How The Golden Spice From Ancient India Promotes Good Health
Like its close relative ginger, turmeric originated in India, where people have been harvesting turmeric roots to cook with and to use as a medicine for over 4,000 years. You might recognize its vibrant golden color and mild, slightly peppery flavor in your favorite Indian restaurant’s curry, which you’ll likely love even more when you know what turmeric can do for your health.
In addition to being delicious, turmeric’s health benefits are legion. Turmeric has been shown to help fight cancer, protect your liver, improve heart health, rival Prozac as a treatment for depression, and offer a natural, non-toxic alternative to ibuprofen. Turmeric can fight acne and heal wounds thanks to its antimicrobial properties, and it can even help you think more clearly.
The key to the health benefits of turmeric appears to lie in a bioactive compound called curcumin. To get a sense of the variety of ways turmeric’s curcumin carries significant health benefits where we most tend to need them, let’s look at three key properties of curcumin along with the potential health benefits they carry.
Turmeric Is A Natural Anti-Inflammatory
According to a study that evaluated several anti-inflammatory compounds, curcumin is among the most potent anti-inflammatory compounds in the world, which makes it a valuable, natural potential treatment for some chronic diseases. One study found that the curcumin in turmeric was even more effective as an anti-inflammatory and antiproliferative agent than more common anti-inflammatory medications like aspirin or ibuprofen in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, which is characterized by joint inflammation.
Research is ongoing, but it appears that turmeric’s curcumin may lower inflammation by lowering histamine levels or by increasing the natural production of cortisone. Since inflammation plays a role in many chronic diseases such as arthritis, Alzheimer’s, and cancer, the anti-inflammatory health benefits of turmeric may make the golden spice effective in treating these conditions.
Turmeric Can Make You Better At Thinking
Research has established a connection between turmeric and improved cognition and working memory, though the exact mechanism that extends the health benefits of turmeric to mental function are still being investigated. It appears that curcumin improves plasticity, your brain’s ability to adapt, by promoting the growth of new neural networks that send information between different regions of the brain, and from the brain to the rest of the nervous system.
Due to its neuroprotective properties, regular consumption of curcumin can improve age-related memory deficits and reverse impaired cognition including but not limited to the effects of Alzheimer’s. The curcumin in turmeric may even help treat depression. More research is needed to confirm these findings, but small-sample studies have shown it to be as effective as Prozac in alleviating depression, likely because it promotes the growth of cells in the hippocampus while also strengthening neural connections.
Turmeric is a Strong Antioxidant, Shielding You From Cell Damage
The curcumin in turmeric acts as a powerful antioxidant that keeps healthy cells protected from cancer-causing free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules with missing electrons. Like sulking movie villains, they seek to restore themselves by preying on innocent victims – in this case, otherwise healthy cells. Antioxidants defend your cells from free radicals by getting to them first, and because of its chemical structure, curcumin is particularly good at doing this.
By saving your cells from the ravages of free radicals, the curcumin in turmeric may help reduce your risk of chronic diseases like cancer, atherosclerosis, and neurodegenerative diseases.
How to Maximize the Health Benefits of Turmeric
Studies on the health benefits of turmeric involve higher levels of curcumin than you can realistically ever hope to get out of your next bowl of curry, especially because the human body doesn’t absorb curcumin very well on its own. To get the most out of the wonder spice, have your turmeric with black pepper! The piperine in the pepper can boost your body’s curcumin absorption by 2,000%. You’ll also get more curcumin if you have your turmeric with a high-fat meal, since curcumin breaks down in fat or oil.
Ready to try out a recipe featuring turmeric? You can find great starting places here and here!
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