Turmeric: The New Superfood

Famously found in curries and recipes from around the world, turmeric has enhanced its merit by proving to be of great medicinal value. An ancient spice originating from India and later discovered in other parts of Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean, turmeric has been utilized as a health plant in non-western medicinal practices. Now, however, it has gained recognition and praise in western countries for these very same health benefits.

Curcumin (not related to cumin) is an antioxidant and the active ingredient in turmeric. Although it is continuously being studied, curcumin has been shown to inhibit several types of cancer cells. According to the American Cancer Society, turmeric is mostly used as an anti-inflammatory herbal remedy, with fewer side effects than common pain relievers.

“Some practitioners prescribe turmeric to relieve inflammation caused by arthritis, muscle sprains, swelling, and pain caused by injuries or surgical incisions. It is also promoted as a treatment for rheumatism and as an antiseptic for cleaning wounds. Some proponents claim turmeric interferes with the actions of some viruses, including hepatitis and HIV.”

As of this past January, nearly 5,000 articles and studies on curcumin and turmeric can be found on the National Institutes of Health PubMed database. One such study, which tested for turmeric’s effective use in staving off remission of ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory condition of the colon, has found that “fewer patients in the curcumin group relapsed at six months compared to patients who received [the] placebo.”

A hot topic, turmeric now has science on its side. Furthermore, the side effects of taking turmeric are much smaller than that of common painkillers. Per Medline Plus, the consumption of turmeric usually does not coincide with significant side effects. However, some have reported experiencing nausea, upset stomach, dizziness, or diarrhea.

Nonetheless, ethnobotanist and author Chris Kilham fully supports the use of turmeric for its medicinal properties and utilizes curcumin supplements himself.

“Let’s say you take ibuprofen for pain … there is a cascade— a downward cascade of negative consequences. For ibuprofen, that cascade may include kidney failure, or increased risk for heart attack and stroke if you take too much … when you take turmeric for pain, however, you get this upward cascade of benefits you didn’t necessarily ask for, such as anti-inflammatory effects and antioxidants.”

Luckily for all, turmeric can easily be incorporated into the diet. It is a staple ingredient for many curries, as well as of Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine. Many have also included turmeric into their detox plans, and it can easily be added to most smoothies and juices.

[Featured image courtesy of Courtesy of American Institute for Cancer Research]