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The Super Spice: Turmeric Curcumin a brightly coloured orange spice which is used in a lot in Indian cooking. It has also long been used in Ayurvedic medicine as a topical antiseptic for cuts and grazes as well as gastrointestinal complaints too. The active ingredient in turmeric is called curcumin and it is this substance that has the beneficial properties. Curcumin is found inside the rhizomes of turmeric. It is a potent antioxidant and inflammatory compound that works wonders on the human body. Many studies have been performed regarding the benefits of the naturally occurring curcumin compound.
The 2 key properties of curcumin:
- Anti-inflammatory acute inflammation is necessary, for example if you cut yourself or get an infection. However, chronic low-grade inflammation on the other hand is extremely damaging to the body and is the root cause of most degenerative diseases. Links have been made between inflammation and depression, Alzheimers, heart disease, cancer and other degenerative conditions. Keeping inflammation in check is therefore imperative in preventing such conditions. Curcumins anti-inflammatory effects work by blocking the molecules that play a role in inflammation. If you are worried about your inflammation levels in your body you can get these checked through a blood test at the GP. The blood markers you need to ask for are: C Reactive Protein (CRP) and Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate (ESR).
- Antioxidant free radicals are harmful particles that damage our DNA and cells. The damage can lead to cancer, Parkinsons disease, atherosclerosis (stiffening of the arteries) and more. These free radicals appear in our body from external sources such as cigarette smoke, air pollution, food we eat, pesticides and so on. Antioxidants, are naturally produced within the body too. Due to the toxic world we live in our bodies really struggle to keep up with all these free radicals, resulting in cellular damage. This is one of the reasons for the increase in cancer and other degenerative diseases. Keeping on top of your free radicals is so important. Foods high in antioxidants include all the berries (but only organic), artichokes, dark chocolate (85% cocoa or more), walnuts and turmeric due to the active ingredient curcumin.
A Few More Benefits of Curcumin
Improves Brain Health
We have tonnes of neurons in our brain which transmit information. Our body is capable of making new neuron pathways. One of the main triggers of this process is a growth hormone called Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF). Certain brain conditions such as Alzheimers and depression have been linked to lower levels of this hormone. Interesting studies have been performed which show that curcumin has the ability to increase levels of BDNF, which could therefore lead to a therapeutic remedy for depression and support in preventing other degenerative brain conditions.
Supports Vitamin Absorption
Curcumin has been shown to stimulates bile production. Bile is required to break down fats and helps us to absorb fat soluble vitamins such as vitamin A, D, E and K. Without adequate bile, your body will be less efficient at absorbing these nutrients.
Prevents Alzheimers Disease
Inflammation plays a big role in Alzheimers disease and as you have read above, curcumin is a potent anti-inflammatory substance. To add to this, curcumin can also help to clear Amyloid plaques. These plaques are basically a build-up of tangled proteins in the brain which are seen in Alzheimers patients.
Due to its anti-inflammatory properties curcumin can help to reduce inflammation and relieve joint pain in osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis patients. Studies have shown that its effect are better in some cases than anti-inflammatory drugs with the added bonus of no side effects.
Reduces the Risk of Cancer
A clinical trial looked at giving curcumin to 25 patients with precancerous changes in different organs. This study seemed to show that curcumin could stop the precancerous changes becoming cancer (see link) It also has the ability to reduce tumour size in cancer patients too. It does this by inhibiting angiogenesis (growth of new blood vessels within tumours) reducing the growth and proliferation of cancerous cells. If you cut off the cancerous cells blood supply they cannot multiply and grow.
Coronary heart disease remains the number one cause of death in the UK, yet in 80% of cases there are no symptoms. There are lots of reasons as to why someone may be suffering with heart disease. Curcumin can help improve a few major contributors. It does this by helping to restore the function of the endothelium. Your endothelium is a one-cell thick layer that lines every blood vessel including your heart. Its main job within the body is to maintain homeostasis (balance) and it does this by regulating vascular relaxation and contraction, controlling blood pressure and suppressing thrombosis (blood clotting). The endothelium can become damaged through inflammation caused by poor diet, lifestyle and stress as well as certain conditions such as diabetes and hypertension. It is then less able to perform its job of maintaining homeostasis resulting in increased risk of heart disease. Curcumin is excellent at reducing inflammation and therefore could potentially reduce endothelium damage and help prevent heart disease.
Best Way to Take Curcumin
There are two ways of getting this super spice into your body:
1. Supplement - Curcumin is actually difficult for the body to absorb so if you are supplementing make sure that you choose a supplement that is bioavailable this basically means that it is in a form that your body can use.
2. Food - If you are going down the food root, I suggest using whole root turmeric, which is similar in looks to root ginger. The body struggles to absorb curcumin on its own, therefore we need to add things to help increase your bodys absorption ability. Black pepper and fats are two ways in which you can increase absorption, so add lots of these to your turmeric meals. A really tasty drink is Golden Milk: Just heat up the following in a pan (don't microwave): - Milk or milk alternative such as almond milk - Turmeric - Teaspoon of coconut oil - Teaspoon of natural local honey (to sweeten) - Black pepper DRINK & ENJOY!!