Curried dishes around the world wouldn’t be as delicious without turmeric. Turmeric is an orange-colored spice native to India and Indonesia, revered for its culinary and therapeutic benefits. Turmeric gives the curry its bright yellow or orange color and contributes to its peppery, warm, and mildly bitter taste. It also provides a tangy and ginger-like fragrance.
Turmeric is a root crop known for its tough brown skin and bright orange flesh. For more than 5,000 years, this root crop has been cultivated in the tropical regions of Asia. During the 13th century, turmeric was introduced to western countries by Arab traders.
Its popularity has slowly spread across the globe. Today, the leading producers of this aromatic spice are India, Indonesia, China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Haiti, and Jamaica.
Turmeric has been used in the Chinese and Indian pharmacopoeia for thousands of years. It is known for its powerful anti-inflammatory properties, used in treating several conditions such as toothache, chest pain, urinary tract infection, flatulence, jaundice, menstrual discomforts, bruises, hemorrhage, and colic.
Today, researchers are investigating the countless benefits of turmeric and it has shown incredible promise in the prevention and treatment of cancer.
Curcumin versus Cancer
Turmeric’s active ingredient is an extracted compound called curcumin. Studies have shown that curcumin helps prevent several forms of cancer including breast, lung, stomach, liver, and colon because of its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It stops the development of cancer by interfering with the cellular signaling aspects of the chronic disease.
Lab results have found curcumin capable of…
- Inhibiting COX-2, an enzyme that causes negative inflammation, which can lead to cancer.
- Impeding vascular epithelial growth (a polypeptide that stimulates new blood supply) to starve cancer cells of their oxygen and fuel source.
- Inducing a tumor suppressor gene.
- Stopping metastasis (spread from one organ to another) of cancer cells.
- Killing large cell B-cell lymphoma cells (the most common reason for non-Hodgkin lymphoma).
- Preventing regrowth of cancer stem cells.
Based on a 2011 study conducted by the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, researchers found that the curcumin extract effectively differentiates between cancer cells and normal cells while activating cancer cell death (apoptosis).
Investigators concluded, “Curcumin exerts its biological influence through epigenetic modulation, a process that continues downstream staying one step ahead of adverse genetic influences.”
One study was conducted to investigate how much curcumin colorectal patients could safely take. In the trial, participants took 3.6 grams, considered to be a high dose of curcumin. Results revealed that high doses of curcumin didn’t cause ill effects among colorectal patients.
Curcumin is not well absorbed in the blood but it is absorbed well into the colon lining, giving it an advantage against cancerous tissues in the colon. It can help prevent prostate cancer because of its ability to interfere with the spread of cancer cells and inflammatory responses that are considered to be the precursors of cancer development. Curcumin also fights prostate cancer by reducing the expression of sex hormone receptors in the prostate gland.
It has shown incredible promise in the prevention of cervical cancer, the leading cause of cancer death among women in developing nations. Curcumin’s anti-inflammatory property blocks the factors that induce human papilloma virus and activates cancer cell death within the uterine lining.
Incredible Benefits of Turmeric
Turmeric is powerful and effective against more than cancer cells. Researchers are fascinated by the broad range of conditions it is capable of helping.
- Combats arthritis. Turmeric’s anti-inflammatory properties aids in managing arthritic conditions. Those who suffer from osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis have found relief by consuming turmeric on a regular basis, especially when eaten raw. Turmeric neutralizes harmful free radicals that can damage the cells of the body and lead to inflammation.
- Regulates blood sugar. Turmeric has the ability to improve the effects of diabetic medications and help in controlling the disease. It reduces the risks of developing insulin resistance, a physiological condition in which the cells fail to respond to the normal actions of the insulin hormone.
- Helps you lose weight. Adding turmeric to your diet helps increase the production of bile, a necessary factor in the breakdown of dietary fat. To help obtain your ideal body weight, a teaspoon of turmeric powder in your meals boosts this process. More efficient bile production aids in better digestion and prevents liver disease.
- Makes wound heal faster. You can use turmeric as a natural disinfectant because of its antiseptic and antibacterial properties. To heal wounds, sprinkle turmeric powder on the affected area. It has also been shown that turmeric can be used to treat psoriasis and other skin conditions.
- Prevents Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease is believed to be caused by rampant inflammation within the brain. Turmeric’s anti-inflammatory property removes accumulated plaque and fats in the brain, improving oxygen flow.
The health benefits of turmeric have only been recognized by the medical community in the past decade but researchers are wasting no time in conducting trials on this amazing spice.
Turmeric is for more than just curry. You can add turmeric powder to your classic egg salad, in soups, to season meats, and added to sauces and dressings. A little goes a long way and it adds a unique and delicious undertone to common foods.
Add this spice to your grocery list, include it in your nutrition plan, and enjoy the far-reaching health benefits of turmeric right now.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in January 2015.