The story of turmeric is fascinating and magnificent. While this unique spice is integral in the various indigenous cultures around the globe, the Western world has only recently woken up to its possible health benefits. Suddenly, turmeric is everywhere in our milk, lattes, cereals, supplements, and personal care products.
Turmeric is touted as a natural and healthy remedy for lessening infection, reducing inflammation, and boosting immunity. Is turmeric the magic pill for all of our health problems?
In this article, we focus on turmeric or—as the Western world calls it—curcumin pills and their role as a remedy for inflammation in this article. So, let’s dig in deeper to understand this unique spice, its benefits and risks, and the safest ways to consume it for your health.
Turmeric—More Than a Golden Spice
Here are some quick and interesting facts about turmeric:
Turmeric is predominantly grown and used in parts of Asia like India and Central America.
It is also known as the Golden Spice or Indian Saffron.
Turmeric is a dried rhizome (roots of a flowering plant) remotely related to the ginger family.
It has a bitter, pungent taste and a distinctive deep yellow shade.
Turmeric is an integral part of many industries, such as health, beauty, pharmaceuticals, food and beverage, and textiles and apparel.
Dried turmeric roots are sold commercially as tablets, gels, capsules, powders, teas, and extracts.
Does Turmeric Work as a Health Remedy?
For its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, turmeric is a staple ingredient in some Eastern cuisines and Ayurveda, a traditional Indian medicine system. In the ancient Ayurvedic medicine system, turmeric is used for internal and external inflammation, treating various conditions from chronic pain to rheumatism.
Recent studies in the Western world have explored and studied the anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric as a potential remedy for several conditions. Turmeric’s superpowers come mainly from the polyphenol curcumin, its main active ingredient. Curcumin has natural antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. This is a big deal because inflammation is a contributing factor in several chronic conditions.
Curcumin targets multiple signaling molecules, blocking and suppressing the activation of the NF-κB (Nuclear Factor Kappa-Light-Chain-Enhancer of Activated B cells) or the target genes responsible for the development and progression of inflammation at the cellular level. This phenomenon could be a reason curcumin plays a beneficial role in several medical conditions.
Turmeric’s potential health benefits include reducing the risk of:
Arthritis: Turmeric can reduce symptoms of arthritis, such as joint pain and swelling by blocking inflammatory cytokines and enzymes, as suggested by some studies.
Digestion: Turmeric is used in some traditional Eastern cuisines to aid digestion. It can help with various digestive problems, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). However, more research is needed to confirm turmeric’s beneficial role in digestive disorders.
Cancer: The anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric may help prevent tumor growth that leads to various cancers and multiple myeloma. However, these research studies are still evolving and not conclusive.
Diabetes: Recent studies suggest curcumin can prevent and treat Type 2 diabetes and its associated disorders with its therapeutic properties. However, given the complexity of diabetes, more studies are required to come to a definite conclusion on turmeric’s role in diabetes prevention and management.
Lung disease: Some studies suggest that turmeric reduces inflammation, boosts immunity, fights allergies, and improves chronic lung diseases such as asthma. According to a research study, curcumin is a safe add-on therapy in treating lung diseases, but it could interfere with certain medications and treatments. Although the results are encouraging, we need more research to establish curcumin as an effective remedy for bronchial asthma and other chronic lung conditions.
Turmeric may also improve:
Brain Health: There are research studies that suggest curcumin can help prevent several conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, depression, brain degeneration, and other age-related conditions. These studies were conducted on small sample size. More research is required on a larger sample size to be conclusive.
Skin Health: Turmeric may help prevent and treat several skin conditions because of its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antimicrobial properties. Some skin conditions that it may relieve are acne, psoriasis, and eczema. However, it’s important to be cautious of turmeric as it can be a contact allergen and have adverse effects on your skin. There are reports of contact dermatitis after curcumin application on the skin. Further studies are required to cite turmeric as a remedy for chronic skin conditions. While turmeric can be good for your skin with its antioxidant and anti-inflammation properties, it is also an allergen, and it should be used with caution.
In addition to the above conditions, turmeric can potentially prevent and treat other conditions such as pancreatitis. However, more research is required. Scientists are still figuring out what turmeric can or cannot prevent and treat with its anti-inflammatory properties.
How Turmeric Helps to Fight Inflammation
With its anti-inflammatory properties, turmeric can relieve some symptoms of chronic conditions. Still, it is not a substitute for a healthy lifestyle, comprising diet, nutrition, and your doctor’s prescribed treatment.
There are three challenges to researching the health benefits of turmeric to fight inflammation:
Curcumin is unstable and changes into other substances easily, making it difficult to attribute the results.
Curcumin products vary in their composition, and thus, the study results may not be consistent and accurate.
Curcumin has therapeutic properties, but it has poor bioavailability, which means when taken orally, not much of it reaches your bloodstream. Pairing turmeric with bioavailability enhancers such as piperine in pepper increases its bioavailability by 2000%. However, more research is required to suggest curcumin as an effective remedy for pro-inflammatory diseases.
The increasing use of turmeric as self-medication is based on the misconception that natural means safe. Just because turmeric is natural does not mean it has no side effects or is entirely safe for everyone’s consumption. Caffeine, tobacco, and arsenic are natural, but they can have harmful side effects.
Another major concerning factor is the lack of regulation, transparency, testing, and accountability in traditional medicine systems and commercial supplements. There is no regulation of supplements by the US Food and Drug Administration currently.
Turmeric is certainly not a substitute treatment or cure for chronic conditions like diabetes or cancer. On the contrary, it can be harmful and aggravate your condition based on how much you consume.
Some side effects of turmeric are listed below.
Turmeric is high in oxalate, which can bind with calcium and form kidney stones in your body.
Turmeric can cleanse your blood and can make you prone to excessive bleeding.
Its consumption can interfere with certain medications such as certain blood-thinners and antacids.
People undergoing surgery and those with the following health conditions should use turmeric with caution or avoid it:
Liver and gallbladder issues
Gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD)
Some curcumin supplements contain a higher dose of curcumin extracts and are not recommended for the following groups.
Pregnant women as it raises the risk of pregnancy-related complications
People with iron deficiencies because curcumin can reduce iron absorption
Hence, you should practice caution and always consult your primary care doctor first before using turmeric as a remedy for inflammation and chronic conditions.
How to Take Turmeric for Inflammation Safely
Turmeric has been an integral part of so many ancient cultures and medicine systems. There are certain ways to consume it safely for better health.
1. Use Minimally
As a rule of thumb, you should not use more than a pinch of the spice in each dish. The standard recommendation is no more than 8 grams per day. High turmeric consumption can lead to acidity, bloating, nausea, headache, dizziness, rash, diarrhea, and stomach upset. It can also cause further complications in people with diabetes and kidney complications. We also need further research to understand the safety of long-term usage of turmeric.
2. Pair It With Other Foods
Turmeric on its own has poor bioavailability and absorption. You can combine it with other foods such as pepper and ginger to improve its bioavailability. There are several creative ways to pair this spice with other foods in your diet. Consider adding it to powders, smoothies, chutneys, curries, soups, eggs, muffins, rice, meat, seafood, and vegetables.
3. Buy Minimal Quantity
Turmeric can lose its potency if constantly exposed to air. So, it’s a wise practice to shop for turmeric in small amounts and store it in a cool, dark place.
4. Choose Supplements Wisely
Not all turmeric supplements are made the same. Choose those which are manufactured with “phytosome technology” as they have greater absorption compared to the other curcumin extracts and with the USP verified mark. However, since there are no regulations on supplements, you must first talk to your doctor before starting a turmeric supplement and check its interference with your current medications.
5. Don’t Use Turmeric as a Substitute for Your Doctor’s Medications
The last but most crucial point is that turmeric is not a substitute for your prescribed medications. Turmeric’s therapeutic properties may bring relief to some of the symptoms of your chronic condition, but it cannot entirely manage or cure it.
Does Taking Turmeric for Inflammation Really Work?
Turmeric has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties. Further research and evidence are needed before we can come to a definitive conclusion and recommend it as a potential remedy for inflammation, which, in turn, may lead to chronic conditions.
However, when used in the recommended safe quantities, there is no harm in using turmeric to relieve minor conditions such as cold and cough and minor symptoms of chronic disease. If you have chronic conditions, it’s best to check with your doctor first about the recommended usage and its compatibility with your current medications.
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Featured photo credit: Prachi Palwe via unsplash.com