Health Benefits of Turmeric

Turmeric has quickly become one of the most asked about supplements here at Brookside Wellness Center. And as I search for a deeper understanding of herbal and holistic medicine, I continue to run across the health benefits associated with this medicinal spice. According to Ayurvedic healing science, it may be the most effective nutritional supplement in existence. In the Western world, many high-quality studies show that the bioactive compounds within turmeric possess major benefits for your body and your brain.

Those already familiar with the spice know that turmeric is what gives curry its yellow color. It has been used in India for thousands of years as a spice, as well as a medicinal herb. Recently, science has started to back up what Indians have known for centuries — it really does contain compounds with medicinal properties (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3633300/). These compounds are called curcuminoids, the most important of which is curcumin, which is the main active ingredient in turmeric. It has powerful anti-inflammatory effects and is a very strong antioxidant. However, the problem with "off the shelf" turmeric is that the curcumin content of turmeric is only around 3% (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17044766). Most medical studies on this herb involve the use of turmeric extracts that contain mostly curcumin itself, with dosages usually exceeding 1 gram per day. It would be very difficult to reach these levels just using the turmeric in your curry chicken. Therefore, if you want to experience the full effects, you need to take a supplement that contains significant amounts of curcumin.

Unfortunately, curcumin is poorly absorbed into the bloodstream. But as I've learned through my studies of Indian and Chinese medicinal culture, there is a solution. It helps to consume black pepper along with your daily dose of curcumin. Black peppercorns contain a natural substance, piperine (marketed as BioPerine), that enhances the absorption of curcumin by 2,000% (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9619120).

Curcumin is also a natural anti-inflammatory compound. But before we start down this road, let me explain that inflammation is actually very important. It helps your body fight infection and also has a role in self healing. Without inflammation, pathogens like bacteria could easily take over your body. That being said, acute short-term inflammation is beneficial, but it can become a major problem when it becomes chronic and inappropriately attacks your body's own tissues. Scientists now believe that chronic, low-level inflammation plays a major role in almost every major Western disease including heart disease, cancer, metabolic syndrome, Alzheimer's and various degenerative conditions. Therefore, anything that can help fight chronic inflammation is of potential importance in preventing and even treating these diseases. Curcumin is strongly anti-inflammatory. In fact, it’s so powerful that it matches the effectiveness of some anti-inflammatory drugs, without the side effects (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19594223). It blocks NF-kB (nuclear factor kappa-light-chain-enhancer of activated B cells), a molecule that travels into the nuclei of your cells and turns on genes related to inflammation. NF-kB is believed to play a major role in many chronic diseases. Without getting into an hour long Physiology lecture on the bio-mechanics of inflammation (inflammation is extremely complicated), let me just say the key takeaway is that curcumin is a bioactive substance that fights inflammation at the molecular level.
Arthritis patients respond very well to curcumin supplements. Arthritis is a common problem in Western countries. There are several different types, most of which involve inflammation in the joints. Given that curcumin is a potent anti-inflammatory compound, it makes sense that it may help with arthritis.

Several studies show this to be true. In a study of people with rheumatoid arthritis, curcumin was even more effective than an anti-inflammatory drug (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22407780). Other studies have looked at the effects of curcumin on arthritis and noted improvements in various symptoms (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20657536). 

And finally, curcumin's part in the reduction of inflammation and oxidation, plays a critical role in helping to prevent heart disease as well. One study randomly assigned either a placebo or 4 grams of curcumin (per day) to 121 people who were undergoing coronary artery bypass surgery, to be taken a few days before and after the surgery. Results concluded that the curcumin group had a 65% decreased risk of experiencing a heart attack in the hospital (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22481014).

Final Note

Turmeric, and especially its most active compound curcumin, have many scientifically-proven health benefits. It’s a potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, and it may help reduce the risk of heart disease. As with most supplements, turmeric/curcumin can be found in many retail locations, health and wellness centers, local grocery stores, nutrition centers and even Amazon. It’s recommended to find a product with BioPerine (the trademarked name for piperine), which is the substance that enhances curcumin absorption. Without this substance, most of the curcumin just passes through your digestive tract. And as with any supplemental product you may be considering for a therapeutic outcome or medicinal benefit, make sure you purchase from a trusted source and please consult a Doctor or Pharmacist to make sure it fits your specific health plan and therapeutic goals.