3 Reasons You Should Be Consuming Turmeric to Restore Optimal Health, According to Science
Recently, I published an article distinguishing the questionable benefits of multivitamin supplementation versus the evidence-based, clinical benefits of specific supplementation. In this piece we will explore some of the numerous clinically supported benefits of what is being touted as perhaps the most beneficial nutritional supplement in existence: the ancient, golden Indian spice turmeric. It’s chief constituent, curcumin, has been implicated in the prevention and treatment in a wide variety of disease conditions due to potent anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties [1,2]. While, in the previous article, we discussed potential fallacies and even potential dangers of aimless multivitamin supplementation, in this piece, we will explore three key health benefits of turmeric consumption that have sound scientific evidence and clinical support.
What is Turmeric?
Plant medicine has been a staple in human healthcare since time immemorial. Turmeric, an herb that gives curry its yellow colors in Indian cuisine, has recently been shown through clinical research what Indians have known for countless years: this spice contains powerful medicinal properties. Exactly what properties do turmeric, or more specifically, its active compound curcumin, contain? To name a few key therapeutic properties, curcumin has shown to be a potent:
Clearly this special medicinal herb from the East has a lot to offer human health, especially when considering such plant-based medicines tend to have fewer (if any) side effects compared to traditional drugs. Let’s explore three key benefits of turmeric consumption in the prevention and treatment of various diseases.
Curcumin Helps Boost Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor, Reducing Neurological Illness and Increasing Brain Power
It has long since been thought that the amount of brain cells or neurons one has at birth could not multiply or divide following early childhood. We now know this is not true. In fact, some areas of the brain are able to continue dividing and forming new neurons while others can continue to form new connections. It is in this regard that curcumin plays a novel role in helping boost Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (or BDNF), which helps catalyze the formation of new neural connections by encouraging the formation of new neurons .
Curcumin May Lower Risk for Heart Disease
We may have heard it countless times before, but the fact still remains: heart disease is the number one cause of death in the world. The pathogenesis of cardiovascular disease is complex and multidimensional in etiology. The most notable feature of curcumin in this context is likely it’s effect on the endothelium (the lining of your blood vessels) by helping regulate blood pressure, clotting and hemodynamic factors, to name a few key points . One study shows curcumin is as effective as exercise in promoting these benefits. Another study even demonstrates curcumin is as effective as regular exercise in promoting positive endothelial function in the cardiovascular system in addition to it’s potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, curcumin’s effects on the endothelium is seemingly profoundly beneficial in maintaining and promoting positive cardiovascular health.
Curcumin Can Help Treat and Potentially Even Prevent Cancers*
Indeed, the prospect of prophylactic cancer treatment is a powerful one. Even more fascinating is the notion that curcumin may help treat active cancer pathologies in patients. Cancer is characterized by uncontrolled cell growth and is a crippling illness for those in its grip. On a molecular level, curcumin has demonstrated the ability to kill cancer cells growing uncontrollably while also preventing angiogenesis, which is the development of new blood vessels used to feed and nourish cancerous growths [5,6]. This has been shown time and again through in-vivo laboratory testing in animals, where the animal subjects demonstrated reduced tumor growth and the aforementioned angiogenesis. With the widespread diagnoses of cancer pathologies ravaging the globe, it’s certainly promising that plant medicines such as turmeric can have such potentially novel and remarkable effects in combating this illness.
* It is important to note that just because curcumin has shown to be a powerful agent in treating cancer in laboratory animals doesn't automatically imply that the observed anti-angiogenetic as well as anti-cancer effects translate into humans. Before such definitive claims are made, more robust study designs involving human subjects must survive rigorous scientific inquiry. More on study designs and the hierarchy of evidence here.
A Note About Curcumin Bioavailability & Concentrations in Turmeric
Science has uncovered that there is in fact only about 3% curcumin by weight in the spice turmeric . For this reason, to gain the maximum benefit from turmeric’s active medicinal compound, curcumin, it is generally consumed in extract form at doses reaching 1g of active curcumin per day. Furthermore, research has uncovered that curcumin, on it’s own, has poor oral bioavailability due to rapid metabolism in the liver and intestinal wall. That is to say, it is not well absorbed when consumed orally by itself due to how quickly it is degraded in the liver and intestines. Luckily, there is strong evidence supporting the combined consumption of black pepper with turmeric to boost the oral bioavailability of curcumin absorption . Therefore, an absorption enhancer such as piperine (the active compound in black pepper) should be consumed with concentrated turmeric for maximum benefits.
It is certainly interesting that modern science is steadily uncovering truths about medicinal plants and herbs that have already been used for millennia. Perhaps this says something unique about the novelty and surprising efficacy of raw human intuition—especially back in the days before laboratory testing and the scientific method. What is more, there is now a mounting level of evidence-based, clinical data in highly rated, peer-reviewed journals that are touting the numerous benefits of curcumin. In total, the many benefits of curcumin certainly surpass the three big ticket items mentioned in this article (and as a scientist, I encourage those interested to do further research). Perhaps consuming concentrated curcumin (with an agent such as piperine—found in black pepper) can significantly enhance your own health and well-being!
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