your body’s immediate needs making them great for round support. A 2014 study also showed that shiitake mushrooms provide a significant increase in the quantity and quality of T-immune cells and natural killer cells (Xiaoshuang, et al., 2015).

Turmeric and lion’s mane mushroom

Turmeric and Lion’s Mane Mushroom CognitiveThis combination has a wide range of effects on the human body but provides particular benefits for your brain.

Lion’s mane is a natural nootropic which means that it can enhance cognitive function without reducing capacity later. It also contains substances that may support better memory as well as general focus and alertness (Julson, 2018).

Together they will improve blood flow to your central nervous system and may even slow the onset of brain degeneration in the elderly (Julson, 2018). For example, Lion’s Mane Mushroom Cognitive Blend by Living Nutrition.

Spirulina and turmeric

Essential Food Organic Superfood PowderSpirulina is a type of cyanobacteria, often called blue-green algae, and can grow in fresh or salt water. It is packed full of nutrients and vitamins and is often considered as one of the most, gram for gram, nutritious foods available.

Pairing turmeric and spirulina is great for nutrition but studies have also indicated that spirulina may be antioxidant and anti-inflammatory as well. It has also been linked to a decrease in some of the risk factors for heart disease and even shown promise in treating cancerous lesions particularly in the mouth (Leech, 2018).

These benefits mirror some of the known effects of turmeric so they are an effective pairing for boosting health and may even prevent the onsets of some forms of the disease. For example, Essential Food Award-winning Organic Superfood Powder by G&G Vitamins.

Conclusion on Turmeric & Curcumin Benefits

Turmeric has a long and brightly coloured history as medicine, food and religious symbol. It is linked to health benefits in nearly all body systems and has the potential for many more.
Choosing the right preparation will dictate the strength and focus of these benefits. Look for products that have been enhanced for bioavailability, have a high percentage of curcumin but also retain a full spectrum of turmeric’s other active ingredients.
Careful pairings with other foods will allow you to increase the benefits of turmeric as well as combine it with new ones. Look out for products that are certified organic and provide a full range of natural compounds from each ingredient.
Whatever your reason for including this spice into your diet it will be an enlightening and beneficial journey. Turmeric is more than just a root; it carries with it the legacy thousands of years of cultural history entwined with our health and wellbeing as human beings.

Turmeric & Curcumin Benefits for the Ageless

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Tim Shaw Tim Shaw
Tim Shaw

Author

Tim W. Shaw is a freelance writer and English graduate. He writes extensively about supplements and food, particularly CBD. He and his wife share their home with two daughters and a lifetime’s collection of books.


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