The Spice of Life
Want to get rich, travel the world first class and finally have friends?
You can't do any of those things by taking Turmeric, but you CAN help prevent cancer, alleviate arthritis, reduce inflammation and pain, prevent Alzheimer's and other neurological diseases while simultaneously eating delicious food. Are you sold yet?
Turmeric is one of the most amazing spices on earth, and one of my favorites in the Chinese Materia Medica. If you don't already know, this is Goliath when it comes to research, having been cited in thousands of papers. The amount of information on this tiny plant is astounding, but not as incredible as what this beautiful yellow spice can do. Listen up, folks. This post is important!
Here's a little infographic explaining some of the most valuable aspects of turmeric and it's properties.
Why is it so amazing?
The potent active ingredient in the spice is actually called Curcumin---it’s what gives turmeric the annoying yellow color that stains your kitchen counters and loses you part of your security deposit.
Research within the last half century has proven that most of the benefits, once associated with turmeric, are due to its constituent curcumin.
As a herbalist, I'm not a fan of the nutraceutical ideal---where emphasis is placed on isolating parts rather than using the whole. It is in my belief that the plant works synergistically offering the most benefit as a whole, rather than extracting one of its components and using it in isolation.
However, the extensive research on curcumin has been enlightening. Curcumin has been shown to exhibit antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial, anti-fungal, and anticancer activities having a potential against various malignant diseases, diabetes, allergies, arthritis, Alzheimer's disease, and other chronic illnesses. There are literally thousands of research papers studying the effects of turmeric. Learn more about turmeric and Alzheimer's here. Turmeric and cancer, here. Turmeric extract and the prevention of type 2 Diabetes, here. Turmeric in the treatment of digestive disorder here. You get the idea...the list is endless.
Amazing, right? This herb is so unbelievable that many people have dubbed it "The Spice of Life."
turmeric vs curcumin
Turmeric is a herb with origins stemming from Southeast Asia, making a cameo in many of your favorite curry dishes. Curcumin, however, is a constituent of turmeric which has been found to have many of the researched health benefits. Think of turmeric as being Clark Kent while curcumin is Superman.
But, curcumin only makes up around 2-6 percent of turmeric. So, what's a person to do, how much should you take?
So how can you get the most benefit? Should you stock up on boxes of turmeric and start hoarding them in your basement? How many pills should you cram in your mouth in order to feel the inflammation disappearing in your body? Good news, you can relax. Keep eating your favorite curry dishes and enjoy the benefits of the "spice of life" while gnawing on your chicken tiki masala. You're getting benefits even if you're not injecting yourself intravenously. *Note* If you are cooking with turmeric, make sure to cook with fat and/or pepper in order to get the best absorption rates! And remember, the safest way to take any herb or supplement is via its original form---as a food or spice.
I remember a nutrition professor commenting on the extremely low rates of four common cancers (colon, breast, prostate, and lung) in areas of India with high rates of turmeric consumption--- high rates of turmeric consumption being a couple teaspoons a day---for a family. Nothing extraordinary. They didn't have special pills, they just had a culinary preference which led to 10 times lower cancer rates.
In fact, prostate cancer, the most frequently diagnosed cancer in U.S. men, is rare in India and this is attributed, in part, to the curcumin in turmeric. Additionally, villagers who eat turmeric in their daily curries have the lowest rate of Alzheimer's disease. It's really not necessary to go overboard in order to reap the full benefits. Stop snorting the turmeric!
But if you want to get the full shebang, the grand slam benefits of what curcumin has to offer, look for a turmeric extract with at least 95 percent curcuminoids. It's also important to add pepper or Bioperine in order to get the best absorption rate. I like this product.
As far as how much to take, Dr. Andrew Weil suggests taking 400 to 600mg doses up to 3 times a day, or as directed by the product.
****You must always be careful when taking a purported "drug" or "supplement"---especially when there's money to be made. You have to find a quality product and be careful on dosing yourself----it should be a supplementation to your current regimen, not an abused or over-used substance. Don't become the turmeric "guy" waiting for your next fix---there is such a thing as too much of a good thing! ****
Not sold on the turmeric supplements? That's just fine, why not try turmeric tea?
This is a recipe from Okinawa, one of the world's longest living regions. Okinawans drink copious amounts of turmeric tea. Some brew it fresh, but others simply buy cans or powdered instant versions of unsweetened tea from their local stores. If you would like to try it, here's a recipe. Feel free to experiment with the ingredients until you find a combination that suits your taste:
Looking for more recipes with turmeric? Go to my recipe's page here for more options!!
Where does this stuff come from?: A Brief History Lesson for You Nerds.
From its original home of Southeast Asia to its current ubiquitous use around the world, turmeric has had quite a journey. Aryurvedic medicine has been utilizing the herb for around 4,000 years, eventually reaching China’s medicinal texts at around 700 AD. The journey extended to East Africa and then West Africa, eventually landing in Jamaica in the 1800s.
Now, you can find it everywhere, with millions of people around the world disappointingly attempting to recreate their favorite curry dish.
Even Marco Polo was Dazzled by turmeric, commenting on its similar qualities to saffron.
"Wow! This plant looks really similar to saffron! Cool!"- Marco Polo
In Sanskrit, turmeric has over 50 names, with some of my personal favorites being “harita” which translates to ‘greenish’, mangalprada (who bestows auspiciousness) and vishangi (killer of poison). If that's not a good marketing technique, I don't know what is.
In Indian culture, the importance of turmeric goes far beyond medicine and its healing properties. The Hindu religion sees turmeric as auspicious and sacred. There's even a wedding day tradition in which a string, dyed yellow with turmeric paste, is tied around the bride’s neck by her groom. This necklace, known as a mangala sutra, indicates that the woman is married and capable of running a household. The tradition still continues in Hindu communities and has been compared to the Western exchange of wedding rings---way more economical version of wedding rings. In parts of southern India, a piece of the turmeric is worn as an amulet for protection against evil spirits.
From India to the stains on your kitchen counters, turmeric is quite an amazing herb, and everyone should be using it generously. Try sprinkling the spice on your eggs, making turmeric tea, or get creative and make turmeric cookies! (Please e-mail me if you decided to make turmeric cookies, I want to know the outcome.) Or, try my favorite Turmeric Scrambled Eggs recipe!
Either way, this is something that shouldn't be overlooked, but rather used in your kitchen on a regular basis. Get with the turmeric program and live an extra decade, would ya?