Turmeric is one of the most versatile spices in Indian cuisine, found in everything from curries and chutneys, to desserts, and the chai tea you can sip on while playing online slots. The familiar powder is made by boiling, drying and grinding the roots of a plant in the ginger family, Curcuma longa. Its vivid yellow-orange colour makes it an affordable substitute for saffron in many dishes.
Turmeric also has a long history as a medicinal spice, beginning in Ayurvedic medicine. At present, it is enjoying a surge in popularity around the world in nature-based healthcare circles. The numerous preventative properties attributed to the turmeric rhizome are being sought via the cooking spice, in commercial supplements, and as an essential oil.
Here’s what you should know about turmeric’s proven benefits, and other possibilities:
Definitely Good: Cooking Spice
One of the easiest and tastiest ways to get moderate amounts of turmeric into your system is to cook with the powder. You’ll find it on the spice shelf of any supermarket. It adds a vivid splash of colour to any dish, as well as anything else it touches. Be warned; and be sure to wear an apron: turmeric’s other major use for thousands of years has been as a dye.
It also has a warm, but not too hot flavour. The taste is more of an earthy bitterness. This works well to balance several other primary flavours, singly or in combinations: saltiness, aromatics like garlic and onions, acid notes like vinegar or lemon juice, the heat of chillies or the sweetness of palm sugar, plus a variety of fats. Its flavour enhancing properties mean you can enjoy turmeric in curries, soups, stir-fries, roasts, salad dressings, herbal teas, puddings and desserts, smoothies and even cocktails.
Possibly Good: Health Food
Turmeric’s use in Ayurvedic medicine goes back many centuries. Some modern herbal practitioners regard it as a multi-purpose miracle cure. They attribute its abilities to a compound called curcumin, found in abundance in the roots.
Curcumin is said to be an effective anti-inflammatory. Chronic inflammation is believed to play a role in conditions like arthritis, cancer and heart disease, among others. Apart from reducing the risk of these conditions, promoters of turmeric claim it can also boost brain health and help with depression, prevent or treat diabetes, and act as an effective topical treatment for several skin conditions.
Bear in mind, however, that none of these claims have been backed up definitively by scientific research yet. An increasing number of studies are being performed, but no strong evidence of curcumin having anti-inflammatory qualities has been found. More optimistic news is that there have been some positive, albeit preliminary results. These were in the fields of heart health, pain relief in osteoarthritis, and reducing skin irritation, although they will require rigorous further testing before they can be confirmed.
Whether turmeric is effective in preventing or treating several other conditions, including diabetes, colitis, several cancers, Alzheimer’s disease or surgical pain, has not been proven yet, but neither has it been ruled out. There is a lot of interest in laboratory testing of traditional remedies in modern medicine. Extensive investigation of turmeric’s many purported health benefits, including the slowing down of aging, is likely to continue until all have been individually proven, or debunked.
When To Exercise Caution
If you overdo the turmeric in your diet, ingesting substantial amounts over long periods, you may suffer gastrointestinal distress. The curcumin in turmeric is not easily absorbed into the body, so it isn’t clear how effective it can be as a health supplement, or how to take turmeric for maximum benefit. Piperine, another compound found in turmeric, helps in the nutritional absorption of curcumin, but it presents a problem, too.
Piperine slows down the elimination of curcumin from the body, but it has the same effect on a number of prescription drugs for conditions like angina, hypertension, bipolar disorder and seizures. Taking high doses of turmeric when on these medications can be dangerous, as the drugs build up in your system. Be sure to consult your GP about potential interactions with other medications before you start taking turmeric medicinally; especially if it’s in a supplement or an essential oil.
If you use turmeric in essential oil form, be careful of the potency. It should be used diluted in a carrier oil, such as coconut. Most dieticians also agree that plant-based preventative healthcare works best if you broaden your intake, mixing a number of different plants with disease-fighting compounds into your diet. This is a more balanced route to total body health than focusing on a single “magic bullet”.