Turmeric has become a very popular dietary ingredient in the West in the last few years. It has always been popular in India and East Asian countries for centuries to season food and to heal. Golden milk, turmeric extract, and turmeric products for skin are suddenly everywhere. So what is the hype? Why is this this bright orange member of the ginger family being lauded as a healthy and natural cure for near about everything?
The main reason turmeric so positively affects the body is turmeric’s link to resisting inflammation. Inflammation is the enemy of a healthy body. It has been linked to cancer, weight gain, diabetes, arthritis, anxiety and a multitude of other maladies. This is why having a regimen of anti-inflammatory supplements and dietary components are essential to health. Turmeric fills this need by providing a key compound that fights these responses in the body.
The secret to the anti-inflammatory power of turmeric can be found in its rich golden color. The chemical responsible for this is curcumin. This compound is found in ginger as well, but in significantly higher concentrations in the turmeric root. This chemical has a modulating effect on several important amino acids and proteins in the human immune system. It has been shown to protect against cell death, cell oxidation (associated with aging), and serves as an inhibitor of pro-inflammatory cytokines in the body. So what benefits are there to taking turmeric supplements or curcumin supplements to reduce inflammation?
Weight gain happens for a lot of different reasons. Historically a simple equation based around calories in versus calories out was relied upon to explain weight gain. More recent studies are finding that the body’s response to insulin and sugar processing are significant factor for the risk of weight gain. Inflammation in the body causes a dysregulation of cortisol which can in turn impact insulin, ghrelin and leptin. These are the hormonal factors governing the body’s processing of food, satiety, and hunger cues. Turmeric reduces inflammatory responses caused by environmental factors, thereby keeping these hormones regulated and keeping our relationship with food and body balanced. Also, a study conducted at Tufts University suggested that turmeric was shown to create a barrier to fat growth. So once the weight loss has occurred, it is less likely to creep back in.
Cancer affects all populations and can affect all systems in the human body. Turmeric has been studied as a preventative measure against the genesis and growth of cancers. Turmeric’s active ingredient curcumin inhibits the growth of blood vessels that feed cancer, actively contributes to the death of cancer cells and slows the spread of cancer in the body. It should also be noted that a large percentage of cancers are activated by chronic inflammatory conditions. This inflammatory response also contributes to the danger and growth rate of cancers, and turmeric mediates these inflammatory responses and protects the body from these immunological “storms”. There are a number of studies supporting this effect at relatively low doses of turmeric with no known side effects. Turmeric can also be supplemented with existing cancer treatments without increasing side effects of these medicines, and may even alleviate side effects.
Nothing is harder on the body than stress. Stress is linked to almost every major illness that human beings are subjected to. This chronic condition of living with daily stress impacts our thinking, our performance and even our sleep. Turmeric can help with this as well. Stress and sleeplessness can contribute to inflammation because our bodies struggle to recover from ordinary stresses when they become chronic. Curcumin has a protective effect on the body when one is not getting enough sleep. It prevents the typical physical breakdowns associated with sleep deprivation by managing the inflammatory hormones (cortisol again!) that are generated by a lack of rest. As a side benefit as well, Curcumin also has a special effect on the brain through lowering the perception of stress and improving the body’s ability to regenerate brain cells and reverse damage cause by stress.
Turmeric is what is known as an immunomodulator. This is like a balancer for your immune system. The body has multiple systems that work together to fight disease, and believe it or not inflammation is one of them. It is meant to repair tissue that has been damaged or hurt by disease or injury. This response is helpful in a short term situation, but if it goes on too long can be harmful. Another component of the immune system is the ability to produce antibodies to fight off viruses, bacteria and other disease causing toxins. This is the thing that really puts an end to an acute illness. Curcumin has been shown to work in both of these systems by keeping the inflammatory response limited to repair and aiding the antibody production of the body. This means that we fight harder and recovery quicker when there are attacks on our system. While the science behind this feature of turmeric supplementation is newer, there is a lot of ancient wisdom around eating turmeric when you are ill, or during the winter when the immune system is the most taxed.
Getting older can put a person at risk of a slow decline in health. Diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, arthritis, and atherosclerosis can mean a person can be subject to years of suffering and health difficulties. Chronic inflammation is the cause or the symptom of most of these illnesses. This is a case of inflammation meant to help the body heal from damage becoming a constant state of irritation and autotoxicity. Curcuminoids again help to modulate the effects and intensity of that immune response. Turmeric has a second weapon against aging in addition to fighting inflammation. Oxidation is the cause of the “degenerative” part of diseases such as these. Free radicals in the system damage all of the substances in our body that we use to build our bodies (i.e. DNA, protein, amino acids, etc). Curcuminoids have the ability to neutralize these free radicals and contain their damage. This protects all of the body’s systems from permanent damage from aging and carcinogens. Curcumin is considered one of the most potent, bioavailable antioxidants available.
Acne, rashes and age spotting have one thing is common. Inflammation is responsible for pimples, skin reactions and even aging of the skin. People have been using turmeric for skin for centuries. Turmeric capsules, turmeric powder, and turmeric in food have been known to cleanse the skin and system, reduce redness and inflammation and prevent aging from free radicals. It can also reduce reactive skin disorders such as psoriasis and eczema. Also as mentioned before, curcuminoids can fight the effects of stress and exhaustion and are used to reduce under eye circles and dark spots. Turmeric can also reverse sun damage and loss of skin elasticity by blocking an enzyme called elastase. This enzyme destroys the proteins and fatty acids that are necessary to keep your skin plump and youthful. Turmeric attenuates this enzyme, keeping you looking fresh and beautiful.