Turmeric is an orange-colored spice imported from India, is part the ginger family and has been a staple in Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian cooking for thousands of years. It is propagated by cuttings from the root, needs well drained soil and a humid climate. The rhizome
is then unearthed in winter. Here in the West though turmeric most commonly known as the ingredient that turns salad mustard and curry bright yellow.
During the last two decades, turmeric’s ancient use as a treatment for digestive and liver problems have been largely confirmed by scientific research. It has also been shown to inhibit blood-clotting, relieve inflammatory conditions and help to lower cholesterol.
Ayurvedic and Chinese medicines utilize turmeric to clear infections as well as inflammations on the inside and outside of the body. But beyond the holistic health community, Western medical practitioners have only recently come on board in recognizing the benefits of turmeric.
Doctors at UCLA recently found that curcumin, the main component in turmeric, appeared to block an enzyme that promotes the growth of head and neck cancer.
In that study, 21 subjects with head and neck cancers chewed two tablets containing 1,000 milligrams of curcumin. An independent lab in Maryland evaluated the results and found that the cancer-promoting enzymes in the patients’ mouths were inhibited by the curcumin and thus prevented from advancing the spread of the malignant cells.
The phytochemical curcumin has antioxidant properties that prevent the formation of neutralized existing free radicals. It stops precancerous changes withing DNA and interferes with enzymes necessary for cancer prevention. Early studies have indicated that curcumin may help prevent or treat several types of cancer including prostate, skin and colon. In laboratory tests, turmeric has inhibited the spread of HIV.
Dr. Randy J. Horwitz, the medical director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine and an assistant professor of clinical medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Tucson, wrote a paper for the American Academy of Pain Management in which he discussed the health benefits of turmeric.
“Turmeric is one of the most potent natural anti-inflammatories available,” Horwitz states in the paper.
He went on to cite a 2006 University of Arizona study
that examined the effect of turmeric on rats with injected rheumatoid arthritis. According to Horwitz, pre-treatment with turmeric completely inhibited the onset of rheumatoid arthritis in the rats. In addition, the study found that using turmeric for pre-existing rheumatoid arthritis resulted in a significant reduction of symptoms.
“Raw is best”
Natalie Kling, a Los Angeles-based nutritionist, says she first learned about the benefits of turmeric while getting her degree from the Natural Healing Institute of Neuropathy. “As an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antiseptic, it’s a very powerful plant,” she says.
Kling recommends it to clients for joint pain and says that when taken as a supplement, it helps quickly. She advises adding turmeric to food whenever possible and offers these easy tips. “Raw is best,” she said. “Sprinkling it on vegetables or mixing it into dressings is quick and effective.”
If you do cook it, make sure to use a small amount of healthy fat like healthy coconut oil to maximize flavor. Kling also recommends rubbing turmeric on meat and putting it into curries and soups.
“It’s inexpensive, mild in taste, and benefits every system in the body,” Kling says. “Adding this powerful plant to your diet is one of the best things you can do for long term health.”
Caution: Curcumin should not be taken by anyone who has a biliary tract obstruction or is taking anticoagulants, as curcumin stimulates bile secretion and acts as a blood thinner.