Turmeric. The more I learn, the more I love this brightly colored root that spices up our plates and brings balance to our bodies.
Over the last several days I’ve been wading through an absolute sea of clinical trials, demonstrating turmeric’s potential as a therapy for almost every conceivable condition and disease – from eczema to A.I.D.S.
In fact, turmeric is the most heavily researched herb in the history of western medicine!
Why has turmeric generated so much interest in the medical community?
The reason turmeric (specifically it’s active agent curcumin) has received such overwhelming attention is its proven effectiveness at reducing inflammation in the body, arguably the number one health problem today.
This has been known for millenia in India and China, but over the last 25 years, scientists have come to discover exactly how it counteracts inflammation and its wide-reaching potential as a therapy for countless ailments.
But first. What is inflammation?
Inflammation is normal and natural. As part of the body’s immune response, inflammation protects the body from foreign stimuli or ‘germs’. In a healthy body, when an unwanted substance enters, the immune system effectively fights it off, then goes back into rest mode.
But in today’s world our immune systems are usually overstimulated – called upon to tackle the effects of chronic stress as well as unrecognized substances in the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe.
Even some natural substances, when eaten in excess (such as sugar and gluten – the protein in wheat), can send the immune system into overdrive, creating an acute and chronic state of inflammation. Dr. Sears describes this as the body’s tissues being “on fire.”
Acute and chronic inflammation is a major factor in the progression of obesity, type II diabetes, arthritis, pancreatitis, cardiovascular, neurodegenerative and metabolic diseases, as well as certain types of cancer. (Shehzad A et al)
This is why there is so much talk about cultivating a balance of mind-body-spirit and eating a more anti-inflammatory diet, rich in vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, fish, quality protein and some whole grains.
Where modern medicine falls short, turmeric and other natural therapies can fill in some gaps.
The marvels of modern medicine lie in its ability to save us from conditions with a sudden onset of symptoms, such as acute bacterial infections, heart attacks and open wounds.
But conventional medicine has a long way to go when it comes to the treatment of chronic, long-term disorders in which inflammation is a root cause – including eczema, psoriasis, asthma, allergies, IBS, colitis, arthritis and thyroid dysfunction.
Pharmaceutical drugs may effectively mask the symptoms of these conditions for a while. But serious side effects often render them inappropriate for long term use (for example – steroids used for eczema that thin the skin.)
Turmeric on the other hand is considered very safe and non-toxic. And as with many medicines found in nature, it is extremely complex and almost intuitive in the way it works with the human body.
It was made for us.
And this brings us back to the question of just how turmeric counteracts inflammation.
I gave a simplified explanation of inflammation, but it is really rather complex, with many different sources and pathways.
Take a quick glimpse of this chart from a published medical review showing the numerous ways in which turmeric treats inflammation via the down-regulation of inflammatory transcription factors, cytokines, redox status, protein kinases, and enzymes that all promote inflammation. (Shehzad A et al) Truly astounding!
Turmeric and Cancer
You may have heard that turmeric may be effective in the prevention and treatment of cancer (often rooted in inflammation).
But did you know that:
- As of 2009, there were more than 800 studies showing the anti-cancer potential of curcumin. (Bharat B. Aggarwal and Kuzhuvelil B. Harikumar)
- The activity of curcumin reported against leukemia and lymphoma, gastrointestinal cancers, genitourinary cancers, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, head and neck squamous cell carcinoma, lung cancer, melanoma, neurological cancers, and sarcoma reflects its ability to affect multiple targets. (Anand P. et al)
- Bharat B. Aggarwal, Ph.D. states “No cancer has been found, to my knowledge, which is not affected by curcumin. The reason curcumin is so effective against cancer is that it hits not just a single target or cell signaling pathway but dozens of targets implicated in cancer.” (MD Anderson)
How can you slip turmeric into your diet?
Turmeric is mild yet very fragrant. Its taste is unique to the western palate, but fairly easy to incorporate into every day dishes (more so than curry powder with which it is often paired.)
Turmeric is widely available and affordable. You can find dried turmeric at your local grocery store in the spice aisle or fresh turmeric in the produce section of many stores (it looks like ginger).
- Sprinkle some ground turmeric onto your salads or make up this salad dressing and use it throughout the week.
- Use dried turmeric in rubs and marinades. Sometimes we use it when we make whole chicken in the slow cooker.
- Cook your rice in broth, a can of tomato sauce, butter or olive oil, a spoonful of dried turmeric, and s&p for a healthful yellow rice. Something like this.
- Grate fresh turmeric into very hot water and add some lemon and honey for a warm tonic.
- Juice it! Fresh turmeric goes perfectly in fresh-pressed fruit and vegetable blends.
Adapted from a Dr. Sears Recipe
Makes about 3/4 cup of dressing
Aromatic turmeric, a hint of apple and a punch of dijon and garlic – I crave this dressing! We use it for salads and to add extra flavor to every day foods such as eggs, chicken and quinoa.
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup raw apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh grated turmeric (or 1 teaspoon dried)
1-3 teaspoons dijon mustard (to taste)
1 small clove garlic, crushed with a garlic press or minced
sea salt and black pepper to taste (black pepper significantly increases turmeric’s potency)
Whisk together ingredients and store in the fridge.