How Do I Know If I Should Be Taking Turmeric and Curcumin?
Turmeric has become the rising star among today’s hip, herbal food trends. We see it everywhere, from its distinctive yellow-orange powder in the spice section, to supplement capsules sold at your nearest grocery store. Turmeric has become one of the top researched spices among scientists and a signature spice used in kitchens all over the world. But is the turmeric trend supported by scientific evidence? Like any food on the market, as consumers we need to exert a level of educated awareness concerning how to weed out bogus information and listen to peer-reviewed, evidence-based research.
The use of herbal medicinal products and supplements has increased tremendously over the past three decades. With herbal remedies being available not only in drug stores, but also in food stores and supermarkets, it is estimated that up to four billion people living in the developing world (representing 80% of the world’s population) rely on herbal medicinal products as a primary source of medical treatment. According to some estimates, as much as $10 billion is spent every year on alternative therapies, and over $650 million is spent on botanical supplements that are used for chronic inflammatory diseases such as chronic obstructive airways disease (COPD), asthma, and rheumatoid arthritis.
The History Behind the Medicinal Crop
Pick up any cookbook and you are likely to come across this vibrant, deep-yellow, mildly aromatic spice known as turmeric. Dating back to 4000 BC and originating from India, this kitchen spice has long been praised for its therapeutic properties. In fact, turmeric serves many purposes, as a dye, condiment and medicine. It has been coded as the approved food additive “E 100” in canned beverages, baked products, dairy, and cereals. No Indian dish is complete without turmeric as one of its ingredient. Even the bright yellow color and flavor of curry is because of turmeric. And it’s no surprise that about 80 percent of the world’s turmeric production comes from India.
Turmeric, derived from the plant Curcuma longa L., is classified under a family of tropical herbs including cardamom and ginger. The turmeric “fingers” (rhizomes) or roots are cultivated, dried, and prepared as a powder to be used as a spice, in capsules and teas, or as a topical paste. Since the conception of Ayurveda, (the Indian system of holistic medicine) numerous therapeutic activities have been linked to turmeric for a wide variety of diseases and conditions, including those of the skin, pulmonary, and gastrointestinal systems, sprains, and liver disorders.
Turmeric & Circumin in the Realm of Healing
Both the global demand for more affordable therapeutics and the wide-spread concerns about the side effects of commonly used drugs have refocused interest on Asian traditional medicines, particularly those originating from India and China.
Curcumin is one of many compounds found within the turmeric rhizome. However, curcumin has been credited as the elixir behind turmeric’s medicinal value. Because of its proposed therapeutic properties, curcumin is being marketed in several countries including the United States, India, Japan, Korea, China, South Africa, and Pakistan. Curcumin also comes in different form such as capsules, tablets, ointments, energy drinks, soaps, and cosmetics.
Over 7500 articles and 70 clinical trials, mostly published within the last decade, indicate that curcumin has anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-diabetic properties.
Let’s dive into this research and see what the science tells us.
Extensive research over the past 30 years has shown that curcumin plays an important role in the prevention and treatment of various pro-inflammatory chronic diseases including neurodegenerative, cardiovascular, pulmonary, metabolic and autoimmune diseases, as well as malignancies. Curcumin has been studied for its chemopreventive potential in a wide variety of cancers, both in preclinical studies and in clinical trials. In one study, the effects of turmeric were examined in 16 chronic smokers. Turmeric was given in doses of 1.5 g/day for 30 days, and this was found to significantly reduce the presence of mutagens, or agents that cause genetic mutations in the participatory smokers’ urine. These results suggest that dietary turmeric could be an effective antimutagen and may be useful in preventing some cancers. In another study, the effect of turmeric was examined on patients with irritable bowel syndrome. When one or two tablets of turmeric extract was given daily for 8 weeks, the prevalence of irritable bowel syndrome symptoms were significantly decreased. It is apparent that turmeric could provide potential health benefits. However, if you are considering taking turmeric as a dietary supplement, it is best to consult your physician for a safe, recommended dosage.
Today, delivery of curcumin has become the spotlight of recent studies. Hence, current reports have been focused on methods to improve bioavailability of curcumin. Curcumin has been deemed as a possible ideal agent in the fight against several chronic diseases with its ability to target many pathways in the human body without any known associated toxicity or resistance. The most common of these is combining curcumin with piperine, an extract of Piper nigrum (black pepper). In humans, curcumin bioavailability was increased by 2,000 percent at 45 minutes after giving curcumin in conjunction with piperine. Uptake and distribution of curcumin in body tissues is also important for potency. Most of curcumin gets metabolized in the liver and intestines. However, a small quantity still remains detectable in the organs. It is important to note that these studies are ongoing and further clinical research is warranted to establish a recommendation.
Recent scientific reports also indicate that curcumin-free turmeric possesses anti-cancer potential. Aside from curcumin, turmeric contains several other compounds that have been shown to contribute to its health benefits, like β- Sesquiphellandrene (SQP). In a recent study, SQP was shown to induce apoptosis (cell death) in various cancer cells including colon cancer. The findings of this study suggest compounds other than curcumin from turmeric could possess anti-cancer potential. Considering there are as many as 133 species of Curcuma that have been identified, I am certain we will hear more about these compounds in the future.
Being in Charge of your Health and Wellness
Declared by the Food and Drug Administration as GRAS (generally regarded as safe), turmeric and its active component curcumin possess therapeutic potential to be beneficial to human health. Remember that “natural” does not necessarily mean safe, and that some herbal supplements can interact in harmful ways with other drugs, medications, or dietary supplements you may be taking. With this being said, it is also important that we do not isolate a single ingredient to “fix” our health, but rather view our health as a complex relationship between nutrition, physical activity and mental health.
I am not writing this article to make a recommendation to take or not take turmeric for health benefits. Please consult your physician or dietitian prior to taking any dietary supplement.
As a professional in the health and wellness industry, I find staying up-to-date with scientific literature is crucial to my career. To discern science from empty claims, I encourage you to read and question what you read. Choose trusted research sources such as your personal doctor, dietitian, medical university and federal websites (.org or .gov). Do not be afraid to pick up a scientific article or have a professional provide you with one that they trust.
Just as society evolves and changes, so does nutritional science. We have so much information available to us, now more than ever, from multiple sources of varying credibility. As a consumer, it is critical that we are aware of how to differentiate media messages vs. evidence-based facts.
Remember to look beyond the hype and dig for the facts.
Try some turmeric for yourself in STYR’s Golden Glow Smoothie
- 1 Cup unsweetened coconut milk
- ½ Banana
- ¼ Avocado
- ½ Cup frozen tropical fruit
- ½ Teaspoon turmeric powder
- ½ Teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 Teaspoon chia seeds
Combine all ingredients in a blender and STYR it up until smooth.
*Add a scoop of protein powder for additional protein.
*Vegan and Ovo Vegetarian friendly!
Adapted from www.fix.com
For more delicious and nutritious smoothie recipes download the STYR app for full access to the STYR Cookbook and other features including voice recognition, barcode scanner, image processing, and Alexa compatibility.
Please note that this information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. We insist that you always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical/health condition or treatment and before initiating a new health care regime. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on the STYR app or on www.MyNutritioniQ.com.
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