Published October 18, 2017 — Share
Turmeric is undoubtedly one of the most popular natural ingredients right now, thanks to its potency and versatility. This bright, yellowy-orange powder, obtained from the dried turmeric root, can be mixed into smoothies for a healthy boost, used in stews for flavouring, and even has benefits as a skin treatment. But what is turmeric exactly?
Turmeric is a rhizome (root) in the ginger family native to southern parts of Asia, and has been used for thousands of years for its health benefits and pigment qualities. In its raw form, it looks like a scaly, miniature ginger root, but cutting it open reveals a deep orange or earthy yellow colour. Most people may be familiar with turmeric in its powdered form, which gives many curries (and curry powders) their distinctive colour. Turmeric can be consumed dried and powdered or raw, and has a long history of safe use for many purposes.
In addition to being a delicious ingredient, turmeric is turning heads for its powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Besides its dietary applications, turmeric has been traditionally used in herbal medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda for a variety of benefits, including aiding in digestion, and relieving joint pain and inflammation.
Research has found that turmeric can provide beneficial effects for those with disorders related to inflammation, such as ulcerative colitis, and even reduce plaque buildup to prevent heart disease. A recent meta-analysis found that both turmeric and curcumin in supplement form may help to improve blood lipid levels, which are important risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Most impressively, these compounds reduced LDL-cholesterol by an average of 34 per cent and blood triglycerides by an average of 21 per cent when compared to a control group; however, further research is still required.
It’s important to distinguish turmeric from curcumin: while turmeric is the entire root, curcumin is the bioactive pigment found in it. Curcumin supplementation has in some cases increased key antioxidant enzymes in the body, including superoxide dismutase (SOD), glutathione and catalase — some of the body’s most potent detoxifiers — and it’s thought that this could protect against the development of pro-cancerous compounds. Ongoing research is also exploring the role of curcumin in affecting various signaling pathways in the body associated with neurodegeneration (such as Alzheimer’s disease) and cancer, although more research needs to be done.
One of the more well-documented benefits of curcumin is its anti-inflammatory properties, which are important to consider for those with conditions like joint inflammation. Curcumin participates in cell signaling and can inhibit inflammatory conditions by reducing the production of pro-inflammatory enzymes called cytokines. By reducing the release of these cytokines, curcumin has been shown to improve symptoms of arthritis. Some proprietary blends have even shown to improve pain, stiffness and physical function in those with knee osteoarthritis.
Beyond adding a glorious glow to traditional Indian dishes, turmeric and curcumin show a lot of promise for various health considerations. Speak with your health care practitioner about whether turmeric and curcumin may be right for you, and visit your local CHFA Member health food store for more information.