Vasco Da Gama, Christopher Columbus and other navigators set sail not only for discovering newer routes to the undiscovered world, but also they were eager to profit from the demand for spices in Europe. It is unclear if they knew the merits of using spices in foods and drinks in their times. In the 21st century, spices are not only used in foods and drinks but also in medicines and creams falling under important therapeutic segments. There are 20+ spices used in foods, drinks and medicines but turmeric occupies the top most spot as the golden spice due to its enormous therapeutic properties. The focus of this story is directed at unraveling facts from myths surrounding turmeric benefits.
India is the largest producer, consumer and exporter of turmeric and almost accounts for 80% of the turmeric supplied to the global market and the quality of Indian turmeric is considered to be of the highest quality because of its high curcumin content. Other countries that cultivate turmeric include Pakistan, China, Haiti, Jamaica, Peru, Taiwan and Thailand.
Turmeric, otherwise called golden spice, has been used in preparations for over centuries and is perceived as a spice that has numerous medical properties. The spice is used in preparations used in treating issues related to digestion and menstruation. Also, preparations for improving energy levels and dispelling worms from stomach use a significant amount of turmeric.
In south Asian countries, turmeric is used as an antibacterial agent used in the treatment of burns, bruises and cuts. In India, country that is largely associated with turmeric, finds use in beauty creams, antibacterial lotions, sunscreens and also consumed in edible forms to purify blood and therefore remedy skin conditions.
Importantly, turmeric has been used in treating serious medical conditions such as arthritis, asthma, allergy, liver disorders, diabetic wounds and sinusitis in addition to treating minor illnesses such as cough, cold and runny nose.
The spice is used as a blood purifying agent aiding in blood circulation. In both Ayurveda and Chinese practices, Turmeric is used primarily to treat stomach ailments. Therefore, it is mostly incorporated into foods to improve digestion and reduce gas. In some cases, turmeric is added to milk or water to treat intestinal disorders, sore throats and colds.
The in-vitro studies have revealed that turmeric is a potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimutagenic, antimicrobial, and anticancer agent. Also, a number of studies have indicated that the consumption of turmeric through curries can ensure antioxidant protection. The protection helps in absorbing free radicals, therefore, limiting lipid peroxidation.
Nutritional analysis of turmeric indicates it is rich in vitamins and minerals such as riboflavin, thiamine, ascorbic acid, niacin, calcium, phosphorous, sodium, potassium and iron. It also contains a minuscule amount of fiber, sugars and protein. Turmeric is also a rich source of ω-3 fatty acid and α-linolenic acid.
There are over 100 compounds isolated from Turmeric but curcuminoid remains the most important of all due to its stability and suitability for drug formulation. It has powerful anti-inflammatory effects and is a very strong antioxidant.
1. Anti-inflammatory: Researchers attribute the powerful antioxidant properties of turmeric to one of its component, curcumin. Curcumin not only finds utility in food as spice and coloring agent but also in cosmetics and medicine for its anti-inflammatory and anti-cancerous properties.
Curcumin’s ability to inhibit enzymes that mediate inflammatory processes makes it a powerful anti-inflammatory agent. Enzymes that mediate inflammatory processes in the human body include cyclooxygenase-2, lipoxygenase, inducible nitric oxide synthase, COX-2, LOX, and iNOS.
2. Fights Cancer: Inflammation is interlinked with the growth of certain forms of cancer cells. In these types of tumor development, Curcumin also finds utility as a component with chemopreventive effects. Recent scientific studies suggest that Curcumin confers protection against endotoxins and also appears to be a promising compound for countering effects of infections.
The National Institutes of Health has four ongoing clinical trials examining curcumin as a potential drug for pancreatic cancer, multiple myeloma, Alzheimer’s disease, and colorectal cancer. read more
3. Anti-oxidant: As a substituted bisphenol derivative, Curcumin possesses excellent anti-oxidant properties like any combination made of phenolic compound and ketone. Therefore, they act as efficient free radical scavengers abating electrophilic toxicity and neoplasia.
4. Neuroprotective: The Curcumin’s properties as antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent place them with desirable traits for a neuroprotective drug. The diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntingtin’s are mainly caused due to the accumulation of toxic proteins in the brain cells causing the death of neurons. Despite promising properties, Curcumin is yet to be on a clinical trial as a drug candidate in the neurology segment. Industry analysts feel this is mainly due to lack of efforts from the pharmaceutical companies.
5. Osteoarthritis Relief: The disease evolves over time and is characterized by declining joint functions and thereby increasing patients’ discomfort. Curcumin isolated from turmeric (Curcuma longa) has been recognized with the excellent safety profile, and with available data supporting its potency for targeting multiple inflammatory diseases, curcumin has a great potential for treating arthritis and had been classified as having preclinical evidence of efficacy.
6. Anti-mutagenic: Chemotherapy and radiation treatments are often known to initiate new forms of cancer. The consumption of Curcumin in powder form (as recommended by physicians) can effectively inhibit metastasis. The lab level studies have found curcumin's ability to inhibit carcinogenesis at three levels: promotion, angiogenesis and tumor growth. (Role of curcumin in systemic and oral health)
7. Anti-aging: In rats, the topical application of Curcumin in the skin of mice significantly inhibited the activity of Ultraviolet rays. The inhibitory effects were attributed to Curcumin’s ability to scavenge reactive oxygen species, otherwise free radicals. The safety profile adds to the credibility of the compound for sunscreen manufacturers to a greater extent.(Potential of herbs in skin protection from ultraviolet radiation)
8. Cardiovascular Benefits
Curcumin has been found to inhibit platelets from clumping together and thereby improving blood circulation. The compound has also been effective in lowering cholesterol level; Curcumin’s ability in conferring protection against pathological changes resulting from atherosclerosis also has been recorded in various scientific literature. (The protective role of curcumin in cardiovascular diseases)
Turmeric is used in foods such as scrambled eggs, roasted vegetables, rice, greens and soups. Drinks such as smoothie and tea also go well with Turmeric. Spices have reputation for preserving health of consumers in the long term and also help in combating infections.
One of the major issues surrounding turmeric is how well the body absorbs curcumin when it is consumed or made available. There are number of natural and artificial compounds that help absorption of curcumin and peperine is one among them. piperine (important component of black pepper) improves curcumin bioavailability by 2,000% at 45 minutes when consumed along with curcumin orally. (Recent Developments in Delivery, Bioavailability, Absorption and Metabolism of Curcumin: the Golden Pigment from Golden Spice)
Turmeric Side Effects: High doses of turmeric (for that matter, any spice) could cause nausea, Diarrhea, Increased risk of bleeding, increased liver functions, Hypotension, increased menstrual flow and hypotension.