Probably the most popular use for turmeric is in curries. It adds brilliant flavour, colour, and fragrance to make that curry dish delight your senses and palate. With peppery, warm, bitter notes and a mild fragrance, turmeric has a bright yellow colour and comes from the root of the curcuma longa plant, which has a tough brown skin and deep orange flesh. In fact, if you’ve ever cooked with turmeric, you’ll understand just how vibrant the colour is—because it stays on your hands and cutting board pretty easily!
So we know that it’s delicious and beautiful—but what makes it so healthy? It’s been long used in Chinese and Indian systems of medicine, and it’s time to learn why. We’re going to break down 7 amazing health benefits of turmeric for you, and at the end of the article we’ll give you some great tips and tools on how to incorporate turmeric daily for you to reap all the benefits it has to offer.
Perhaps one of the best known benefits of turmeric is its anti-inflammatory properties. First of all, what is inflammation? Inflammation can rise in the body for a number of reasons—usually identified as something that’s painful, red, hot, or swollen. Inflammation can be silent and not noticeably painful, but the inflammation is still there and affects our health. Inflammatory mediators are compounds that are produced to try to deal with the injury—but when these compounds don’t go away, it causes chronic inflammation or illness. Not good!
The pigment in turmeric comes from curcumin, and curcumin is a powerful anti-inflammatory comparable even to prescribed pain medications or NSAIDs. Whereas most medical anti-inflammatories will work to reduce a couple inflammatory mediators (i.e., the compounds causing the pain), curcumin is effective against a dozen of these compounds—meaning it’s attacking way more of the pain-causing agents than other pain medications, leaving you pain free! It works in all kinds of outward inflammatory conditions from sprained ankles, arthritis, and bursitis to internal inflammatory conditions like neurological disorders—but more on that below. For now, just know the turmeric can help quell any inflammatory conditions for you!
2. COGNITIVE HEALTH
Perhaps one of the most important and interesting applications for turmeric is for cognitive health. Conditions like aging, dementia, and conditions of the brain can be considered inflammation. The increase in these inflammatory mediators can cause damage to the brain cells or inhibit their function, and this can contribute to cognitive decline, memory loss, and other conditions.
Dementia and Alzheimer’s can both be classified as inflammatory conditions. Dementia is an umbrella term referring to any deterioration of cognitive function, and Alzheimer’s is the most prevalent form of age-related decline. Alzheimer’s is characterized by abnormal protein deposits in the brain, and these seem to increase in number, peak, and plateau sometimes decades before the symptoms of Alzheimer’s show themselves. By seeing that, we know it’s not just those protein deposits that are the problem—but what they are doing as they sit there. They damage the tissue with free radicals and inflammation.
What does this have to do with turmeric? Turmeric has curcumin, and curcumin has at least 10 known neuroprotective actions, so it helps our brain in at least 10 different ways. Some of these ways include:
Being an anti-inflammatoryAn excellent antioxidant which helps fight the oxidative damage and free radicals that our brain is subject to in conditions like Alzheimer’sIt helps with heavy metal detoxification, and heavy metals are big offenders that can damage brain mechanismsIt helps with the regeneration of brain cells in a similar way that exercise doesIt also helps to slow the accumulation of those abnormal protein deposits in the brain which can lead to conditions like Alzheimer’s
3. HEART DISEASE & CHOLESTEROL
Again, the curcumin in turmeric is the thing that does the work here. Curcumin works in a number of different ways to help with heart disease, as well. It helps with LDL cholesterol in two ways: one, it works as an antioxidant to prevent the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, keeping it beneficial instead of harmful; two, it increases LDL receptors to give LDL cholesterol more places to go and do its job, preventing it from spending too long in our bloodstream and oxidizing. Both of these are excellent steps to take in the direction of healthy cholesterol levels and cardiovascular health!
Curcumin is also helpful for endothelial function. We have this lining of all our blood vessels called the endothelial and its job is to keep blood vessels healthy. When that’s not working, it’s a failure of, or disease of, or lack of action in this endothelial spot. Curcumin helps the endothelial work better, helping the vessels use their own safety mechanisms to keep themselves healthy.
4. LIVER HEALTH
The liver performs 500 different functions in the body—and can therefore easily become overwhelmed. I mean, can you imagine having to juggle 500 responsibilities every second of every day? No wonder it starts to lag behind sometimes!
Fatty liver disease can occur through excessive alcohol consumption or, more commonly nowadays, through sugar consumption. It is becoming very common, and increasingly common in younger people. The good news is that by fixing up the diet to avoid refined sugars and things that break down easily into sugar, you can take a big step towards avoiding fatty liver. Curcumin also helps, though! It’s been shown to lower liver enzymes which are the markers that are used to measure liver function.
So far, the turmeric you added to your curry could help with heart disease, cholesterol, liver health, inflammation, and cognitive function… isn’t the healing power of food amazing?
Most people who think of inflammation think of arthritis—and turmeric, through its curcumin content, definitely helps the pain associated with this condition. In fact, it helps with Rheumatoid Arthritis as well! Its powerful antioxidant effects neutralize free radicals. Free radicals damage healthy cells and cell membranes, and they are quite prevalent in conditions like arthritis because they are responsible for causing the joint pain and damage. By neutralizing these free radicals, curcumin helps stop their spread throughout the body, protecting the cells and joints from their damaging effects. In fact, a recent study showed that the effects of curcumin on rheumatoid arthritis were comparable to those of a medical anti-inflammatory when dealing with morning stiffness and joint swelling.
Of course, the turmeric you use on your food is a great way to get the benefits. But if you’re looking for stronger effects, you can always look for a curcumin supplement, such as Natural Factors TheraCumin, to get strong doses of this amazing compound!
6. THYROID FUNCTION
Turmeric is a rich source of many vitamins and minerals, including Manganese. In fact, just 2 teaspoons provides 17% of your daily recommended intake of this vital mineral. What does manganese do for you? For one, it helps maintain proper thyroid function. It has been estimated that 200 million people in the world have some form of thyroid disease. In Canada, 30% of the population suffer from a thyroid condition. Of those, as many as 50% remain undiagnosed.
The thyroid gland plays a crucial role in our overall health. If it is not operating at peak performance, it can produce life-altering symptoms that impact your health and happiness. What are some signs that your thyroid might be a bit sluggish? Dry or gritty eyes, thinning hair, weight gain, numbness or tingling in any area of the body, constipation, tinnitus, heart palpitations, dry skin, fatigue, feeling cold… do any of these ring a bell?
You can see why it’s important to have your thyroid in proper working condition, and turmeric provides the manganese you need that could help do that. Plus, it helps with hormone synthesis which benefits a wide variety of health issues like weight loss, appetite, metabolism, and organ efficiency. It also helps with vitamin absorption for vitamins like B & E, and also magnesium, meaning manganese helps you get more out of the healthy foods you’re eating!
7. VITAMINS & MINERALS
Finally, turmeric is a good source of other vitamins and minerals, such as iron, fibre, vitamin B6, copper, and potassium. In just 2 teaspoons, it has 10% of your recommended iron intake. We know that iron is mainly an aid in our energy, since it helps metabolize proteins and plays a role in the production of hemoglobin and red blood cells. But it’s important to not just get iron from red meat, as this can actually cause a burden on the body. Turmeric is a great meat-free source of iron! And what about vitamin B6? 2 teaspoons contain 5% of your daily B6 intake, which helps to stimulate co-enzyme activities, protect the immune system, and produce positive effects on things like metabolism, PMS, hormones, skin conditions, and the like.
There you have it – 7 benefits of including turmeric in your diet. There are other benefits, of course, but we think these are the all-star awesome ones! You might be thinking, that’s all well and good, but how do you use turmeric?
First of all, you can find turmeric as a spice like Simply Organic's Ground Turmeric, or in the bulk herbs & spices section at any Goodness Me!; or you can get it in a supplement form like Botanica's Liquid Turmeric, MegaFood Daily Turmeric that you can mix into smoothies, recipes, and drinks, and Natural Factors TheraCumin, which is a potent source of the curcumin we talked about earlier. There are lots of options to reap the benefits of this wonderful product!
If you’re cooking with the spice form of turmeric, here are some tips and tools to make your experience positive and delicious!
Remember that its rich, beautiful colour can stain – avoid getting it on your cloths, and wash your hands and cutting board or counter quicklyAdd it to your egg or tuna salad for brilliant colour and great tasteMix cooked brown rice or quinoa with raisins and cashews and season it with turmeric and curry—a yummy side dish!Use it in dips to add a kick of spiceAdd it into any curry dishTurmeric pairs beautifully with lentilsTry mixing it into salad dressingsSauté some organic cauliflower florets with some coconut oil and turmeric for a great snack.