Turmeric, or Indian saffron, is a bright yellow powder derived from the root of a plant in the ginger family. It’s the spice that gives curry powder its yellow color, and it is often used for both color dying and for flavoring in Asian cooking. However, the health benefits of turmeric are even more valuable—its anti-inflammatory benefits in particular. Eating turmeric has traditionally been a part of ancient Ayurvedic medicine, and in the modern world clinical trials have shown that this golden spice is good for your health. Come with us as we explore the science behind turmeric powder’s benefits.
Check out the various health conditions that can be improved with turmeric root powder and its derivative, curcumin.
Inflammation is a natural and healthy function in the body, but excessive or long-term inflammation can damage your body and contribute to many serious health issues plaguing the Western world, including Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, cancer, and metabolic syndrome. Fighting back against chronic inflammation is a part of preventing and treating these diseases, and curcumin is a powerful anti-inflammatory compound. Not only is curcumin often as effective as any over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drug, but it also works without any adverse side effects. Scientists and researchers have shown that curcumin can safely fight inflammation on a molecular level.
The compounds in turmeric that have medicinal properties are known as curcuminoids, the most relevant of which is curcumin, the main active ingredient found in turmeric powder. To take advantage of these benefits, it’s best to get a concentrated form of the supplement, as most scientific studies are done with turmeric extract in dosages exceeding 1 gram per day—it would be difficult to consume such large amounts of turmeric in your food. Moreover, curcumin alone has low absorption in the human body, so most curcumin supplements also contain piperine, a compound in black pepper that enhances curcumin absorption by up to 2,000%.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, and researchers have found that curcumin may help reverse the causes of heart disease. Curcumin helps improve endothelial function (the lining of your blood vessels), which helps regulate blood clotting, blood pressure, and other heart-related functions. Some studies show that curcumin improves endothelial function as well as exercise, while others find that it works as well as pharmaceutical drugs. Curcumin also reduces oxidation and inflammation, both of which play a role in heart disease. Another study of 121 people undergoing coronary artery bypass surgery showed that those who took 4 grams of curcumin per day had a 65% less chance of experiencing a heart attack.
Free radicals in the body cause oxidative damage to our cells and DNA, and are believed to be one of the main causes of aging as well as many chronic diseases. Antioxidants are valued for their ability to fight against free radicals, and turmeric supplements and curcumin help neutralize dangerous free radicals. Curcumin also boosts your body’s natural antioxidant enzymes, making it a double-hitter when it comes to powerful antioxidant support.
Your neurons are capable of dividing and multiplying even after early childhood. One of the compounds driving this activity is brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a type of growth hormone in the brain. Low levels of this hormone have been associated with brain disorders from depression to Alzheimer’s disease. Curcumin can help increase BDNF, and in doing so may help delay or even reverse brain diseases. It can also help improve memory, even in cases of age-related decreases in brain function.
Cancer is characterized by uncontrolled cellular growth, and many forms of cancer can be influenced by curcumin supplements. Curcumin has been researched as a cancer treatment and has been found to interfere with cancer growth pathways. Curcumin can promote the death of cancer cells, reduce angiogenesis (new cell creation), and slow the spread of cancerous cells. Many studies have found that curcumin reduces cancer cells in a lab setting and inhibits tumor growth in lab animals.
Though high-dose curcumin still needs further testing to find out if it’s an effective cancer treatment in humans, there is evidence that it can help prevent cancers, especially those in the digestive system. One study found that in men with potentially cancer-causing lesions of the colon, 4 grams a day of curcumin reduced their lesions by 40%. Scientists have yet to determine definitively that curcumin can benefit traditional cancer treatments, but the currently known results are quite promising.
One controlled, randomized study found that people with depression who took curcumin fared as well as those who took Prozac, and that those taking both showed even more improvement. Those results, along with curcumin’s ability to increase brain-derived neurotrophic factor, lead researchers to believe that curcumin can be an effective antidepressant. Depression is linked to reduced levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, meaning that curcumin’s BDNF-boosting abilities can possibly reverse the contributing causes of depression. There’s even evidence that curcumin can increase the brain’s supply of serotonin and dopamine, two huge key factors in mood.
One of the most common neurodegenerative diseases in the world, Alzheimer’s disease is a leading cause of dementia. While there is not yet any reliable treatment for curing Alzheimer’s, curcumin has been found to cross the blood-brain barrier and reduce the oxidative damage and inflammation that contribute to Alzheimer’s disease in the first place. With no treatment available, preventing Alzheimer’s is of the utmost importance, and curcumin has been shown to help clear the amyloid plaques (tangles of protein) that build up in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. This leads to the supposition that curcumin may be able to prevent or possibly reverse the progression of this terrible neurological condition.
A common problem in the Western world, arthritis often involves painful inflammation in the joints. As a powerful anti-inflammatory compound, curcumin may help with the symptoms of arthritis: one study on those with rheumatoid arthritis found that curcumin was more effective than anti-inflammatory drugs in relieving pain, while many other trials have also found that curcumin improves arthritis symptoms.
With its potential to help prevent Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and heart disease, curcumin is extremely popular for use as an anti-aging supplement. With inflammation and oxidation being possible contributing factors to aging as well, curcumin’s influence in the body may help slow down the overall aging process.
Turmeric and its active compound curcumin have been scientifically proven to provide health benefits. Should you want to take advantage of the potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric, we recommend that you find a product with BioPerine (which is the trademarked name for piperine) to increase your absorption of turmeric. The more you absorb, the more good you’ll get from this amazingly beneficial spice.