A continuing buzzword in health and nutrition these days is the spice turmeric. This yellow-orange spice is native to South Asia and India where it has long been an important part of flavoring foods and improving health. While the words turmeric and curcumin are often used interchangeably, this is not exactly correct. Turmeric is the whole spice and curcumin is the compound within the spice that has shown the greatest health benefit. So what can turmeric do for you?
Science has investigated and proven several benefits to adding a little turmeric to your daily diet. At the top of the list is inflammation. Several studies on the effects of turmeric's active compound curcumin found reduced inflammation in people with osteoarthritis of the knee. Both pain and C-reactive protein levels were lowered. Testing showed collagen breakdown and overall disease activity was reduced.
Additionally, research on rheumatoid arthritis found some patients found the anti-inflammatory properties as beneficial as cortisone. How? Turmeric inhibits the breakdown of arachidonic acid. Turmeric's combination of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects explains why many people with joint disease find relief when they use the spice regularly.
Turmeric can offer help with several digestive issues. The University of Maryland Medical Center reported the curcumin in turmeric stimulates the gallbladder to produce more bile. This may help improve gas, bloating, nausea, appetite loss, belching and stomach discomfort. The curcumin may also be beneficial in inflammatory bowel diseases, including Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. However, turmeric should not be used with stomach ulcers, as it may increase stomach acid in some people.
Turmeric also has been shown to lower blood sugar and LDL cholesterol. It also keeps platelets from clumping together, meaning it might stop blood clots from forming on your artery walls. Because of this people currently using blood-thinning drugs should be aware the effect might be intensified with turmeric. Interactions of curcumin within the body improve insulin resistance, hyperglycemia, hyperlipidemia and other inflammatory symptoms associated with obesity and metabolic disorders.
In addition, studies show curcumin seems to delay liver damage that can eventually lead to cirrhosis. Clinical studies have shown frequent use of turmeric to lower rates of breast, prostate, lung and colon cancer.
When adding turmeric to your foods remember a little goes a long way. Starting with teaspoon and slowly increasing the amount used is best due to the strong flavor. Consider sprinkling a little on scrambled eggs or tofu. Add some to your favorite soup. Turmeric adds flavor to chicken or turkey dishes. If you are not a fan of the taste in other foods, consider adding turmeric to a smoothie recipe. This versatile spice can offer health benefits in foods baked, broiled, sautéed and more!
Dianna Richardson of the Health, Wellness & Nutrition Center in Jefferson City has served communities as a wellness practitioner for more than 20 years. She has her doctorate degree in naturopathy, a master's degree in health and wellness, a bachelor's degree in public health education and is a certified wellness specialist. Core to her practice has been the use of nutrition to enhance health and improve vitality.