What is turmeric? 3 scientifically-proven ways this ancient spice can boost your health

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The spice known as turmeric has been used for thousands of years across India both as a food and as a part of Ayurvedic medicine. More recently, it has been embraced by the west for its flavor profile lending curries a spicy kick along with its impressive list of health benefits.

What is turmeric?

Grown for its root, turmeric is a member of the ginger family harvested for use in culinary spices and medicine.

Like ginger, it is found in the fresh produce section of stores, however it is commonly sold as a ground spice. It is a major component in curry powder, imbuing dishes with a vivid orange color.

What is curcumin?

Curcumin is an active ingredient in turmeric, a natural substance offering health-boosting effects. Ayurvedic medicine treats many ailments using turmeric and Western medicine has now adopted it for its array of anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and anti-microbial properties. 

Keep reading to find out how turmeric can benefit you and your physical and mental health.

1. It’s a natural anti-inflammatory

A small amount of inflammation is a necessary part of the body’s natural defenses. However, long-term inflammation can lead to chronic illness. Curcumin treats this by blocking inflammatory molecules (called cytokines), reducing the body’s inflammatory response. 

Studies show the positive effects of curcumin on people with heart disease, and auto-immune diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease and rheumatoid arthritis.

2. Turmeric improves brain health

As well as its natural anti-inflammatory properties, turmeric has immense brain-boosting benefits. 

Mood and memory was shown to be greatly improved in older adults who took curcumin supplements as part of a trial

Early evidence shows turmeric has the potential to improve brain function through another naturally occurring substance. 

Results from a recent study conclude that the bioactive compound ar-turmerone was shown to block the activation of certain cells which lead to neurodegenerative diseases such as Huntington’s, dementia, and Parkinson’s disease.

3. Turmeric as an antidepressant

Curcumin is linked with reducing anxiety. 

A 2020 study of existing research indicates that the mechanisms within the compound can have a positive effect on major depressive disorders. 

A specific controlled trial involving 60 participants showed that curcumin creates a similar response to prozac in patients experiencing depression. 

How do you take turmeric?

As with many natural supplements, there are several ways to take turmeric. You can take it as a culinary spice. Adding a dash to a curry dish improves flavor, but is it enough to reap its health benefits?

Nutritionists agree it’s most optimal to take curcumin as a supplement extracted from turmeric. This option increases the potency. In supplement form the recommended amount is 500- 1500 milligrams a day.

Unfortunately, there is a downside to curcumin. Its bioavailability.

This means when you ingest it, whether as a lone supplement or in turmeric, the body struggles to absorb it into the bloodstream.

But, if you add black pepper this can help.

Taking at the same time as black pepper increases your uptake of curcumin. When the curcumin in turmeric is joined by the piperine in black pepper, the absorption of curcumin increases by 2000%.

Summary

Turmeric contains many substances which offer health-boosting benefits.

It has anti-inflammatory properties which help reduce pain, it’s shown to impact the processes leading to neurodegenerative diseases, and it’s proven to have a positive effect on depression. 

Available as a fresh and ground spice, the most potent biocompound in the spice – curcumin – is also recommended as a supplement. For increased absorption take it alongside black pepper.

gem seddon freelance blogger freelance film journalist freelance writer

About the author

Gem is a freelance writer with nine years' experience. She's written about alternative health and wellness since 2016, penning original blog posts, newsletters, recipes, and social media ads for local acupuncture clinics.

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