[Curcuma longa] Known as the vibrant yellow ingredient used liberally in Indian curries, turmeric has a long history of use in both Indian and Chinese traditional medicine, and has also been used as a textile dye – as anyone who’s spilt a yellow curry on their clothes can appreciate!
It is to that vivid yellow-orange pigment – curcumin – that potent therapeutic properties are attributed. It is powerfully antioxidant (significantly more so than vitamin E or C) and this ability to neutralise free radicals before they damage healthy cells and cell membranes, in conjunction with its anti-inflammatory effects (via a number of pathways), contribute to its role in preventing or alleviating an impressive array of conditions, including many cancers, arthritis, diabetes, gastrointestinal disorders, cardiovascular disease, liver ailments, and Alzheimer’s.
ARTHRITIS: Curcumin inhibits the breakdown of cartilage and has been shown in some studies to be as effective as hydrocortisone and phenylbutazone (bute) in relieving the symptoms of arthritis such as inflammation, swelling and joint stiffness. Even better, it does so without the significant side-effects of those drugs, and has been shown to be safe at very large doses.
CANCER: Curcumin defends the body against cancer via a number of actions: it detoxifies carcinogens thereby preventing the initiation of cancer cells; suppresses the progression of cancerous cells by inhibiting their proliferation while simultaneously increasing their death and removal; and inhibits the spread of cancerous cells to other areas of the body. It can also reduce the side effects of chemotherapy treatment and enhance the action of some chemotherapy agents. Various studies have demonstrated either turmeric (as a whole food or extract) or curcumin/curcuminoids (as isolates) to have beneficial results in preventing or treating a wide range of cancers. These include skin, ovarian, breast, lung, oral, stomach, liver, colon and prostate cancers.
LIVER FUNCTION: Turmeric has a hepatoprotective (liver-protecting) action. That is, it both prevents and repairs liver damage. It protects the liver from inflammation and improves ‘the clearing function of the liver when it has been damaged.’1
GASTROINTESTINAL TRACT: In vitro studies have shown extracts of turmeric and curcumin inhibit the growth of Helicobacter pylori a bacterium associated with both gastric & duodenal ulcer formation and gastric & colon cancers. Other studies have indicated that turmeric (at appropriate doses) can enhance the healing of gastric ulcers via an increase in gastric wall mucus production. Further, turmeric has been shown to have an antispasmodic effect on the gastro-intestinal tract. In addition, turmeric and curcumin have been investigated and found to be protective against Inflammatory Bowel Disease.
CARDIOVASCULAR EFFECTS: Curcumin improves the liver’s ability to clear the body of LDL (‘bad’ cholesterol), and increases the proportion of HDL (‘good’ cholesterol). In addition it prevents the oxidation of both LDL and HDL (oxidised cholesterol leads to blood vessel damage and plaque build up that can result in heart attack or stroke).
Diabetic animals fed curcumin not only had a significant reduction of blood cholesterol levels (LDL fraction) but also of blood triglycerides and phospholipids (elevated levels of both are associated with the disturbed lipid metabolism characteristic of diabetes).
Turmeric is a good source of vitamin B6, a high intake of which is associated with a lowered risk of heart disease.
Curcumin exhibits anticoagulant effects – allowing blood to flow correctly and inhibiting abnormal blood clot formation (thrombosis).