Turmeric - The Anti-Inflammatory Spice.

Turmeric is a hot aromatic spice that has been used for centuries in Asia for both cuisine and medicinal purposes. Curcuma (or curcumin) is a polyphenol and the primary pharmacological agent in Turmeric Root (Cuccuma longa). It possesses antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity and has a positive effect on the gastro-intestinal tract due to its ability to treat stomach problems and aid digestion. In Ayurvedic medicine, Turmeric is commonly used to aid all kinds of inflammation, balance cholesterol levels and treat certain heart conditions.

Turmeric has been a subject of  numerous studies for its anti-inflammatory properties. Curcumin has demonstrated to be capable of inhibiting NF kappa-B – a major cellular inflammatory agent. It also shown to suppress LOX and COX inflammatory enzymes and to decrease histamine levels. A preliminary trial in people with Rheumatoid Arthritis found curcumin to be useful for reducing joint pain and stiffness. Another double-blind trial found that curcumin was superior to placebo or phenylbutazone (a drug commonly prescribed for arthritis) for alleviating post-surgical inflammation.

Because of Curcumin’s positive effect on the liver, it has been shown to aid the production of Glutathione – a very potent antioxidant that protects the DNA against free radical damage. Thus curcumin stimulates our body’s natural antioxidant activity. In one of the studies, Curcumin intake effectively inhibited metastasis (uncontrolled spread) of melanoma (skin cancer) cells.

In digestive tract Turmeric stimulates the flow of bile, increasing its output by over 100% and therefore aids the effective digestion of fats. Human clinical trials have shown that Turmeric aids in the excretion of LDL cholesterol, bilirubin and increases the solubility of bile. It also increases the musin content of the stomach, protecting against ulcer formation. It has been demonstrated that curcumin can prevent H. Pylori (the bacteria that causes ulcers) from causing stomach cancer, by blocking NF kappa-B.

Turmeric has beneficial effects on circulation by increasing peripheral distribution of blood and helping to reduce the incidence of clots, which may help to protect against atherosclerosis. Curcumin thins the blood and may help menstrual problems – especially the congestive types of premenstrual syndrome – by helping the flow of blood. For that reason, it is recommended to women with painful periods as it might reduce inflammation, alleviate pain and reduce clotting. Curcumin is also good for stiff and tense muscles.

It is not easy to find the good Turmeric supplement though, because it is quite difficult to absorb. Turmeric is fat soluble and best absorbed through food in its natural form. But eating a curry does not provide enough curcumin for a noticeable benefit. There are supplements available in preparations with oil, “food state” turmeric if you like, similar to the one in curry, but in higher concentration. In dry form, there are supplements available with Piperine (black pepper extract), which enhances the absorption. So when buying Turmeric supplement, look for either of the above and don’t go for a simple dry extracts – most likely it will be destroyed in the GI tract without any benefit.

Side effects and precautions.

  • Women who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant should not take Turmeric due to its uterus stimulating and period inducing properties.
  • Anyone taking anticoagulant medication, such as Warfarin should not take Turmeric.
  • Turmeric can make gallbladder problems worse and it should not be used if one have gallstones or a bile duct obstruction.
  • Turmeric might slow blood clotting and cause extra bleeding during and after surgery. Consequently, using turmeric is not recommended for at least 2 weeks prior a scheduled surgery.
  • Otherwise, Turmeric can be used long-term and clinical studies in humans with high doses (2–12 grams) of curcumin have shown very few side effects, some of which include  mild nausea or diarrhea.
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