Spices and herbs may fill our kitchen cabinets, but some believe that perhaps they should also be in our medicine cabinets. The use of various spices and herbs in natural medicine practices has been around since ancient times and continues today, though less common.
It seems every year, some new group of herbs pop up in modern culture claiming to be a miracle cure for a number of ailments. Unfortunately, the claimed benefits often are only backed anecdotally and there is little scientific proof of how they really work, if they work at all. This reason is why one very special spice, turmeric, is believed to be one of the most powerful.
Unlike so many other spices and herbs, turmeric has been studied quite extensively in clinical trials. Although not all of these trials may have turned out as planned, it does go without saying that turmeric is one spice that is worth looking into for certain conditions.
What is Turmeric?
If you're handy in the kitchen and enjoy cooking, chances are you probably already know turmeric and recognize it by its bold, rich yellow-orange hue. This spice belongs in the ginger family and is native to Southeast Asia. Not surprising based on its origins, turmeric is most commonly used in Asian cuisine, bringing a delicious flavor and signature color to curries.
Turmeric has been rooted in Ayurvedic medicine for roughly the past 4,000 years. Ayurvedic medicine is a type of alternative medicine with roots in Indian culture. This practice has a strong influence on the use of herbs and spices for healing. The argument of whether Ayurvedic medicine is effective is an entirely different subject, but it must be said that clinical studies have shown certain substances used within this alternative medicine to have a positive or healing effect on the human body.
Ground turmeric root is an important part of Ayurvedic medicine. Historically it has been used in the treatment of fatigue, asthma and other breathing conditions, and rheumatism. It has also been used as a type of pain relief as well as a topic ointment (when turned into a paste) for dermatological conditions.
Has Turmeric Been Proven to Work?
There are plenty of personally written articles and blog posts citing just how incredible turmeric is, but often there is nothing but anecdotal "proof" backing this spice. While anecdotal evidence of something working shouldn't be completely disregarded, especially when a number of individual experience the same type of benefit, it goes without saying that scientific proof is the most reliable and unbiased.
Before getting into some individual studies of turmeric, here is rundown of what is medically known about this spice from a modern perspective.
Turmeric itself isn't therapeutic, but rather the curcumin in turmeric that may have medical properties. Curcumin is a compound which gives the yellow color to turmeric. This is important to remember as a number of the studies are using a concentrated amount of curcumin, not actual turmeric powder.
Curcumin can help reduce inflammation and does help alleviate pain associated with osteoarthritis.
Curcumin may positively affect the heart and reduce further heart attacks in post-surgery bypass patients.
So far turmeric/curcumin have been used in clinical trials for the treatment of:
Chronic or post-surgery pain
With that out of the way, here are a few of the most significant studies done on the therapeutic uses of turmeric/curcumin.
Curcumin is a More Effective Anti-Inflammatory than Aspirin or Ibuprofen
The argument over whether curcumin is effective of reducing inflammation was proven correct in this study featured in Oncogene journal. Cucurmin (not tumeric itself) outperformed pharamceturical NASAIDs when it came to reducing inflammation and limiting tumor cell growth.
Curcumin has an Advantage over Corticosteroids in the Treatment of Uveitis
Researchers found in clinical trials that the use of curcumin in the treatment of chronic anterior uveitis was advantageous over the use of normal corticosteroids due to a lack of side effects. The results of using curcumin were "comparable to corticosteroid therapy".
Curcumin is an Effective Antioxidant in the Treatment of Mercury Intoxication
Curcumin falls into the category of an antioxidant and has been shown to be effective in the treatment of mercury intoxication. A clinical trial published in the Journal of Applied Toxicology found that curcumin had a protective effect, which was most useful as a pretreatment and a dietary supplement for those being exposure to mercury.
Curcumin Reverses Negative Effects of Chronic Stress
A study featured in the Brain Research journal discovered that curcumin helped alleviate behavioral symptoms of chronic stress. It's also believed that depression caused by chronic stress can also be treated with the therapeutic use of curcumin.
An extensive compilation of research findings on the use of tumeric and/or cucurmin can be found in this extension analysis featured in the AAPS Journal. This analysis touches on the effects of curcumin in cancer therapy, inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, arthritis, post-operative inflammation, ulcers, infection, psoriasis, vitiligo, and more. It is also important to remember that certain benefits of curcumin, such as its anti-inflammatory properties, aren't limited to just treatment of one type of disease, but rather a significantly large number of them where inflammation is a cause of symptom.
Is Turmeric Dangerous?
Being a big part of Asian cuisine, it goes without saying that consumption of turmeric as a spice in cooking is completely safe. However, when being used as a supplement (i.e. pure curcmin concentrate) in effort to heal an ailment is it possible that excessively large doses can have adverse side effects.
If you are contemplating using turmeric/curcumin in this way, there are some things to consider.
Firstly, if you are pregnant or breastfeeding it is not advised to take large doses of turmeric as a supplement. Since this spice is still fairly unknown in modern medical trials in terms of large doses, it is far better to err on the side of caution when breastfeeding or pregnant.
You should also avoid turmeric if you have gallstones, bile duct issues, or any problems relating to the gallbladder as curcumin can make them worse. The anticoagulant properties of turmeric also mean that those with bleeding disorders should be extremely wary of this spice. Diabetics and those with GERD may also find that too much turmeric negatively affects their conditions.
Typically if you fall into the category of being an average adult individual without any major health conditions, then turmeric is likely very safe if you decide to try using it therapeutically. However, you might need to consume more than just one cup of turmeric tea.
In the studies I mentioned above, it takes at least 1000 mg of curcumin or 5 cups of turmeric tea a day for its therapeutic properties to take effect.
That being said, since this spice hasn't been studied as extensively and under as much scrutiny as modern medications, always use caution and good judgement. It is highly recommended to only use turmeric medicinally under the supervision of a doctor. If you notice any side-effects, cease the use of turmeric immediately, just to be safe.
Overall turmeric is a useful spice and one that most can safely use to help with certain conditions if you doctor deems it safe. While you shouldn't expect this spice to be a miracle drug, studies do support that it can help alleviate symptoms of certain problems. Always use caution when using any alternative medicine and, if at all possible, follow the advice of a medical professional.
Zoey is a part-time blogger and a full-time nurse. She is the founder and editor of leanrecipes.com an avenue for sharing her passion about juicing, plant-based diet and living a healthier lifestyle.
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