What Are the Benefits of Including Turmeric in Your Diet?
Without turmeric, many of your favorite Middle Eastern, Asian and Indian meal dishes would lack their luster and flavor. Curry would lose its golden allure, and you’d crave a taste you might not be able to place. But, aside from flavor, what about your health? Are there also health benefits for including turmeric in your diet?
Aside from being a crucial ingredient in curries, turmeric has been used for generations in Chinese, Ayurveda, and Siddha medicine for its believed health benefits.
What is Turmeric?
If you find fresh turmeric at the grocery store, you’ll notice that it looks a lot like ginger root. That’s because ginger and turmeric come from the same plant family, although turmeric can be differentiated by its uniquely deep orange color. It will also stain anything it touches the same bright orange color, including your hands, cutting board, and countertops. Hence why it’s also often used as a natural dye in Indian clothing, and Buddhist monk robes.
Typically, turmeric root is shredded and used fresh, or it can be boiled, dried, and ground into a powder, for use as a supplement or food spice.
The Benefits of Turmeric
So, yeah, Turmeric tastes great in curries, and it lends a beautifully deep orange color that can be used as a natural dye, but why is turmeric good for you?
Turmeric is composed of curcuminoids, which are believed to be responsible for giving turmeric its superpowers. The most important curcuminoid, and the main active compound in turmeric is curcumin. Although it’s the main active compound, curcumin only accounts for about 3% of the weight of turmeric.
Yet, curcumin accounts for the following health benefits.
Turmeric’s Natural Anti-inflammatory Effects
Inflammation is part of a beneficial process. But chronic low-level inflammation is believed to play a role in a number of diseases, including heart disease and metabolic syndrome. Studies suggests that curcumin has anti-inflammatory properties, and in some cases may be more potent than aspirin and ibuprofen.
However, it does appear that turmeric’s anti-inflammatory effectiveness does have a limit. In a 2018 published study, researchers found that curcumin had no effect on postsurgical inflammation. This suggests that turmeric may be more effective for low-level chronic inflammation, as a 2015 study found curcumin beneficial when paired with regular treatment for ulcerative colitis, a chronic condition that causes inflammation of the colon.
Turmeric May Help Combat Heart Disease
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the US, and many parts of the world. There are a number of contributing factors to heart disease, but it appears that curcumin could have some helpful benefits, in addition to reducing inflammation, as we previously pointed out.
One contributing factor to heart disease is what doctors call endothelial dysfunction, which refers to the inner lining of the blood vessels. Typically, this inner lining constricts and dilates to provide adequate blood flow to different tissue. It also regulates the flow of electrolytes, and blood clotting mechanisms. Endothelial dysfunction can lead to high blood pressure, abnormal blood clotting, and atherosclerosis.
It’s natural for vascular function to decline as we get older, although exercise and a healthy diet can help counterbalance that decline. And, although I wouldn’t recommend skipping out on the daily exercise, one study has shown curcumin supplementation to be as effective as aerobic exercise for improving endothelial function in postmenopausal women.
Another study suggests that curcumin could be helpful in reducing the risk of atherosclerosis, via the reduction in plasma levels of SICA, a molecule involved in the development of atherosclerosis.
Heart disease patients who underwent a coronary artery bypass graft, often referred to as “open heart surgery”, were also found to have a 65% decreased risk of heart attack while in the hospital, when given 4 grams of curcumin per day, before and after the surgery.
Turmeric for Arthritis and Joint Pain
Arthritis is typically characterized by pain and swelling that occurs in the joints. People often experience it throughout their body in their hands, knees and limbs. The pain can become worse following any kind of activity, due to increased inflammation.
Since curcumin has anti-inflammatory benefits, it’s no surprise that it can also help with arthritis. For patients with rheumatoid arthritis, a debilitating autoimmune disease, curcumin was found to be a safe and effective treatment.
For patients with knee osteoarthritis, curcumin reduced their symptoms by 41%, and improved their physical functioning when tested on a treadmill.
Turmeric and Depression
Additional research suggests that turmeric could be effective for patients with depression, especially when combined with their current treatment. In a randomized controlled trial, 60 participants were assigned into three different treatment groups. One group received Prozac, another group was given curcumin, and a third group was given both Prozac and curcumin.
Although this study was small, it did find that the patients who were given Prozac and curcumin had the most improvement. Other studies also suggest that curcumin can increase the mood modulating neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, although studies have primarily been done with mice.
How to Use Turmeric
Since most of the benefits of turmeric are associated with curcumin, and turmeric is approximately 3% curcumin, it can be difficult to get sufficient levels of curcumin through meals alone. So, although it’s recommended to include turmeric root in your cooking, you might need a supplement to get a significant amount of curcumin to get the most benefits.
Curcumin is also poorly absorbed when taken by itself. But you can increase the absorption of curcumin by consuming it with black pepper. Black pepper contains piperine, which increases absorption of curcumin.
The turmeric supplement by BN Labs provides 95% curcumin extract, and contains 10 mg of Bioperine, which is the trademark name for piperine. That means it’s high in curcumin, the active compound of turmeric, and it’s optimized for maximum absorption.
Lastly, curcumin is also fat soluble. So, if you’re supplementing, it’s recommended to take it during a meal that also includes a source of fat, like olive or coconut oil. You could also take it along with your breakfast egg scramble or frittata. The eggs will provide a healthy supply of fat, and you can add an extra dash of fresh pepper to ensure maximum curcumin absorption.
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