The Sacred Root that Rejuvenates the Body and Mind
BY BRITT BRANDON, CFNS, CPT
Used internationally as a staple spice in cuisine, an element of holistic medicine, an offering in religious ceremonies, and even a colouring in cosmetics, turmeric has been providing the world with countless uses and immense health benefits for thousands of years. The scientific name for the plant is Curcuma longa, a well-known perennial belonging to the ginger family of Zingiberaceae.
Turmeric’s beautiful bright yellow root has led to its nicknames “the golden spice” and “Indian saffron.” It has graced countless cultures around the world with its gorgeous colouring, unique aroma, and unmistakable flavour. Available in a natural state of the whole turmeric root or in powdered, pressed, extract or supplement forms, turmeric can provide countless preventative and healing measures.
A Brief History
Native to the southwest of India, turmeric root has been a staple of Ayurvedic medicine for more than 4,000 years. Turmeric benefits and usage and has spread recently around the world to contribute to the healing and preventative medicinal applications of countless conditions. Around c.e. 700, the turmeric plant is thought to have arrived in China. The earliest record of the plant is in one of the first Ayurvedic scientific and medical documents, the Sanskrit text Compendium of Caraka (written between the fourth-century b.c.e. and the second-century c.e.), which recommended turmeric as an efficient remedy for food poisoning.
Turmeric became a staple of the culture and cuisine of India, where they utilized the root for multiple applications. People in India became such devout believers in the root’s healing and protective powers that they became planters and suppliers; India now produces more than 80 percent of the world’s turmeric root. With more than 3,000 studies published in peer-reviewed journals in the last twenty-five years showing the amazing health benefits of turmeric, turmeric has made quite an entrance into the Western medicinal world.
Turmeric’s Unique Chemical Profile
Turmeric contains more than 100 astounding chemical compounds that contribute to its ability to help treat conditions from stomachaches to respiratory illness. These chemical compounds are what make turmeric unique. Most importantly, turmeric contains curcumin, which is a polyphenol. Polyphenols are organic chemicals that have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties. Polyphenols are also present in other foods and beverages, such as epigallocatechin in green tea, capsaicin in chilli peppers, and resveratrol in red wine and fresh peanuts. Curcumin is what gives turmeric root its beautiful yellow-orange colour. Curcuminoids, the group of chemical compounds responsible for the health benefits of turmeric, include curcumin, demethoxycurcumin, and bisdemethoxycurcumin. Turmeric also contains volatile oils, including tumerone, artumerone, and zingiberene.
Curcumin is the part of turmeric that has been studied most frequently for its uses as a dietary turmeric supplement and in food colouring and cosmetics. One study conducted by the Asian Coordinating Group for Chemistry showed that turmeric extracts may have antifungal and antibacterial properties. The National Institutes of Health lists more than eighty studies that are looking into turmeric’s benefits and ability to treat and heal issues, from irritable bowel syndrome to diabetic nephropathy. (Visit https://clinicaltrials.gov for updated information on these studies.)
Turmeric’s unique chemical composition of vitamins, minerals, fibre, and phytochemicals provide the body with:
+ Promotion of immunity
+ Protection against some illness and disease
+ Destruction of chronic disease cells within the brain and body
The Special Benefits of Turmeric
The turmeric root possesses natural oils, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, and phytochemicals that combine to provide healing properties for almost every area of the body. Phytochemicals are naturally occurring plant compounds that boost the healthy functioning of cells, tissues, organs, and systems. These compounds include antioxidants, anti-inflammatory agents, analgesics, and a wide variety of protective, preventative, and health-promoting derivatives that help support the natural functions of the body.
The powerful phenols contained within the flesh of the turmeric root are varieties of curcuminoids: curcumin, desmethoxycurcumin, and bisdesmethoxycurcumin, which not only help combat germs and some bacteria, but also help aid in digestive processes, support immunity, improve energy, maximize metabolic functioning, cleanse the blood, regulate blood sugar, and increase mental processes.
It is these compounds that are responsible for turmeric’s numerous health benefits. Turmeric also contains quercetin, a plant pigment that gives many fruits and vegetables their color. They are antioxidants, scavenging free radicals, which can damage cells.
The Health Benefits of Turmeric
1. Antioxidents May Reduce the Risk of Cancer
Combating chronic inflammation, a known contributing factor to the development of cell damage, turmeric promotes the body’s ability to fight inflammation. Its potent antioxidants may support the body’s natural immunity to oxidative changes.
2. Provides Natural Anti-Inflammatory Agents
Inflammation is a common cause of pain and discomfort, and can even contribute to the development of serious illnesses and disease. While many people opt to treat their inflammation with prescribed and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and NSAID pain relievers, these treatment options can fail to provide relief and can pose health risks. For those with contraindicated conditions, or those taking prescriptions that can be interfered with by anti-inflammatory medications, an all-natural treatment option may provide safe, effective relief.
Chemical compounds in turmeric, such as curcumin, combine with vitamins and minerals that support the body’s natural processes of fighting inflammation, one of turmeric’s greatest health benefits. Potent and able to provide relief comparable to or exceeding that of synthetic alternatives (according to a 2014 Clinical Interventions in Aging article), turmeric root or its extract can be used topically or orally to fight inflammation inside and out. Powdered turmeric, when dissolved in water and applied with a compress to the site of swelling, may provide immediate and long-lasting relief. Ingested orally in powdered or compressed pill form, turmeric supplementation may also prevent inflammation in the cells, tissues, and muscles . . . naturally and effectively. A topical solution can be applied as well to the site of muscle soreness, sprains, swelling, joint inflammation, and even general aches and pains!
3. Boosts Immunity
You probably know that your immune system is responsible for protecting the body from the development of illness and disease. Few people realize, however, that a significant portion of the immune system is directly related to the digestive system. Ridding the body of waste while retrieving and absorbing essential nutrients from whole foods, the digestive system disperses the essential elements of the diet throughout the body. With such importance being placed on nutrition for the body’s optimal health, it’s easy to see why the digestive system plays such an important role… making the quality of the diet consumed something that literally supports or degrades the body’s immunity.
Knowing that nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals support the body’s immune system, researchers started delving into specific natural foods and spices that are especially good at maintaining, protecting, and boosting immunity. Turmeric has shown to be one of the best foods for this purpose. It provides the body with antioxidants; anti-inflammatory properties; and antibacterial, and antimicrobial compounds (including curcumin). These turmeric benefits help to support the digestive system’s ability to function at its best and also support the immune system’s protective capabilities to keep some illnesses and disease at bay. A simple addition of a small 1⁄2 teaspoon of turmeric to your daily diet can provide the body with these protective immunity-boosting benefits for greater health naturally.
4. Balances Hormone Levels
Hormones are involved in every imaginable process that takes place in the brain and body. Coursing through the body with ease, these hormones are necessary to support life functions of all kinds. Digestion, muscle contraction, nervous system functioning, sleep, and mood can all be attributed to a specific interaction of hormones, and that’s why hormonal balance is so essential to the quality of health and well-being. Researchers know that lifestyle factors and diet definitely play a major role in the maintenance of hormonal production and balance, but there are times when genetics and mutations throw off hormonal balance. While many drugs attempt to restore hormone balance, the scientific and medical communities have begun looking into how natural remedies like turmeric may benefit hormone regulation without synthetics.
Turmeric is able to supply an ample amount of nutritive support to the body’s hormonal production processes.
+ Improves immunity by supplying phytonutrients
+ Cleanses the blood of toxicity
+ Crosses the blood-brain barrier for immediate on-site delivery of phytochemicals
+ Regulates and supports the health of organs involved in hormone production
One simple teaspoon per day of turmeric root is an easy, safe approach to achieving hormonal balance.
5. Encourages Proper Digestion
One way that turmeric benefits the body is by aiding the digestive system. Your digestive system consists of multiple parts that work together to move and process the food you eat. From the saliva in the mouth (which starts the dissolution of food) to the muscle movements of the oesophagus (which pull food into the intestines) to the release of bile by the gallbladder (which breaks down food), digestion is an intricate process. Because there are so many organs and functions involved in digestion, the process can easily be disrupted, especially if you don’t get enough of the vitamins and minerals that are necessary to support those organs and their functions. The enzymes, acids, and excretions that are needed for digestion to be performed properly are only produced when adequate amounts of the nutrients they depend on are provided in the diet. Since most people find it difficult to adhere to a squeaky-clean diet of whole fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and grains to ensure maximum nutrient availability, you will be happy to discover that turmeric can help.
With turmeric’s assortment of fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory compounds, it may support the digestive system. All of turmeric’s benefits combine to create the perfect digestive system elements that promote optimal (and regular!) digestion each and every day!
6. Promotes Fat Loss
The body requires specific nutrients to perform each function involved in fat burning. These functions include:
+ Increasing metabolism (improving calorie burn)
+ Regulating blood sugar levels and minimizing insulin resistance
+ Regulating hormone production and levels (ensuring cortisol and other fat-retaining hormones are kept in check)
+ Improving the communication between the digestive system and the brain via neurotransmitters to ensure feelings of satiety are experienced appropriately
When each system is optimized, you’ll find that your:
+ Food is properly digested
+ Bile production is balanced
+ Energy levels are higher
+ Feelings of fullness come easier
+ Calorie-burn rates are higher
All of these benefits lead to increased fat burn, as verified in a Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry article ! With turmeric’s blend of vital vitamins, miraculous minerals, and potent phytochemicals, the body’s natural processes involved in fat burning may be supported. Turmeric tastes great in teas, smoothies, snacks, and meals, so it’s a very versatile and delicious ingredient that can maximize flavour and fuel fat burn.
7. Cleanses the Liver
Your liver is tasked with the difficult job of cleansing your body’s fluids of toxins, pollutants, and irritants. The liver, therefore, plays a major role in maintaining the body’s immunity and its ability to fight infection and preserve overall health. If the liver itself is compromised with toxins derived from the diet, environment, or lifestyle choices, it functions poorly, and that can lead to catastrophic consequences that can adversely affect your body and mind.
With a fully functioning, healthy liver, the body and mind can thrive, free of oxidative properties and free radicals that can run rampant, killing or mutating cells throughout the body. (Oxidation is a process that produces harmful and potentially dangerous “free radicals” that can move throughout the body via the bloodstream and tissues, causing potentially harmful changes to cells.) Turmeric’s cleansing phytochemicals, including curcumin, act as antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents, and may protect and help cleans the liver.
9. Help to Manage Arthritis Pain
Arthritis is pain and inflammation that occurs within the joints. Millions of people suffer from this excruciating condition, seeking relief in physical therapies, medicine, and lifestyle changes. While many things can be done to minimize the pain of arthritis, such as receiving cortisone shots, following daily prescription medicine regimens, and taking painkillers, the underlying cause of the inflammation is rarely affected. All of those treatments still leave the arthritis sufferer with “flare-ups”—aggravated further with synthetic pharmaceutical drug use that can wreak havoc on the body by interfering with normal functioning of the body’s systems. Mood swings interrupted sleep patterns, and heart complications are just a few of the commonly experienced side effects of pharmaceutical medications intended to treat arthritic conditions. This is where the health benefits of turmeric come in. By including turmeric in the treatment regimen, an arthritis sufferer may find additional relief from the condition effectively, safely, and naturally.
In a study on knee osteoarthritis published in Clinical Interventions in Aging in 2014, 1,500 mg of turmeric supplement consumption daily was shown to have anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties.
When to Be Careful with Turmeric: Side Effects
Turmeric is generally a very safe ingredient and supplement. However, talk with your doctor before beginning any routine that includes it. Here are some specific situations that require extra attention before using turmeric:
+ Eating turmeric in foods is safe during pregnancy, but turmeric supplements may not be.
+ Those with gallbladder problems might find that turmeric exacerbates them.
+ Turmeric might slow blood clotting, so those with bleeding problems or an upcoming surgery should be cautious.
+ Curcumin might decrease blood sugar in diabetics.
+ High amounts of turmeric might affect iron absorption.
+ Turmeric might decrease testosterone levels and sperm movement, which could affect fertility.
+ High levels of turmeric might increase the production of stomach acid, which could be problematic for those with reflux or ulcers.
This article on turmeric and curcumin benefits is excerpted with permission from Turmeric for Health: 100 Amazing and Unexpected Uses for Turmeric by Britt Brandon, CFNS, CPT. Copyright © 2016 Adams Media, a division of Simon and Schuster. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.
About The Author
Britt Brandon, CFNS, CPT is a certified personal trainer; a certified fitness nutrition specialist; and the author of many books, including Apple Cider Vinegar for Health, Coconut Oil for Health, The I Love My NutriBullet Recipe Book, Activated Charcoal for Health, and The “I Love My Instant Pot” Vegan Recipe Book. As a competitive athlete, trainer, mom of three small children, and fitness and nutrition blogger on her own website UltimateFitMom.com, she is well versed in the holistic approaches to keeping your body in top-performing condition.