All too often dismissed as merely a flavoring for food, especially as a curry powder, turmeric has been one of the staple Indian and Chinese medicines for thousands of years, relieving and healing a number of conditions.
What is turmeric?
The yellow flowered plant from which it is derived is a member of the ginger family and grows freely in India, Indonesia and China, as well as many other tropical regions. In China they take the dried aromatic root and grind it to a fine powder. This way the release of another active ingredient, curcumin, is also maximized; producing an orange colored and volatile oil. Apart from its healing applications, its culinary applications are as a colorant and flavoring for food; particularly meats, pickles and baked foods.
An overview of what does turmeric does.
Two of the common and traditional Chinese uses of turmeric are in the treatment of flatulence and menstrual irregularities. However, being an anti-oxidant and an anti-inflammatory agent, it is also used to reduce inflammation of the shoulders, knee and elbow joints and giving relief from rheumatoid arthritis. Recent investigations also suggest that it could play a role in lowering cholesterol levels, reducing the risk of thrombosis and could even prevent cancers, especially of the colon and mouth. However, these anti-cancer and cholesterol reducing powers have so far only been observed in laboratory conditions with animals.
How turmeric works.
As an anti-oxidant turmeric works similarly to vitamins C and E, indeed turmeric is said to be as powerful an anti-oxidant as those two vitamins. As such it provides excellent protection to our cells against damage caused by oxygen carrying free radicals. In conjunction with the oil curcumin, turmeric acts as an anti-inflammatory if applied as a poultice or if used orally. The combined effects of being an anti-inflammatory and an anti-oxidant mean that it will also increase the secretion of bile and the production of enzymes in the liver. Subsequently, it will help to protect the liver from a build up of toxins. Finally the curcumin associated with turmeric is thought to stimulate the body’s natural production of cortisone from the adrenal glands, which will generally help the body to self-heal.
Major benefits of turmeric.
Taken orally the main benefit of turmeric is actually down to the action of the curcumin, which is to suppress the release of inflammatory agents within the body’s tissue. As indicated above, the curcumin, mixed with the turmeric, has therapeutic properties similar to those of cortisone and phenylbutazone, in instances of acute inflammation. However, unlike the injection of cortisone to reduce inflammation, using turmeric has no toxic effect. Applying turmeric poultices is common practice throughout the Indo-China regions to ease the pain associated with inflammation in the muscles and joints.
Additional benefits of turmeric.
Although simply down to traditional use, turmeric will help people with indigestion, preventing the build up or discomfort caused by wind through the action of releasing or relieving it. Thus, by preventing internal spasms it can be said to have a positive effect on the gastrointestinal system. By boosting the bodies anti-oxidant systems turmeric might prove to be an aid in the fight against cancer, by inhibiting the initial formation and then regressing the development of cancer cells. Its anti-cholesterol properties are down to it being able to prevent the coagulation of blood platelets; as well as seeming to have a role in combating atherosclerosis. Regarding the liver, the Chinese are well known for their concern about bile and their health. However, in science the production of bile is linked to the health of the liver, so the ability of turmeric to stimulate bile acid can only be of benefit to the liver.
Turmeric can be purchased as either the powder or a capsule, but using the capsule is the easiest way to regulate the dosage you consume. The recommended daily dose for turmeric is between 500mg and 1000mg per day. For example, if you want to use turmeric as an anti-inflammatory agent the best way to take it is in three 300mg doses across the day with meals. When buying turmeric look on the label and check that the preparation has 95% curcuminoids in the root extract. Consumption of turmeric can be improved by using it in conjunction with the enzyme bromelain, which improves absorption. However, taken this way it should be used between meals. As with any health supplement always consult your physician before embarking on a course of turmeric. Generally, in the recommended doses turmeric is perfectly safe to use. If you should already have gallstones, or another liver complaint, be aware that as turmeric increases the production of bile, this might complicate your gallstone symptoms, as they will hinder the flow of the extra bile. A bit of a dichotomy this next one, but an excess of turmeric could, in some people, cause gastrointestinal problems and aggravate ulcers. However, that information could be at odds with the use of turmeric as a gastrointestinal calmer. Also, other studies have shown that the use of turmeric in the recommended doses actually affords protection against the formation of ulcers.