The marigold-colored spice known as turmeric, which is revered in India as "holy powder," has been used for centuries to treat wounds, infections and other health problems. In recent years, there has been increasing research into turmeric's main ingredient, curcumin, and its astonishing array of antioxidant, anti-cancer, antibiotic, antiviral and other properties.
Now, researchers have discovered that curcumin acts by inserting itself into cell membranes and making them more orderly, a move that improves cells' resistance to infection and malignancy.
Scientists had previously speculated that curcumin does its health-promoting work by interacting directly with membrane proteins, but the new findings challenge that notion. Instead, curcumin appears to regulate the action of membrane proteins indirectly, by changing the physical properties of the membrane.
Turmeric is a yellow spice most often associated with Indian food, curry and yellow mustard, but as research into this powerful spice increases, it’s becoming clear that it may be one of nature’s most powerful potential healers.
Both the ancient Chinese and Indian systems of medicine have recognized turmeric’s beneficial properties for thousands of years, but this new study is the first to show how exactly it does its work.
It appears that curcumin -- the pigment that gives turmeric its yellow-orange color, and which is thought to be responsible for many of its medicinal effects -- is able to “discipline” cells and get them back into working order. When curcumin enters a cell, the study’s lead researcher said:
"The membrane goes from being crazy and floppy to being more disciplined and ordered, so that information that flows through it can be controlled."
This not only improves your cells’ resistance to infections, but it also may help prevent cancer.
Turmeric May be a Potent Cancer Fighter
In India where turmeric is widely used, the prevalence of four common U.S. cancers -- colon, breast, prostate and lung -- is 10 times lower. In fact, prostate cancer, which is the most frequently diagnosed cancer in U.S. men, is rare in India and this is attributed, in part, to turmeric.
Numerous studies have looked into this potential cancer-fighting link, with promising results. For instance, curcumin has been found to:
- Inhibit the proliferation of tumor cells
- Inhibit the transformation of cells from normal to tumor
- Help your body destroy mutated cancer cells so they cannot spread throughout your body
- Decrease inflammation
- Enhance liver function
- Inhibit the synthesis of a protein thought to be instrumental in tumor formation
- Prevent the development of additional blood supply necessary for cancer cell growth
And according to researchers from the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, curcumin blocks a key biological pathway needed for development of melanoma and other cancers.
The spice actually stops laboratory strains of melanoma from proliferating and pushes the cancer cells to commit suicide by shutting down nuclear factor-kappa B (NF-kB), a powerful protein known to induce an abnormal inflammatory response that leads to an assortment of disorders such as arthritis and cancer.
More Reasons to Add More Spice to Your Life
The reason people in India refer to turmeric as “holy powder” is because it has such a broad range of health effects. In fact, curcumin has been shown to influence more than 700 genes, with benefits that include:
- Strengthening and improving your digestion
- Supporting healthy liver function and detoxification
- Purifying your blood
- Fighting cancer, arthritis and Alzheimer’s disease
- Anti-inflammatory properties
Further, evidence suggests turmeric may play a beneficial role in the following diseases:
- Cystic fibrosis
- Type 2 diabetes
- Crohn’s disease
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Muscle regeneration
- Inflammatory bowel disease
A Few Turmeric Tips
You can absolutely use turmeric in your cooking, and in case you haven’t tried it, it has a warm, peppery flavor. However, when you do choose a pure turmeric powder, rather than a curry powder, as at least one study has found curry powders tend to contain very little curcumin, compared to turmeric powder.
Be sure to listen to your body as always, and if turmeric is a spice you do not enjoy it may be a sign that it’s not right for your body. If you are not one who enjoys the flavor of curry, you can also get the benefits of turmeric by taking it in a high-quality, organic supplement form.