Turmeric- The ancient healing herb that’s now a modern wellness sensation.
4th April, 2021
Traditional Ayurvedic and Chinese Medicine healers have been using turmeric as a natural remedy for centuries.
Turmeric is now one of the most researched herbs in the world and thousands of studies have demonstrated its therapeutic benefits for a wide range of health conditions…particularly conditions which involve inflammation.
Is turmeric a herb or is it a spice?
It’s both. Turmeric is a perennial herbaceous plant from the same family as ginger. The underground stems, called rhizomes, are harvested, dried and ground into a powder, which is the golden spice used for medicinal and culinary purposes.
What gives turmeric its health benefits?
There’s a lot of confusion out there about how turmeric works.
Turmeric isn’t just a homogenous powder. Like many natural remedies, it’s made up of a number of biologically active substances.
Of these, there is a group of three compounds, called curcuminoids, which make up about 2% -5% of turmeric.
They are curcumin, demethoxycurcumin and bisdemethoxycurcumin.
Curcumin is the star of the trio. It’s the curcuminoid primarily responsible for turmeric’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
Curcumin is a natural anti-inflammatory
Inflammation can be triggered as the body’s way of defending and healing. But it can also run riot and cause pain and damage.
Tissue damage, as in arthritis, causes the release of cytokines and sets off pro-inflammatory processes which lead to the production of inflammatory molecules such as thromboxane and prostaglandins.
These inflammatory molecules are produced by enzymes such as phospholipase, lipoxygenase, 5-LOX and COX-2.
Curcumin works by inhibiting some of these inflammatory processes and enzymes, and also by down-regulating the activity of some inflammatory molecules.
And that’s good news if you suffer from mild osteoarthritis as it means that curcumin can relieve symptoms such as mild joint inflammation, pain and stiffness. Curcumin also helps improve overall joint health and maintain joint mobility.
Curcumin also helps to protect cells from damage by free radicals
Free radicals are highly reactive molecules that roam around the body and can damage cells through a process called oxidative stress. Oxidative stress has been linked to many health conditions, including poor joint health and function, so antioxidants are important to keep our bodies healthy. Learn more about the benefits of Turmeric for joint health, here.
Curcumin works by directly scavenging free radicals as well as by inhibiting some of the processes that generate free radicals, so it helps to reduce the damage they can cause to body cells.
Can you just eat turmeric powder to get the benefits of curcumin?
Firstly, like we mentioned earlier, curcumin and turmeric are not the same thing.
Curcuminoids make up only around 2-5% of turmeric rhizome powder, and of that 2-5%, curcumin makes up about 75%.
So that means an average teaspoon of turmeric powder may contain less than 1% of the all-important curcumin.
And that’s not the only reason that turmeric powder alone can’t really deliver much in the way of health benefits.
To have a therapeutic effect in your body curcumin needs to get into your blood plasma. Once there it can circulate around the body and exert its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.
But turmeric, and the curcumin in it, is very poorly absorbed by your body.
- It is naturally insoluble in water (just check out that yellow gunk at the bottom of your turmeric latte or tea!)
- Very little remains intact after it gets into the highly acidic stomach environment
- What does remain isn’t absorbed very well by your digestive system
- And what is absorbed gets broken down and excreted by your liver really quickly.
This is known as low bioavailability…and to counteract it you would need to eat a LOT of turmeric powder or drink a LOT of golden lattes every day! You can see recipe here
So consuming turmeric, or even straight curcumin powder, isn’t a very effective way of getting enough bioactive curcumin into your bloodstream.
A better way to get the health benefits of curcumin
The best way to get the health benefits of curcumin is by taking a high strength supplement which has been formulated for higher bioavailability.