We live in an inflammatory world, and I’m not talking about the political climate. I’m talking about real inflammation—inflammation driven by processed foods, sugar, refined carbohydrates, pollution, chronic stress, excessive alcohol consumption, and chemicals used to grow our food. Together these factors prompt our bodies to release a steady stream of inflammatory molecules, resulting in a significant number of people being chronically inflamed… and chronically diseased. Chronic inflammation is a root cause of nearly every modern-day disease, from Alzheimer’s and heart disease to arthritis and diabetes.1 Excessive inflammation has even been linked to premature aging.2 The one-two punch comes when all of those inflammatory molecules floating around our bodies produce free radicals that damage cells and tissues (oxidative stress), promoting even more disease and aging.3
We are experiencing a national health crisis fueled by chronic inflammation—even children and teenagers are experiencing an increase in inflammatory diseases like type-2 diabetes, obesity, asthma, and inflammatory bowel disease. So the question remains, what can we do to douse the flames? Of course improving your diet, managing stress, and reducing chemical exposure are vital components, and then there’s turmeric, a serious ally in the fight against inflammation and oxidative stress. Researchers have discovered nearly 100 different ways in which turmeric counters inflammation— no other substance has been found to have such far-reaching anti-inflammatory effects.4 Read on to discover why turmeric takes gold in health!
Curcuminoids are the bioactive compounds in turmeric that are responsible for most of its health benefits. Curcumin is the most abundant and best researched curcuminoid, which is why you often hear turmeric referred to as “curcumin.”
An inflamed brain is a sick brain that may manifest in a myriad of ways, from anxiety and depression to the development of neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s—excessive inflammation and oxidative damage are common underlying factors. A growing body of research indicates that turmeric has neuroprotective properties, likely due to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, and its ability to cross the blood-brain barrier, allowing it to have a direct effect on brain cells.5 Researchers have found that supplementation with curcumin—one of the most abundant and researched bioactive compounds in turmeric—can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, 6 7 can improve memory, 8 protects the brain from damage caused by heavy metals like lead, and may modulate the damage caused by a stroke.9 In an experimental model, it also had a positive effect on fear memory formation and recollection, which may be valuable for those with trauma- and stress-related disorders such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).10
Turmeric also shows promise in the fight against one of our most dreaded diseases, Alzheimer’s. An epidemiological study found that elderly men and women who consumed turmeric (in the form of curry) “occasionally,” “often,” or “very often” had significantly better scores on a standardized test of mental status compared to subjects who “never or rarely” consumed turmeric. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that India, which has a population that consumes large amounts of turmeric, has one of the lowest rates of Alzheimer’s disease in the world.xi Scientists are coming to understand that turmeric protects the brain from the disease in a number of ways. Animal models of Alzheimer’s show that turmeric protects the brain from oxidative stress and inflammation, leading factors in the development of the disease,11 and can prevent the formation of amyloid plaque. Amyloid plaque is a hallmark of the disease and consists of protein fragments that collect in the brain, increasing both inflammation and oxidative stress. Curcumin is also able to bind to existing plaque, increasing the body’s ability to break it up, while also increasing the activity of macrophages, immune cells that move around the body gobbling up foreign material like amyloid plaque.12 13 14 15 Turmeric’s neuroprotective effects are an exciting area of research, but this golden spice’s health benefits don’t stop there.
Inflammation is a major factor in the development of coronary heart disease—the progressive narrowing of the arteries that leads to reduced blood flow to the heart—so it is no wonder that turmeric is especially beneficial to cardiovascular health.16 17 18 In addition to keeping inflammation under control, it protects cholesterol from oxidation, the point at which cholesterol becomes dangerous, and helps to inhibit plaque buildup in the arteries (atherosclerosis).19 20 21 Turmeric also supports healthy endothelial function, in part by increasing nitric oxide levels, inhibits platelet aggregation, reduces triglyceride levels, reduces LDL cholesterol while increasing HDL cholesterol, and enhances the antioxidant defenses of cardiovascular cells.22 23 24 25
It’s all too easy to reach for an over-the-counter pain reliever to dull arthritic or other chronic pain, but these can come with adverse side effects. Turmeric blocks or reduces the production of many of the same inflammatory molecules as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), so it should come as no surprise that an extract of curcumin, combined with lecithin for increased absorption, was found to have analgesic properties equal to those of acetaminophen.26 Curcumin extract has also been found to improve symptoms of rheumatoid and osteoarthritis—as effectively as commonly prescribed medications.27 28 29 In addition to reducing inflammation, the curcuminoids appear to have a protective effect on cartilage cells, which can lead to improvements in pain and physical function.30
Getting the Most Out of Your Turmeric
As great as turmeric is, there is one catch—even though it is well tolerated, curcumin is poorly absorbed and rapidly metabolized and eliminated from the system.1 To improve absorption of turmeric we can take a cue from Indians—consume it with fat. Turmeric is fat-soluble, which means that consuming it with fat utilizes absorption. This might be by quickly sautéing the spice in ghee before it goes into a dish or by adding it to milk or yogurt. Modern supplement manufacturers have also tackled the problem of absorption and have come up with some pretty clever solutions, such as delivering it with piperine from black pepper and formulating it with fatty acids.2 3 Micronizing, or reducing the size of the curcumin particles, is another method that appears to be especially effective at enhancing absorption, and many producers are utilizing micronized curcumin in their products Taking your turmeric supplement with omega-3 fish oil or phosphatidylcholine may also improve absorption.4 5
A metabolic disorder is one in which normal metabolic functions in the body are altered or disrupted, leading to poor health—type-2 diabetes and obesity are two you may be most familiar with. Both have an underlying component of inflammation. Diabetics and obese people produce more inflammatory compounds, putting them at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease. Curcumin reduces inflammatory compounds and improves markers of oxidative stress, while also increasing insulin sensitivity.31 It has also been found to improve vascular function in type-2 diabetics, comparable to the effects of a common statin drug.32 One small study found that pre-diabetics who took 250mg of curcumin extract every day for nine months were far less likely to progress to full-blown diabetes than those who took the placebo.33 And when it comes to obesity, all of those extra fat cells are constantly secreting inflammatory substances and causing more oxidative stress, creating a state of chronic inflammation, and increasing the risk of other diseases. Curcumin has been shown to down regulate several inflammatory molecules secreted by fat cells and inhibit a protein closely linked to obesity. It also appears to activate a protein that inhibits the growth of fat cells.34
The Sanskrit word for turmeric is jayanti, which translates to “one who wins over disease.” In our modern world of chronic inflammation and all the diseases that come with it, it’s no wonder turmeric has made such a splash. Whether you take it for brain health or cardiovascular health, or anything in between, you’ll be reaping a wealth of health for your whole body from this golden spice of life.
Turmeric, that gloriously golden spice that is so ubiquitous in Indian cuisine and gives curry its golden color, has finally made its way into the Western kitchen, and it’s causing quite a stir. A true superfood, turmeric is a rhizome that looks similar to ginger but flaunts a deep orangey-gold color. That deep color is what holds the secret to turmeric’s powerful health-promoting properties, phytonutrients called curcuminoids. The curcuminoids (curcumin is the most abundant and well-studied) have been the focus of numerous studies and are proving to be incredibly valuable to human health, mostly due to their powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. For detailed information on how turmeric can benefit your health, check out Turmeric Takes Gold in Health! on page 14.
Turmeric is mildly aromatic with a slightly earthy flavor of ginger and pepper, and even a little citrus. Used in excess or eaten raw, you will notice a bitter quality, but otherwise, it is a somewhat mild spice. In fact, you can add small amounts of it to lots of dishes and no one would ever be the wiser. It’s easy to regularly incorporate a little turmeric in your diet: Try adding a little to your morning smoothie, scrambled eggs, sautéed veggies for a soup base or stew, roasted potatoes, egg or chicken salad, steamed rice, and of course curried dishes. And be sure to try one of the tastiest ways to drink turmeric—golden milk! The recipe is easy, delicious, and oh so good for you!
Makes 1/2 cup
This turmeric paste is quick and easy to make and will keep in the refrigerator for two weeks, making whipping up a cup of golden milk or a turmeric mango lassi a breeze! The addition of black pepper improves the body’s absorption of turmeric.
½ cup purified water
¼ cup NG bulk turmeric powder
½ teaspoon NG bulk ground black pepper
Whisk together the water, turmeric powder, and pepper in a small pan over medium-low heat. Continue to whisk as the mixture thickens into a paste. Cooking for several minutes helps soften the turmeric’s bitterness. If the paste becomes too thick, just add a small amount of water to loosen it up. Once it has cooked for several minutes, remove from heat and let cool. Once cool, transfer to a small glass jar with an airtight lid. Store in the refrigerator up to two weeks.
Makes 1 serving
1 large or 2 small mangos
¼- ½ teaspoon turmeric paste
1 cup plain whole milk yogurt
Splash of milk or water, to thin if desired
To prepare the mango, cut lengthwise, slicing the fat sides away from the hard center stone, then cut cross-hatches in the flesh, being careful not to cut through the skin. Turn inside out so the cubes stick out, and scoop into a blender with a sharp spoon. Cut the remaining flesh from the stone and add to the blender. Add turmeric paste and yogurt and blend until smooth, adding a small amount of milk or water to thin to desired consistency.