The Golden Spice: Turmeric (Part 3: Medicine)
For centuries, Curcuma Longa (the root of the turmeric plant) has been widely used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat a variety of conditions. This traditional Indian practice puts our favorite yellow spice at the epicenter of thought and education, as it’s one of the oldest systems of medicine in the world. There are some truly great benefits turmeric can have with some of the more common health risks and conditions we face today, and can easily be added as a preventative health care measure.
Inflammation is the root cause to a multitude of diseases. Turmeric’s main active ingredient, curcumin, is known for its powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which can render protection when our bodies have fallen victim to inflammatory risks. Multiple studies show curcumin having positive impacts on inflammation and its inhibiting factors. In vitro, animals, and even humans (6 safe human trials), were shown to exhibit turmerics positive effects on inflammation. There are many factors that come into play with inflammation, and these studies proved curcumin’s inhibition for a multitude of these molecules. Another informative study on curcumin showed its impact on brain injuries, specifically, and its inhibiting power to reduce cerebral inflammation.
Also known as degenerative joint disease or “wear and tear” arthritis, osteoarthritis (OA) impacts millions of Americans and can be debilitating especially as we age. Being the most common chronic condition of our joints, it breaks down and damages cartilage and tissue between our bones and reduces the cushion that supports us in our mobile states. As we are always on the go, OA can have major setbacks for us on a daily basis, like overall pain (ouch). Like many other conditions, an overall unhealthy living style will put our bodies at a greater risk. Since OA is a degenerative disease, preventative care is significant. Some recent research shows that turmeric (curcumin) can be a power play to reduce pain and improve overall function with OA, even as good as ibuprofen! A recent study, was shown to inhibit the activation of inflammasome NLRP3, which led to the downregulation of inflammatory cytokines to improve inflammation. The research on OA specifically, is more recent, so there is still a lot more to explore in the field. Turmeric isn’t a quick cure for anything, but it has lasting benefits for our bodies that we hope others will explore.
Cholesterol is a type of fat (lipid) in our blood that our cells need to survive. The human body produces all the cholesterol it really needs, so when there is an added amount from the food we ingest, things can get tricky with this balancing act. Over 95 million U.S. adults (age 20 and higher) have higher cholesterol levels, and 7% of children and adolescents (age 6-19) do as well, giving Americans a greater risk for heart disease and stroke. The statistics in America are truly astounding! We don't get a gold medal for health, that's for sure. The scary part is, this silent killer doesn’t have any symptoms and typically comes to fruition when damage has already been done. Prevention is key.
Turmeric extract can play a powerful role in preventing oxidation of cholesterol. Oxidation is a natural process in our bodies, but when in excess, is very damaging to cholesterol cells. In a study published in the Journal Atherosclerosis in 2004 for example, they found that turmeric can help reduce the susceptibility of LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol to oxidation, which is one of the major steps before the development of heart disease and atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is when there is buildup of plaque in our arteries, which causes it to narrow and limits the flow of oxygen-rich blood throughout the body. With heart disease being the #1 leading cause of death in America, and atherosclerosis being the #1 cause of death and disability in the overall developed world, this puts high cholesterol as a major contributing factor to these fatal diseases. With all of the above, all signs and studies show that curcuma longa, can help in the management of cardiovascular disease, which list isn’t shy in length.
FATTY LIVER DISEASE
Our liver plays a vital role for the overall health in our everyday lives. As one of the largest organs in our body, it plays captain for not only converting food to energy, but more importantly, cleaning out toxins from our blood and body. Fatty liver disease (FLD) is gaining traction across the U.S., but it’s a worldwide epidemic. The more common form known as non-alcoholic fatty liver (NAFLD) is linked to type 2 diabetes and obesity but it’s also important to note that it can affect non-obese individuals as well. NAFDL can be diagnosed with blood tests, ultrasound or liver biopsy. Typically, there aren’t too many signs but fatigue, weight loss, and abdominal pain can be precursors. Once detected, treatment can help, but the condition unfortunately can’t be cured. It’s a chronic condition and can last for years, even a lifetime.
Ultimately, preventive care is crucial. That's where turmeric comes in. For years, turmeric has been known for its protective shield when it comes to the liver. Some research shows that it has potential to aid in liver detoxification, and even protect against oxidative stress by improving the production of glutathione (an enzyme the liver produces naturally as its primary antioxidant). Research and management on this disease is still in infant stages, so a healthy lifestyle is always our recommendation at minimum.
There is a plethora of scientific research and data out there to show the potential this powerful plant can have on our bodies for the better. We connected with Dr Kiran Khaira with RootsWholeHealth to talk Turmeric 101 and get down to the basics. Check out our video below or her blog for more details!
In the above video, and in our previous blog: The Golden Spice (Part 1: Nutrition), we always recommend adding pepper to any turmeric dish to make a greater impact. If using for more medicinal purposes there are higher doses that would create more results. Below are some recommended amounts (from Herbalist Rosalee de la Forêt) to attain greater benefits. Everybody is different, so when taking any supplements, we always recommend talking to a care provider that is familiar with herbal supplements, like our partners RootsWholeHealth or Lily Kunning, when it comes to dosage.
The therapeutic amount for turmeric is as follows:
-Cut root: 1.5 to 3 grams per day
-As powder: 1 to 10 grams per day
-As tincture: 1:2, 60% alcohol, 2 to 4 mL, 2 to 3 times per day3 (less common)
There are some precautions to consider with any supplement, especially if they are a new addition or other conditions are involved. Turmeric, if taken too much, can produce hot flashes or night sweats, or even produce an unusual thirst. People with blood-clotting disorders (taking blood thinners) also need to be cognizant of larger doses of turmeric, which can have a negative impact. We loved this write up from Herbalist Lilly Kuning and her blog, All about Turmeric. She has a great review on our favorite bright spice, and it’s positive benefits, but also dives into the precautions that we should be wary of.
TURMERIC ANTI-INFLAMMATORY DRINK
Turmeric has many medicinal purposes, and to indulge right away as a thirst-quenching tonic, enjoy this soothing tea, by Maribeth Evezich, MSN (‘06), RD, CDN. It’s a delightful therapeutic or post-workout recovery drink:
3 cups coconut water (or filtered water)
1⁄2 cup fresh ginger slices (one 2-inch knob)
1⁄4 cup fresh lemon or lime juice
6 fresh mint sprigs
1 tbsp dried turmeric
1⁄4 tsp cardamom
1⁄8 tsp sea salt
1⁄8 tsp black pepper (or cayenne)
2 tsp raw honey (optional)
1⁄4 cup full-fat coconut milk (optional)
Combine all the ingredients in a sealable, BPA-free 750 ml (at least 3 cups) container, such as a Nalgene bottle.
Add more filtered water or coconut water (including optional coconut milk) to the top and refrigerate overnight.
When ready to drink, strain and serve over ice.
This recipe works with or without a juicer, and with either fresh or powdered turmeric. To process the roots, a blender is recommended, but make sure to add in a small amount of filtered or coconut water to blend properly.
If you have any favorite turmeric drink recipes (like Dr. Khaira's Golden Milk recipe) please share below!