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Turmeric, an ingredient commonly found in curry, is a natural immune booster. Part of the ginger family, turmeric is native to southeast India. In order to grow and thrive, this plant requires a considerable amount of rainfall and temperatures ranging between 20 and 30 degrees C.
Plants are gathered each year for their rhizomes, which are almost like underground stems. When turmeric is not being used fresh, it’s rhizomes are boiled for around 30 minutes then dried in hot ovens. Once dried, they’re crushed into the deep-yellow powder that you recognize from Indian and Pakistani curries. It’s also commonly used as a dye based on its deep, rich color.
One of the key active ingredients is curcumin, which yields an earthy, slightly hot, bitter taste. This is what’s believed to provide many of turmeric’s biological effects. Amazingly, it’s known to be an antioxidant, antibacterial, antiviral, anti-tumor, and anti-inflammatory. Overall, it’s an incredible immune booster.
History of Turmeric
Turmeric has been used throughout Asia for thousands of years and is a large part if Siddha medicine, which is a system of traditional medicine originating for South India. First, people throughout Asia used turmeric as a dye. It wasn’t until later that it was used for its medicinal properties based on it’s health-boosting benefits.
When it comes to turmeric’s name, there’s much debate regarding its origin. Some believe that it originated from early modern English or Latin. Based on a large amount of historical evidence, however, many have concluded that the original name was turmeric or something very similar. The genus of turmeric is curcuma, which is Arabic for both turmeric and saffron.
When it comes to folk medicine, turmeric has long been used throughout India to treat liver and stomach conditions and heal sores based on its antimicrobial properties. Within the Siddha system, turmeric has been the main focus when treating a range of diseases and conditions, including aches, sprains, gastrointestinal issues, and liver complications. When individuals suffer from skin conditions, such as shingles, chicken pox, scabies, or eczema, turmeric is made into a fresh juice and applied to problematic areas.
The Benefits of Turmeric
As mentioned, throughout the United States, turmeric is generally recognized as a spice. Although it offers a complex and delicious flavor, there are many uses for turmeric outside of the culinary world. Although some say that turmeric is an unproven treatment, it has been used for thousands of years for a reason. It may not cure diseases, but it most certainly supports healthy immune function, protecting your overall health.
Based on its anti-inflammatory properties, several studies have shown the positive effects of turmeric on conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. It mainly targets symptoms such as inflammation and pain, which are generally the most troublesome symptoms. In one study, turmeric eased joint swelling in rats that suffered from rheumatoid arthritis.
In cancer research, turmeric has been shown to block the growth of certain tumors. One study specifically showed that turmeric extract that contained curcumin, could potentially stabilize colorectal cancer that wasn’t improved using other treatment options.
Also, another study examined the effects of curcumin and found that it interfered with cell signals that develop neck and head cancer. When applied topically, turmeric may also relieve itching due to skin cancer. More research is needed within this area, however, the benefits appear to be promising and exciting.
Alzheimer’s disease is another area that’s been targeted based on turmeric’s benefits. Curcumin is believed to break down amyloid-beta plaques, which are a hallmark sign of Alzheimer’s development. How turmeric could work to benefit the brain is still unclear, but there is promise that this spice could potentially prevent Alzheimer’s formation to begin with. Researchers debate whether or not the significantly lower rates of Alzheimer’s throughout Asian populations is based on their high consumption of turmeric.
Turmeric has also been found to potentially prevent bone loss, which commonly results in osteoporosis. In a 2010 study, rats were induced with menopause symptoms as these typically lead to bone loss. They were then treated with curuminoids (found in turmeric), before and after these symptoms were induced. In rats that were given higher concentrations of pure curcuminoids displayed 50 percent less bone loss in comparison to the low concentration rat group.
The Potential Side Effects of Turmeric
Turmeric is generally safe and is consumed by people every day. The amounts found in food are safe and beneficial. Side effects only tend to occur when consumed in large doses. Some turmeric supplements offer 500 mg capsules of turmeric extract, being recommended up to four times daily.
With that being said, it’s important to experiment with lower doses first. At high doses, turmeric can lower both blood pressure and blood sugar. If taking turmeric in large doses over an extended period of time, you may experience diarrhea or nausea. At high doses, you also increase your risk of ulcers. If using topically, skin may become irritated and if you suffer from gallstones, you should speak to your doctor before taking turmeric.
Similarly, if you’re pregnant, you should speak to your doctor before taking turmeric supplements. The same is true for those who suffer from medical conditions such as kidney or gallbladder disease, diabetes, a bleeding disorder, or specific issues with your immune system. If you plan on having surgery, discontinue taking turmeric two weeks prior as it can increase bleeding.
In terms of interactions, like any supplement, speak to your doctor if you’re currently taking medication. Some of the most common medications that turmeric supplements could interact with is statins, diabetes medication, aspirin, painkillers, blood thinners, and medication for blood pressure. These medications may also interact with supplements that decrease clotting, like ginseng, ginkgo, and garlic. When taking any blood thinners or anti-platelet drugs, you may experience bruising.
As mentioned, some supplement companies offer 500 mg capsules, but turmeric supplements range from 80 mg to 500 mg doses. If you would like to take turmeric or curcumin for intestinal purposes, absorption into the blood isn’t necessary. For this purpose, users can take doses of 2-4 grams daily.