I love herbs and spices, not only for their flavor but also for their medicinal effects. And if I had to pick one health all-star, it would have to be turmeric, the spice born of the curcuma longa plant that gives curries their rich golden yellow color. It’s more than just a tasty flavor-enhancer though. The chief polyphenol in turmeric, curcumin, has healing and protective powers that make it a nutritional force to be reckoned with.
Here’s my in-a-nutshell guide to this miraculous gift of nature – and how to put it to work for you:
It is a Super Spice
Turmeric and, it’s active ingredient curcumin, is one of the cornerstones of South Asian cuisine and it’s also been used medicinally for hundreds of years. More recently in the West, turmeric has been embraced as an anti-inflammatory agent with brain-boosting, anti-aging and heart-supporting effects. It’s also shown to be helpful in reducing pain and fatigue, improving mood by boosting serotonin and dopamine levels, as well as cognitive function by stimulating the production of brain growth hormones. An added bonus: it seems to also inhibit tumor growth.
It Boosts Nutrition
Interested in packing in as many nutrients as possible into your meals? One no-brainer solution – do it with turmeric! Each sprinkle of this golden powder adds vitamins C, E and K, plus key minerals such as iron, magnesium and zinc and even a little protein and fiber to boot. Turmeric also supports the health of your mitochondria (the power plants inside your cells), so adding it to diet can help your body access more of the energy it needs to function well and keep you feeling powered up.
It Cools Inflammation
Including turmeric in your meals can help cut the risk for metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, blood pressure problems and obesity – all of which are driven by systemic inflammation. Add turmeric to your smoothie (don’t worry, it won’t make it taste like curry), scrambled eggs or soups, stews and, of course, curried veggies or grass-fed meat at dinnertime to boost your intake. And remember to top your turmeric with a few shakes of black pepper to significantly boost curcumin absorption
It Fights Bacteria, Viruses, Free Radicals and More
In addition to its anti-inflammatory effects, turmeric has antiseptic, antifungal, anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-tumor properties, so it’s fighting for you on every level. Moreover, it gives free radicals a beat-down by boosting mitochondrial health, reducing the amount of free radicals produced by aging or dying mitochondria. While I encourage patients to add tumeric to their food, for patients over 40, I often also recommend a curcumin supplement, especially if they’ve had a run-in with cancer.
It Supports Brain Health
Curcumin has been shown to have positive effects on brain function, memory included, by increasing levels of the brain hormone that boosts neuron growth and fights decay. The curcumin rich diet favored in South Asia may also be a key factor in the region’s relatively low rates of Alzheimer’s compared to the high rate of the disease found in the U.S. Need another reason to dig into a dish of veggie curry? Research indicates that curcumin helps break up the amyloid plaques that form over the course of Alzheimer’s and can prevent them from re-forming, making it a potential game changer in the treatment of the disease.
It Loves Your Heart
As with the brain, curcumin’s anti-inflammatory effects are good news for your cardiovascular system as well, helping improve how well the endothelium, the lining of the blood vessels, functions. With the help of curcumin, the endothelium is better able to regulate blood pressure and support healthy vascular function and circulation, while relieving strain on the heart and reducing stroke risk.
It Slows Down Aging
Many folks believe that the shortening of our telomeres is at the heart of what makes us age and some research has shown that curcumin, helps stop your telomeres from shortening. Often likened to the long plastic tips that keep your shoelaces from fraying, telomeres are the ‘endcaps’ that protect the DNA in your chromosomal strands, helping to keep your cells, and the rest of you, young. But there seems to be other mechanisms too, as it also inhibits NF-kappaB and the mTOR signaling pathway to slow down ageing.
So, while perhaps not a ‘cure-all’ per se, it is an amazingly powerful anti-oxidant with anti-inflammatory, immune enhancing, brain boosting and ant-aging effects, and well worth getting to know better.