Turmeric continues to make some impressive health headlines. Best known as the spice behind curry, research is showing how it can potentially play a role in weight loss, along with preventing Alzheimer’s disease, cancer and other conditions.
Most people are familiar with turmeric for its unique flavor and its presence in Indian cuisine. Turmeric is a spice native to South and Southeast Asia. It has been used for both medicinal and culinary purposes. Foods such as curries, and even American mustard, are typically made with this yellow spice. Interestingly, there is one active ingredient in turmeric that has been shown to possess many potential health benefits that may help increase the quality of life for those with chronic diseases.
Antioxidant and Anti-inflammatory Benefits
The active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin, which makes up to 5 percent of the spice. Curcumin is a polyphenol with powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Polyphenols have the ability to stabilize free radicals, which can damage the body’s cells (1). Diets rich in polyphenols can help support brain health and delay cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease (2, 3). One study conducted with a group of individuals from 60 to 90 years of age demonstrated that those who regularly consumed curry performed higher on cognitive tests as opposed to those who never or rarely ate curry (4). In India, where turmeric is regularly used in foods, the occurrence of Alzheimer’s disease is one-fourth that of the United States among those in the 70 to 79 year age range. Curcumin also seems to have anti-rheumatic and anti-arthritic effects, possibly through down-regulation of inflammatory cytokines (5).
Lipid Metabolism and Weight Loss
A recent animal study showed the hypolipidemic effects of curcumin, demonstrating its ability to significantly lower triglycerides and free fatty acids (3). This is a promising result, suggesting curcumin’s potential for treating obesity and associated diseases. In another animal study, dietary therapy resulted in significant weight loss and a potential for increasing basal metabolic rate.
In other animal studies, curcumin showed a chemopreventive effect in areas such as the colon, stomach, and esophagus (6). There was also a protective effect against radiation-induced tumors. Curcumin can inhibit tumor cells such as T-cell leukemia, colon carcinoma, and breast carcinoma cells from spreading (5).
Using Turmeric in Tea and Food
Despite all of the health benefits that can be obtained from turmeric, many individuals may be unfamiliar with how to incorporate it into their cooking. Two easy ways to use turmeric is by drinking it as a tea or by cooking it with starchy vegetables. Turmeric tea is a great way to supplement with curcumin. Simply boil four cups of water, then add one teaspoon of ground turmeric, and simmer for approximately 10 minutes. Strain the tea through a sieve and pour into a cup. Flavor turmeric tea by adding a little honey or lemon juice.
Another way to add turmeric to your diet is by using it as a seasoning for potatoes. Boil potatoes and then cut them into quarters or smaller pieces. Gently toss the potatoes with cumin and turmeric and fry in a lightly oiled skillet until browned.
Consuming turmeric in food is generally considered to be safe; however, if cooking with turmeric is not an option, it is available in capsule form, as a fluid extract or as a tincture. According to the University of Maryland’s Medical Center, the recommended dose for adults is as follows:
- Cut root: 1.5 - 3 g per day
- Dried, powdered root: 1 - 3 g per day
- Standardized powder (curcumin): 400 - 600 mg, 3 times per day
- Fluid extract (1:1) 30 - 90 drops a day
- Tincture (1:2): 15 - 30 drops, 4 times per day
Currently, there is no established upper level of toxicity for curcumin and dosages of up to 12 grams per day have been shown to be both safe and tolerable (3). Some side effects include stomach upset and iron chelation which may be problematic for those who suffer from iron deficiency. Medicinal forms of turmeric or curcumin may not be safe for patients who are on blood thinners or for those who have diabetes as it may increase the effect of the medications used to treat those illnesses. Please check with your doctor before taking medicinal forms of turmeric or curcumin.
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- Alappat L, Awad A. Curcumin and obesity: evidence and mechanisms. Nutrition Reviews [serial online]. December 2010;68(12):729-738. Available from: SPORTDiscus with Full Text, Ipswich, MA. Accessed June 29, 2012.
- Radomski M. Is curry a brain food? Wellness Options [serial online]. August 2006;(27):42. Available from: SPORTDiscus with Full Text, Ipswich, MA. Accessed June 29, 2012.
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- Selfridge N, Daya S. Variety IN the Spice of Life: An Update on the Pleiotropic Therapeutic Potential of Curcumin. Alternative Medicine Alert [serial online]. April 2010;13(4):37-40. Available from: SPORTDiscus with Full Text, Ipswich, MA. Accessed June 29, 2012.
By: Mabel J. Robles MS, CES, PES, NASM-CPT