Dietitian Yvonne O'Halloran investigates the wonders of turmeric
\"Curcumin has been shown in studies to benefit many conditions such as metabolic syndrome, pain, management of inflammatory and degenerative eye conditions\"
Turmeric is a spice that has long been recognised for its medicinal properties. It is known for its rich orange/ yellow colour and earthy taste. Turmeric is a product of Curcuma longa, a plant belonging to the ginger family, which is native to tropical South Asia.
It is very popular in the culinary world, commonly used in curries and a variety of Asian and Indian dishes. So, what is it that makes turmeric so special? Its rhizome (underground stem) is used as a culinary spice and traditional medicine.
Turmeric contains a powerful polyphenol and antioxidant called curcumin, which has been traditionally used in Asian countries as a medicinal herb for thousands of years.
Curcumin has been shown in studies to benefit many conditions such as metabolic syndrome, pain, management of inflammatory and degenerative eye conditions, and in keeping the kidneys healthy.
Ingesting curcumin by itself is not recommended, as bio availability is poor due to weak absorption, rapid metabolism, and quick elimination.
Therefore, it is best to consume it with something else to enhance bio availability. For example, piperine contained in black pepper increases bioavailability by up to 2,000 per cent when consumed with curcumin (Hewlings and Kalman, 2017).
So, if you are eating a curry or a dish containing turmeric, add some black pepper to enhance absorption. Let's take a closer look at the health benefits of curcumin!
Protective against Heart Disease
Studies have shown that curcumin may be protective against heart disease. Curcumin seems to improve endothelial function in postmenopausal women (endothelium is a permeable barrier for the blood vessel and is involved in the regulation of blood flow.
Endothelial cells are important in wound healing, angiogenesis, inflammatory processes, blood brain barriers, diabetes and other cardiovascular diseases). Turmeric may protect patients at risk of cardiovascular disease by improving serum lipid levels. However, further research is needed to discover adequate dosage and frequency of curcumin (Qin et al, 2017).
Some studies have found that curcumin, in the right dose, may be more effective as an anti-inflammatory treatment than the common inflammation fighting medications like advil or asprin (Takadaet al, 2004).
A common inflammatory disorder, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) which commonly affects the joints but can spread to other areas of the body, seems to respond well to curcumin in some individuals.
One particular study after weeks found that the group given 500mg of curcumin had significant improvement in joint tenderness and swelling when compared to the other groups (Chandran and Goel, 2012).
In people with osteoarthritis, C-reactive protein levels (CRP) which is the inflammatory marker, was shown to decrease whilst taking curcumin for a period of three months (Belcaroet al, 2010).
A 2019 systematic review found that curcumin was associated with a significant decline on BMI, weight, waist circumference and leptin levels. It also increased adiponectin levels - a hormone that plays an important role in regulation of insulin sensitivity and energy in those with metabolic syndrome (Akbari et al, 2019).
This was also found in a randomised controlled trial, where curcumin was found to increase serum adiponectin levels after eight weeks of supplementation (Panahi et al, 2016). It is important to note that these participants were taking 1,000mg of curcumin supplementation per day.
Keep in mind that you will get about 100 to 150mg of curcumin in a full teaspoon of turmeric, though each powder can vary. It is important to be aware that concentrated curcumin supplements may be an issue for those on blood thinning medications like aspirin, warfarin, ibuprofen etc, as it may increase bleeding.