Turmeric: The Spice of Life

Story at-a-glance -

  • Turmeric has been used in Chinese and Indian Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years, but renewed interest is taking place due to its incredible health properties
  • Besides the powerful medicinal compound curcumin, turmeric contains high amounts of manganese, iron, fiber, vitamin B6, potassium, vitamin C and magnesium
  • Inflammation, believed to be involved in nearly every chronic disease, is one of the chronic conditions turmeric alleviates, and the antioxidants it contains help destroy harmful free radicals in your body
  • The curcumin in turmeric is largely responsible for helping to prevent and battle several types of cancer, as well as obesity, metabolic syndrome, heart disease, atherosclerosis, degenerative disorders, Alzheimer’s and other conditions

By Dr. Mercola

If you ever notice bright yellow stains on someone's fingernails, and they happen to be health conscious latte lovers, you can safely assume they're in on one of the latest trends: turmeric latte, aka "Golden Milk," boasting turmeric root juice as its main ingredient along with coconut, cashew or almond milk.

Turmeric showed up on Google's 2016 Food Trends Report,1 earning "rising star" designation. Internet searches for turmeric increased by 56 percent between November 2015 and January 2016.

Associated with that search was another one for the golden milk lattes, which are gaining "sexy/edgy" status from San Francisco to Sydney.

When one shop in Oxford, England marketed its new brew as "Golden mylk" (using a "y" in "milk" to denote non-dairy), it quickly shot past the number of regular latte requests. However, a similar concoction has been on other U.K. menus for two years.

The golden milk mania is just one sign indicating a renewed interest in this exotic spice, described as slightly aromatic, vaguely floral and pungent, depending on the amount used. People who appreciate spicy cuisine are partial to turmeric use in curries and rice dishes. In fact, it's turmeric that gives curry its vibrant yellow hue.

Hipsters seem to be on the cusp of the turmeric wave, not just because it's the so-called latest thing, but holistic health advocates say another trend is the rising number of people seeking alternative health and food options, for a few different reasons. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center:

"Recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that 80 percent of people worldwide rely on herbal medicines for some part of their primary health care. In Germany, about 600 to 700 plant-based medicines are available and are prescribed by some 70 percent of German physicians.

In the past 20 years in the United States, public dissatisfaction with the cost of prescription medications, combined with an interest in returning to natural or organic remedies, has led to an increase in herbal medicine use."2

Turmeric: A Pungent Path to Healing

The reasons to make turmeric part of your life (if it isn't already) are almost too numerous to count, especially when you consider its incredible restorative, disease-healing and preventive capabilities.

Derived from the Persian word for "saffron," turmeric has been on the proverbial "top 10 superfoods" list in Chinese medicine for millennia3 and just as long in the Indian Ayurvedic healing tradition.

Turmeric with milk has long been a popular beverage in those regions, so rather than being a new thing, it's simply being revisited. The Guardian noted:

"Like many trends, the turmeric latte may seem to have come out of nowhere. But it has been brewing for a while …

It has done the rounds of the wellness circuit — the blogs, websites and Instagram accounts of 'clean eating' advocates — for several months, and recipes for the drink abound on Pinterest."4

There are reasons for that. Turmeric has (again) attracted attention for many of the health benefits it provides.

Incredible Anti-Inflammatory Advantages of Turmeric

In terms of the nutritional profile for daily recommended values (DRV), turmeric provides 26 percent of what's needed in manganese and 16 percent in iron, along with excellent amounts of fiber, vitamin B6, potassium, vitamin C and magnesium. All of them provide benefits for better health.

Scientists believe inflammation is involved in nearly every chronic disease, including cancer,5 obesity and metabolic syndrome,6 heart disease and accompanying atherosclerosis (hardening and narrowing of the arteries),7 degenerative disorders and Alzheimer's.

One component in turmeric, curcumin, has been proven so effective as an anti-inflammatory that it's compared to prescription medications, without the toxic side effects8 such as ulcer formation, internal bleeding and a lowered white blood cell count.

Perhaps most importantly, curcumin battles inflammation at the molecular level, as it does other disorders.9 NF- κ B is a molecule that passes into a cell's nuclei, where it can "switch on" the genes related to inflammation in a number of serious diseases, but curcumin is able to prevent the transfer.10

Further, research suggests turmeric (sometimes simply referred to in studies as curcumin) may be helpful in treating inflammatory bowel diseases, joint pain relief, rheumatoid arthritis, reduced joint swelling, and greater range of motion when ingested regularly.

Besides lowering your cholesterol, turmeric is shown to be heart-protective while relieving indigestion and improving liver function.

Curcumin's Effectiveness on Harmful Free Radicals

It's hard to say just how much damage free radicals do to individuals in today's atmosphere with all the pollution, chemicals in the air, water and food, not to mention stress and other factors.

Free radicals age you and can cause disease, but the curcumin in turmeric is active against disease in several ways.

Besides the inflammation fighting,11 antioxidants in turmeric neutralize free radicals throughout your body (including your brain, kidney, liver and heart) by its chemical structure.12 According to Oregon State University's Linus Pauling Institute:

"Curcumin taken orally may reach sufficient concentrations in the gastrointestinal tract and protect the intestinal mucosa against oxidative DNA damage.

In addition to a potentially direct antioxidant activity, curcumin can induce the expression of phase II antioxidant enzymes, including glutamate-cysteine ligase (GCL), the rate-limiting enzyme in glutathione synthesis.

Glutathione is an important intracellular antioxidant that plays a critical role in cellular adaptation to stress. Curcumin was found to upregulate the expression of GCL through the activation of different signaling pathways (and) increases the expression of GCL and other detoxifying enzymes."13

Turmeric May Prevent, Suppress and Kill Cancer Cells

Cancer is negatively affected by curcumin, as numerous studies have demonstrated. One study (among many) showed that it may inhibit the development as well as the spread of cancer at the molecular level.14

There's also evidence that curcumin intake may prevent cancer, particularly of the digestive system, such as colorectal cancer. Large numbers of studies indicate that curcumin has the ability to:

  • Reduce the growth of new blood vessels in tumors (angiogenesis)
  • Decrease the spread of cancer (metastasis)
  • Help destroy cancer cells15

Similar effects of curcumin on colon cancer have been seen both in the lab and in test animals.16 Research also showed that when 44 men with lesions in the colon, which can turn cancerous, were given 4 grams of curcumin a day for 30 days, they came away with a 40 percent reduction in the number of lesions.17

Studies Show Curcumin May Help Prevent and Treat Alzheimer's

One of the most common neurodegenerative diseases is dementia. Scientists believe the very best way to combat it is to prevent it from occurring in the first place. Your body is designed with a natural barrier to protect your brain from toxic molecules that can enter and damage neurons.

Curcumin has the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier. In one study, researchers designed a curcumin atomizer for curcumin to be breathed in and delivered to the brain18 for significant cognition improvement.

An overview of many benefits delivered by turmeric (besides those for cystic fibrosis , liver disease, hemorrhoids, atherosclerosis and gastric ulcers) showed that in regard to Alzheimer's, turmeric:

"Decreased beta-amyloid plaques, delayed degradation of neurons, metal-chelation, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and decreased microglia formation, the overall memory in patients with AD has improved."19

To explain the significance of beta-amyloid plaques:

"Scientists at the Stanford University School of Medicine have shown how a protein fragment known as beta-amyloid, strongly implicated in Alzheimer's disease, begins destroying synapses before it clumps into plaques that lead to nerve cell death.

Key features of Alzheimer's, which affects about 5 million Americans, are wholesale loss of synapses — contact points via which nerve cells relay signals to one another — and a parallel deterioration in brain function, notably in the ability to remember."20

Things to Remember Regarding Curcumin

While curcumin is the most active ingredient in turmeric, there's only about 3 percent concentration in turmeric per weight.21 Authority Nutrition reported:

"Most of the studies on this herb are using turmeric extracts that contain mostly curcumin itself, with dosages usually exceeding 1 gram per day. It would be very difficult to reach these levels just using the turmeric spice in your foods. Therefore, if you want to experience the full effects, then you need to take an extract that contains significant amounts of curcumin."22

Another thing to remember about turmeric is that it doesn't absorb very well into your bloodstream, but there's a remedy for that, too; black pepper, which contains a natural element called piperine, is able to increase absorption of curcumin by 2,000 percent!23 Although turmeric is considered generally safe to eat, adverse effects of turmeric may include gastric problems, nausea, diarrhea, skin reactions, and interference with your body's ability to form blood clots.

All in all, turmeric is a root that has innumerable benefits for those who care to explore them. If you're the adventurous type, you can try making "golden milk" at home:

Ginger and Turmeric Latte

  1. Combine 1 heaping teaspoon each of grated turmeric and ginger, 1 tablespoon of coconut sugar, 2 teaspoons of coconut oil and a pinch of sea salt in a blender.
  2. In a small saucepan, heat 1 cup of almond milk over medium heat until it's just simmering.
  3. Pour the hot almond milk into the blender and whir until smooth and frothy.

If you can't find fresh turmeric, you can use 1 teaspoon of turmeric spice instead.