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What Makes Turmeric So Wonderful?

Activity against a wide range of chronic diseases, from Alzheimer to cancer to fatty liver makes turmeric so wonderful that it is a very popular supplement.

A few years ago most Americans had never heard of turmeric. If they had, they thought of it as an exotic ingredient in curries and other Indian dishes. Now, turmeric and curcumin, one of its active ingredients, are among the most popular dietary supplements in the country. What makes turmeric so wonderful?

Looking for Turmeric at the Table:

Most people are actually more familiar with turmeric than they might realize. Anyone who has ever squeezed yellow mustard out of a plastic packet or a squeeze bottle has been consuming turmeric. It gives food a distinctive bright yellow color and tangy taste familiar to anyone who has enjoyed a good curry.

Turmeric as Medicine:

Turmeric (Curcuma longa) has been prized in India for thousands of years. It is a potent dye that turns cloth a brilliant yellow. But turmeric has also been a crucial part of the traditional Indian system of Ayurvedic medicine. Ayurvedic practitioners included turmeric in medicines that were swallowed as well as those that were applied to the skin. Some of those topical medicines were used to treat skin conditions, such as eczema, while others were considered effective against sore joints, much as a liniment might be used in frontier America.

Why Is Turmeric So Wonderful? Science Answers:

Modern science has found that compounds like curcumin have anti-inflammatory activity rivaling that of the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac (Ahmed et al, Chemical Biology & Drug Design, online July 25, 2017).  Its effects on multiple cellular pathways mean that it could help with a variety of inflammatory conditions (Shehzad et al, Journal of Food Science, online Aug. 3, 2017). Some investigators think that the medical use of curcumin could extend to a wide range of conditions, from Alzheimer disease to rheumatoid arthritis (Fadus et al, Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine, Sep. 9, 2016).

Some readers have found their own ways to put the power of turmeric to work for them.

One person wrote:

“Turmeric powder (a level teaspoon) and black pepper (a few shakes) mixed into a cup of instant chicken consomme (a rounded teaspoonful) in warm water twice a day has helped a lot with my joint pain. It tastes pretty good and it hasn’t caused me any problems so far.”

Another reader shared this testimonial:

“I have been taking turmeric for the past month. The dose is 500 mg in the morning and another one in the evening for arthritis. I had the swelling in my fingers go down so much that my rings are now too loose.

“I’d rather take turmeric than pop NSAIDS every day, as they aren’t good for the liver and other organs. When the weather changes for the better, I will only take one 500 mg pill. It did take about three weeks for me to notice the difference in my body.”

Turmeric to Fight Cancer:

Other medical applications for turmeric might include boosting the power of colorectal cancer treatment (Shakibaei et al, BMC Cancer, April 10, 2015). Recent research identifies curcumin, allicin (from garlic) and quercetin (from chili peppers, onions and sweet potato leaves, among other foods) as promising compounds against stomach cancer (Haghi, Azimi & Rahimi, Journal of Gastrointestinal Cancer, online Aug. 22, 2017).

There is also evidence that curcumin may be beneficial against prostate cancer (Rivera et al, PLOS One, June 19, 2017). It suppresses proliferation and invasion of certain prostate cancer stem cells (Liu et al, Gene, online Aug. 24, 2017).

Years ago, a cell-culture study conducted at the University of Michigan found that curcumin from the yellow spice turmeric along with piperine from black pepper slowed the growth of breast cancer cells (Breast Cancer Research and Treatment, Dec. 8, 2009). The researchers were looking at cancer stem cells and found that the compounds in these spices affected the proliferation of the abnormal cells but not healthy ones. Piperine increases the effects of curcumin and reinforces the idea that natural compounds work in concert to improve flavor and health. More recent research has elucidated some of the mechanisms by which curcumin fights breast cancer (Wang et al, Journal of Laboratory Automation, Dec. 2016; Banik et al, Journal of Experimental & Clinical Cancer Research, July 19, 2017).

Is Turmeric Good for the Liver?

Nearly a decade ago, scientists found that curcumin might be helpful against liver disease. The research was carried out in mice, so we’ll need to see how well the results apply to people. The results in mice were promising, though.

Animals with chronic liver inflammation were fed diets with added curcumin, a compound in turmeric. After both four and eight weeks, the rodents had less bile duct blockage and less liver scarring (Baghdasaryan et al, Gut, April 2010).

A recent review suggests that curcumin, along with resveratrol, quercetin, epigallocatechin gallate (from green tea) and compounds from Brassica vegetables like broccoli and cabbage, may help heal fatty liver disease in humans (Ferramosca, Di Giacomo & Zara, World Journal of Gastroenterology, June 21, 2017). Apparently these antioxidants are working, in part, through the mitochondria that provide energy at the cellular level.

Who Doesn’t Find Turmeric So Wonderful?

Some scientists are skeptical that taking turmeric or curcumin as a supplement will provide any benefits. One problem is that curcumin is not well absorbed (Chanburee & Tiyaboonchai, Journal of Biomedical Materials Research. Part B: Applied Biomaterials, online March 21, 2017). In India, people usually ingest turmeric in food with fat and other spices like black pepper that can improve absorption. (Think about the last curry you enjoyed.) Research supports the used of black pepper for this purpose (Chen et al, Phytomedicine, April 15, 2017).

The Downsides of Turmeric:

Not everyone can benefit from turmeric or curcumin. Some people develop allergic reactions that manifest as severe skin rashes.

Others who are taking anticoagulant medications should not even try turmeric. It might increase the blood-thinning activity of the drug and pose a risk of hemorrhage. Even by itself, turmeric might trigger bleeding.

You can learn more about turmeric in our latest book, Spice Up Your Health: How Everyday Kitchen Herbs & Spices Can Lengthen & Strengthen Your Life. It is available at www.PeoplesPharmacy.com.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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I have followed you since your inception and have always felt you were cautious when giving advice. I was a health and medical reporter in the 60s and 70s and tried not to get carried away with my own “brilliance” as so many kitchen diagnosticians are. I live in a Senior complex and am dismayed by the advice my neighbors give each other. Turmeric is now the drug of choice, but Magnesium has made the rounds as well.

Church friends can be among the worst possible sources since they often are considered trustworthy. Turmeric is probably a blood thinner and should not be used if you are facing surgery. Yet I have heard Dr. Church Lady advise Sister Gullible to take this spice in capsule form although she is currently swallowing a half dozen prescriptions daily. (I suggested she use it, sprinkled on food, and not in medicinal (capsule) form without professional advice.)

Turmeric is sometimes referred to as a cleansing herb but without any detail. This article says that the symptom of an allergy is severe skin rashes. This has made me uncertain of the cause of symptoms I experienced about 15 years ago. I took 1 to 3 grams of turmeric dayly, starting with 1 gram and working up. I included piperine with my dayly herbal supplements. After a long time I suspected that it was causing preventricular fibrillation. Starting and stoping the turmeric 3 times confirmed my suspicion. During this period the symptom would very gradually increase then with discontinuation, very gradually decrease. There was no indication that it would decrease with time as I might expect if the cleansing effect was freeing something hard to remove that would eventually get flushed out. It seemed that the whole herb organic turmeric was the cause.

I was concerned about the quality of powdered tumeric or that which is found in a tablet. I purchased organic tumeric root, freeze it..and take about two thumb sized nodes and grate it. At least I know what I’m getting..and it’s way cheaper than what I see for sale at health food stores. I put pepper on it…I have no idea if this a good practice or not..but at 62 I’m going strong. Thoughts?

I recently saw, on Netflix, the film “What the Health” , which extolled the vegan diet. It was so convincing that I decided to give it a try. I’m 85, diabetic, & in pretty good health – leading a pretty active life. I would love to hear other opinions on dairy – pros & cons. I’ve been a vegetarian for many years now, occasionally falling off the wagon at a good cook’s home.
Lynne K

Where are comments posted. I have read column starting with Dallas morning news

I overdid dose at first and and had a giant hive. After it went away I started slowly and successfully take I capsule a day for degenerative disk pain. I was glad to see this article mentioned side effect. OTC did not.

People need to be very careful of where their tumeric is sourced from. Turmeric can be a source of lead poisoning.

I use turmeric whenever I can, e.g., egg salad, hamburgers, scrambled eggs.

Turmeric is a wonderful remedy for Migraine Headaches by the fowling:
Take a 4 Oz Glass add:
2 tbls of of Pure Honey
a little Graound Black Pepper
1/2 Tsp of Good Pure Turmeric Powder
Fill the Rest of the Glass w/ Milk or Almond Milk
Finally place the glass in the Microwave for 40 Sec
Then Stir all ingredients together after heating it.
Drink it all down
The headache should go away within 1/2 to 3/4 hr
Repeat again if about 4 hours if it doesn’t work on first try. Usually it does on first dose.

As one who loves Turmeric and uses it frequently but also as one who cannot tolerate black pepper, I purchased a Turmeric with Ginger. Same effects only better for me. For a long while, I wouldn’t use Turmeric because of the Piperine, I have found the ideal for me with the Ginger. Works just as well as the Ginger facilitates the Turmeric just as well as black pepper.

I had the same problem, now I take Terry Naturally Curamin and I don’t have the same issues. I am considering a Turmeric Extract called PuraThrive. I like the idea of ginger, can you please share what you use? Thanks!

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