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The golden spice of the east
Written by: Ernesta Stripeikaite
Health & Wellbeing writer
ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT TURMERIC AND CURCUMIN
You have probably heard of turmeric, a brightly coloured spice that has been used in India and China for centuries. It has been a common ingredient in the kitchens (giving curries their distinct yellow colour) and widely used by Ayurvedic practitioners as a therapeutic remedy internally and externally.
The popularity of turmeric in the West has been rapidly catching on, mainly due to more and more research published on the health promoting benefits of this Indian staple spice. The active ingredients, called curcuminoids, have attracted the most attention. There are a few of them, but the most potent and most researched one is called curcumin.
Like with many other foods, whether it be fruit, vegetables or spices, it’s usually the colour that signifies the presence of phytonutrients (healthful plant chemicals). Turmeric is not an exception as it’s the active curcumin that gives the spice its lovely bright yellow colour.
In this article we’ll have a look at why turmeric has become a superstar herb and why it should be included in our diets. The terms turmeric and curcumin are used interchangeably.
Historically turmeric has been used as a strong antibacterial and antiviral agent, as a digestive boost that supports liver function and bile production, and as a topical ointment. The two main actions of turmeric that have received the most attention in the West are its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.
Inflammation and oxidative free radical damage are at the root of most chronic illnesses. There are many factors that contribute to this. Inflammatory processes in the body can be triggered by food intolerances, processed foods, nutrient deficiencies or imbalances (for example omega 3 and 6 ratio), blood sugar fluctuation, insulin resistance, stress, infections, environmental toxins, and medication, to name the main ones.
Our internal energy production contributes to the majority of free radical load, but all of the aforementioned factors further increase the free radical oxidative damage. Free radicals are little active molecules, unstable and lost, scavenging around trying to steal electrons from other compounds. They can cause serious damage in the body, from ageing to arterial injuries. Oxidative damage literally causes our bodies to rust, just like old cars rust when oxygen reacts with their molecules.
Curcumin has been proven to reduce inflammation and neutralise free radicals. More importantly it can enhance glutathione synthesis, which is the mother of all antioxidants, made by our own cells. This makes curcumin one of the most potent compounds.
Turmeric’s ability to reduce inflammation and keep free radicals under control could have an important role in many ailments. A lot of research is investigating curcumin’s benefits for arthritis, brain health and even cancer.
How to use turmeric
1. Food as Medicine
Turmeric can add a lovely earthy flavour and enhance the therapeutic value of many dishes. It can be mixed into rice, lentils, soups, stews, sautéed greens and even smoothies. However one of the main issues has been its low bioavailability, but there are a few tricks to improve this.
It’s fair to say that people in India have intuitively known the most efficient way to consume turmeric. In traditional Indian cooking all the spices are first heated in ghee (a super healthy clarified butter) and only then mixed into dishes; moreover most of the spice blends with turmeric always include black pepper, which contains an active ingredient piperine
These are the two main ‘magic tricks’ to increase curcumin’s bioavailabity and therapeutic effects – consume it with a source of good quality fat (such as ghee, coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil or any other unrefined, cold pressed oil) and some black pepper. Adding just 1/2 teaspoon of ground black pepper to 1/4 cup of turmeric can increase the effectiveness 20-fold. How much turmeric to consume to feel the benefits? In India it is a kitchen staple used daily. It is difficult to say exactly how much turmeric one should include in the diet, but adding a good teaspoon to dishes at least three times a week would be a great way to improve general health and wellbeing. Just don’t forget a source of good fat and black pepper!
Lower doses of turmeric can be very effective locally. It can be mixed with a bit of water to make a paste and applied on the skin (if you don’t mind yellow staining!) for antibacterial action and to reduce inflammation.
It is also a great remedy for the whole of the gastrointestinal tract. For sore throat heat a glass of milk of your choice, add a teaspoon of turmeric, ghee and some freshly ground black pepper – a great anti-inflammatory remedy. Interestingly, it has been shown that curcumin accumulates in the gastrointestinal tissues, which could be promising for more serious issues of the digestive tract.
If you have some health complaints and want to try turmeric therapeutically, there are capsules and tinctures available. Fushi’s own are of the highest quality so you can be sure you are getting a potent supplement. For best absorption always consume the supplement after a meal that included some fat and black pepper. Or you can just add a splash of oil and grind some black pepper into a glass of water with which you take the supplement.
For more personalized advice it is always recommended to consult a qualified natural health practitioner.
Turmeric is a great example of the power of nature and of the wisdom of traditional cultures. Now we know how beneficial this spice is, it’s time to start including it in the kitchen and supplement regimes.