I first came across Turmeric when an Indian friend of mine kept mentioning that name in her cooking recipes.  I kept asking myself in my head, “What’s so good about that spice?”  Previously, when it came to Indian cuisine and recipes in general, the only thing I knew was of curry and naan.  What went into the preparation of the dishes was a mystery to me, outside of the aforementioned curry powder formulation.  But little did I know that Turmeric was the “active ingredient” in curry, which furthermore consisted of the herb “Curcumin“, which gives the curry its distinctive yellow color.

Turmeric, the main spice in Indian curry, is arguably the most powerful herb on the planet at fighting and reversing disease.  It has so many healing properties that currently there have been over 6000 peer-reviewed articles published proving the benefits of turmeric and one of its renowned healing compounds Curcumin.  Of the 6000+ studies referencing curcumin, the most interesting finding is that when turmeric is compared to conventional medicine it’s benefits equal that of the pharmaceutical medications.

This puts turmeric on top of the list as one of the most frequently mentioned medicinal herbs in all of science and the next most popular studied herbs include garlic, cinnamon, ginseng, ginger and milk thistle.  Turmeric, an orange-colored spice imported from India, is part the ginger family and has been a staple in Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian cooking for thousands of years.

In addition, ayurvedic and Chinese medicines utilize turmeric to clear infections and inflammations on the inside and outside of the body. But beyond the holistic health community, Western medical practitioners have only recently come on board in recognizing the benefits of Turmeric.

» 8 amazing benefits of Turmeric … the spice of life

  1. Blocking Cancer » Doctors at UCLA recently found that Curcumin, the main active ingredient in Turmeric, appeared to block an enzyme that promotes the growth of head and neck cancer.  In that study, 21 subjects with head and neck cancers chewed two tablets containing 1,000 milligrams of curcumin.  An independent lab in Maryland evaluated the results and found that the cancer-promoting enzymes in the patients’ mouths were inhibited by the Curcumin and thus prevented from advancing the spread of the malignant cells.
  2. Powerful Antioxidant » The University of Maryland’s Medical Center also states that turmeric’s powerful antioxidant properties fight cancer-causing free radicals, reducing or preventing some of the damage they can cause.  While more research is necessary, early studies have indicated that curcumin may help prevent or treat several types of cancer including prostate, skin and colon.
  3. Potent Anti-inflammatory » Dr. Randy J. Horwitz, the medical director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine and an assistant professor of clinical medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Tucson, wrote a paper for the American Academy of Pain Management in which he discussed the health benefits of turmeric.   “Turmeric is one of the most potent natural anti-inflammatories available,” Horwitz states in the paper.  He went on to cite a 2006 University of Arizona study that examined the effect of turmeric on rats with injected rheumatoid arthritis. According to Horwitz, pretreatment with turmeric completely inhibited the onset of rheumatoid arthritis in the rats. In addition, the study found that using turmeric for pre-existing rheumatoid arthritis resulted in a significant reduction of symptoms.
  4. Curcumin Boosts Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor » Back in the day, it was believed that neurons weren’t able to divide and multiply after early childhood – it is now known that this does happen.  The neurons are capable of forming new connections, but in certain areas of the brain, they can also multiply and increase in number.  One of the main drivers of this process is Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), which is a type of growth hormone that functions in the brain – and many common brain disorders have been linked to decreased levels of this hormone, including depression and Alzheimer’s disease.Interestingly however, curcumin can increase brain levels of BDNF.  By doing this, it may be effective at delaying or even reversing many brain diseases and age-related decreases in brain function.  There is also the possibility that it could help improve memory and make you smarter.  Makes sense given its effects on BDNF levels, but this definitely needs to be tested in human controlled trials.
  5. Curcumin Reduces Risk of Heart Disease » Heart disease is the biggest killer in the world, and Curcumin may help reverse many steps in the heart disease process.  Perhaps the main benefit of Curcumin is improving the function of the endothelium, which is the lining of the blood vessels.It is well known that endothelial dysfunction is a major driver of heart disease and involves an inability of the endothelium to regulate blood pressure, blood clotting and various other factors.  Several studies suggest that Curcumin leads to improvements in endothelial function.  One study shows that is as effective as exercise, another shows that it works as well as the drug Atorvastatin (Lipitor).  Curcumin also reduces inflammation and oxidation (as discussed above), which are also important treatment modalities in heart disease.  In one study, 121 patients who were undergoing coronary artery bypass surgery were randomized to either placebo or 4 grams of curcumin per day, for a few days before and after the surgery.  Remarkably, the Curcumin group had a 65% decreased risk of experiencing a heart attack in the hospital.
  6. Turmeric Can Help Prevent and possibly Treat Cancer » Researchers have been studying Curcumin as a beneficial herb in cancer treatment. It can affect cancer growth, development and spread at the molecular level.  Studies have shown that it can reduce angiogenesis (growth of new blood vessels in tumors), metastasis, as well as contributing to the death of cancerous cells.  Multiple studies have shown that Curcumin can reduce the growth of cancerous cells in the laboratory and inhibit the growth of tumors in laboratory test animals.Whether high-dose Curcumin can help treat cancer in humans has yet to be tested properly, however, there is some evidence that it may help prevent cancer from occurring in the first place, especially cancers of the digestive system (such as colorectal cancer).  In one study in 44 men with lesions in the colon that sometimes turn cancerous, 4 grams of curcumin per day for 30 days reduced the number of lesions by 40%.  Perhaps curcumin will be used along with conventional cancer treatment one day, but it’s still too early to say for sure, but it looks promising and this is being intensively studied as we speak.
  7. Curcumin May be Useful in Preventing and Treating Alzheimer’s Disease » Alzheimer’s disease is the most common neurodegenerative disease in the world and a leading form of dementia and, unfortunately, there presently are not any effective treatments for Alzheimer’s yet.  Therefore, prevention is of the utmost importance.  One important aspect of Turmeric, with its active ingredient Curcumin, is that it has been shown to cross the blood-brain barrier (BBB).  It is known that inflammation and oxidative damage play a role in Alzheimer’s disease, and as we now know, Curcumin has beneficial effects on both.  But one key feature of Alzheimer’s disease is a buildup of protein tangles called Amyloid (beta) plaques.  Studies show that Curcumin can help clear these entangled Amyloid plaques.  Whether Curcumin can really slow down or even reverse the progression of Alzheimer’s disease needs to be studied properly.
  8. Arthritis Patients Respond Very Well to Curcumin Supplementation » Arthritis is a very common problem in Western-developed countries.  There are several different types, but most involve some sort of inflammation in the joints, otherwise known as Osteo-arthritis.  Given that Curcumin is a potent anti-inflammatory, it makes sense that it could help with arthritis – and several studies show this to be true.  In a study of patients with rheumatoid arthritis, Curcumin was even more effective than an anti-inflammatory drug.  Many other studies have looked at the effects of Curcumin on arthritis and noted improvements in various symptoms.

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