When I was a kid, I used to mistake turmeric for ginger which my grandmother used to make tea or salabat for me whenever I have a cough or a sore throat. Being a picky eater did not help. As an adult, I was reacquainted with turmeric and got to know ginger’s close relative even more. Turmeric and ginger belong to the Zingiberaceae family and are both strongly flavored spices. While turmeric is also commonly known as “yellow ginger”, it is actually more orange on the inside compared to ginger’s light yellow.
Though found throughout Asia, India has been the largest producer and utilizer of turmeric where aside from being a kitchen staple, it is also celebrated for its medicinal properties. Today, turmeric is back in the limelight and has resurfaced within the health community, thanks to its wide range of health benefits.
Here’s a closer look at some of its amazing benefits:
- Controls blood sugar. Turmeric’s health benefits can be attributed to curcumin, a compound responsible for its bright yellow-orange hue. It helps moderate insulin levels thereby improving glucose control and increasing the effects of anti-diabetic medications. It also helps prevent or delay the onset of type-2 diabetes by effectively reducing insulin resistance.
- Lowers risk of heart disease. Studies suggest that curcumin may help lower serum cholesterol level prevent plaque build-up that can clog arteries and eventually lead to strokes and other cardiovascular diseases.
- Arthritis relief. Turmeric’s anti-inflammatory properties help alleviate pain from osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. In one study, it was found that turmeric extract supplements worked just as well as ibuprofen for patients with knee osteoarthritis. In a 2006 University of Arizona study, rats injected with rheumatoid arthritis were treated with turmeric. Results showed that pretreatment with turmeric completely inhibited the onset of rheumatoid arthritis in the rats. Furthermore, it was found that using turmeric for pre-existing rheumatoid arthritis resulted in a significant reduction of symptoms.
- Fights cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, curcumin interferes with important molecular pathways involved in cancer development, growth and spread. Curcumin has been shown to kill cancer cells, shrink tumors and boost chemotherapy effects in animals in laboratory settings. Several pieces of research have also found that turmeric works best against radiation-induced tumors. It may also prevent tumor cells such as T-cell leukemia, colon cancer, and breast cancer.
- Detoxifies the liver. Turmeric effectively combats liver cancer by assisting the enzymes that are responsible for flushing out known dietary carcinogens and other toxins out of the body. Turmeric is also believed to invigorate and improve the blood circulation. These processes enhance protection against liver damage and regeneration of affected liver cells.
- Boosts the immune system. Turmeric is considered a superfood considering its high amount of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. It also has antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties that help strengthen the immune system. A strong immune system may mean lessen the incidence of contracting a cough, cold or flu.
- Protects the brain. Aside from curcumin, turmeric has another compound called aromatic turmerone or ar-turmerone. A study was done on the effects of ar-turmerone in rats on a type of stem cell that is also found in adult brains. It was found that the compound promotes stem cell repair in the brain. These stem cells are involved in recovery from neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and stroke.
- Indigestion and heartburn remedy. There are several compounds in turmeric that stimulates the gallbladder to produce bile which helps improve digestion immensely. This will also reduce symptoms of gas and bloating. Turmeric is also beneficial for those suffering from most forms of inflammatory bowel disease such as ulcerative colitis or irritable bowel syndrome. Take note though that it is best to consume turmeric in raw form when suffering from a digestive problem by taking it as a dietary supplement may worsen your condition.
A few words of caution
Dietary supplements do not undergo stringent regulatory process compared to food or other conventional medication. Certain supplements, including turmeric, can interact with other medications. Turmeric may lower blood glucose levels and can increase the effects of anti-diabetic medications which can lead to hypoglycemia. It can also slow blood clotting, so be cautious in taking turmeric with drugs with the same effect such as anticoagulants. And of course, it is always best to consult your doctor before taking any kind of supplements.
Incorporating turmeric into your diet
Do you have a jar of turmeric sitting in your cupboard? After reading the many benefits of turmeric, you may be looking for ways to add it to your diet. Dr. Saraswati Sukumar, a cancer specialist from Johns Hopkins, who is a frequent user of turmeric as well, believes that the best way to enjoy its benefits is to use it in cooking. “The problem with the pill is that is very insoluble in water,” said Dr. Sukumar. “The better way to take it, I feel, is to use it in your cooking extensively.”
Here are easy ideas to incorporate turmeric into your daily meals:
Spice up your food. You can add it to your sautéed vegetables or mix it with your scrambled eggs. It can also give additional flavor to steamed vegetables or as a rub for meats. It is also a traditional ingredient in curries. Consuming it with black pepper can improve its absorption.
Drink it as a tea. Add one teaspoon of ground turmeric to four cups of boiling water. Reduce it to a simmer for about ten minutes and finally add honey and/or lemon to taste.
Add it to your rice meal. A dash of turmeric not only brings color but also adds a mild flavor to a pot of plain rice.
Blend with your smoothie. A pinch of ground spice is a nice addition to your smoothie. The slightly pungent flavor can be masked by the fruit or vegetable mix in smoothies. Below is an example of a turmeric smoothie recipe you can easily make:
1 cup of coconut milk
½ cup frozen pineapple or mango chunks
1 fresh banana
½-1 teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon chia seeds
Add all ingredients to your blender and process until smooth. The best time to drink this smoothie is first thing in the morning before you have anything to eat. It is a perfect source of antioxidants and a solid way to start your day.