If you have been browsing the internet, reading different magazines on cooking, or talking about health and fitness with a friend, there is a good chance that you have seen or heard “turmeric” mentioned at least once. It’s yellow, sometimes yellow-orange, strong smelling, and it is everywhere. But, what is turmeric and what it is all about anyway?
Here, we will take a look at what turmeric is and the top 7 surprising health benefits it offers. Turmeric may be an ancient spice, but it may be one of the world’s most important herb!
So, What Is Turmeric?
Turmeric, otherwise termed as “the golden spice” or “the Indian saffron”, is an international staple spice that is commonly used in Asian food. It is probably known as the primary ingredient for making curry. But aside from being a culinary item, turmeric has been providing many uses in the cosmetics industry, in religious ceremonies, as well as in the health and wellness industry.
It has graced various cultures all over the world with its pleasant aroma, a gorgeous yellow coloring, and a distinctive flavor. A well-known perennial herb belonging to the ginger family called Zingiberaceae, Curcuma longa, (the scientific name for turmeric) has been revered as an essential item of Ayurvedic medicine for more than four thousand years, making it one of the oldest medicine ingredient in human history. Available in a natural state as a root (turmeric root) or as an extract, turmeric can provide numerous preventative and healing measures.
Without further ado, let us dig deeper into the abilities of the herb...
7 Surprising Health Benefits of Turmeric
Turmeric contains various substances such as vitamins, minerals, amino acids, fatty acids, natural oils, and phytochemicals that provide several benefits in different areas of the body.
One particular ingredient, found in turmeric root, is curcumin, found within the flesh of the root. It does not only help combat bacterias, viruses, germs, and other pathogenic microorganisms but also serve as antioxidants, working against free radicals.
The list below sums up the seven surprising health benefits of turmeric root to spice up your immune system, digestive tract, and other organs.
1. It Provides Natural Anti-Inflammatory Agents
Chemical compounds found in turmeric, like curcumin, works alongside vitamins and minerals in fighting inflammation. In a 2006 study, researchers found that turmeric’s active ingredient curcumin is effective in preventing joint inflammation. In fact, curcumin can be as potent as NSAIDs or non-steroidal anti-inflammatories. While the said medications work to reduce the release of a couple of inflammatory mediators in the body, curcumin works against dozens of these compounds. It only means that it is attacking more substances that cause inflammation and pain.
So, if you have arthritis, sprained ankles, bursitis, or other inflammatory conditions, turmeric might be able to help you more than you know!
2. Turmeric Boosts Immunity
Every day, our immune system fights various diseases and infection. If the body has detected a foreign object or unknown chemicals and irregular cells, the immune system will trigger a protective response called inflammation. While it may sound like a negative thing, inflammation helps to thwart any harmful substances or potential threat to the body.
In this respect, turmeric can be of great benefit because, in low doses, the active ingredient of turmeric root can enhance antibody response, giving the immune system a boost. In a study entitled "Spicing up of the immune system by curcumin,” researchers say that curcumin can be a potent immunomodulatory agent that can regulate the activation of white blood cells such as neutrophils, dendritic cells, T & B cells, natural killer cells, and macrophages that fights infection. Turmeric can also protect the body against oxidative stress or the imbalance between free radicals, which may cause certain diseases.
3. It Balances Hormone Levels
Hormonal imbalance is common, especially among women, the reason behind many complain of hormonal bloating, acne, headaches, unexplained weight gain, to mention some. Contributing factors that result in imbalanced hormones include a diet low in fruits, vegetables, fibers, and healthy fats. Other causes also include the use of birth control pills and exposure to certain chemicals.
Although there is no quick fix in balancing hormones, there are foods and nutritional supplementation that can speed up the process. One particular regimen for balancing hormones in the body is turmeric. Turmeric supports the liver and is known to have anti-estrogenic properties. The curcumin of the turmeric has been shown in studies to aid the liver’s ability to detoxify. This means that the liver can function more effectively in removing excess estrogen hormones as well as toxins in the blood, and clear out other causes of imbalanced hormones.
4. Turmeric Encourages Proper Digestion
Turmeric is beneficial for many components of the gastrointestinal system. It can prevent potential intestinal health problems, and its active ingredient, curcumin, aids digestion by relaxing the gastrointestinal walls and gently pushing the food to pass through the intestines. It also helps to prevent bloating and facilitates the balance between the microorganisms in the gut and immune response.
Studies also show that turmeric encourages the glands on the surface of the gastrointestinal lining to heal when leaky gut, as well as harmful bacteria, are present. Aside from that, it promotes the secretion of protective stomach mucus, which is the primary defense against gastric acid.
5. Its Antioxidants Reduces the Risk of Cancer
Research has shown that curcumin can aid in preventing the growth of metastatic or cancerous cells by stopping the growth of blood vessels in malignant tumors. If the blood vessels in cancerous tumors are somehow halted, the source of nutrients will be cut off, thereby preventing cell growth and further spread of cancer.
6. Turmeric Improves Brain Function
One of the primary hormones that work in the nervous system is called BDNF, which is short for Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor. This hormone is made up of proteins with a role to grow, support, and differentiate existing neurons of the nervous system. Neurons are nerve cells that are responsible for sending and receiving sensory input from the outside world, allowing us to react and interact with the environment. Many disorders of the nervous system have been linked to the reduced levels of this hormone, including Alzheimer’s and depression.
In recent studies, however, researchers found out that curcumin has antidepressant-like effects and that it can increase the levels of BDNF. This means that curcumin may be effective in preventing brain-related diseases due to low BDNF. It was also revealed that it could improve cognition as well as memory. However, while these effects of curcumin seem promising, controlled studies in people may be needed to verify and confirm these researches.
7. It Speeds Up Post-Workout Recovery
Anyone who hits the gym after long periods of rest or those who overwork a particular muscle group has felt it—post workout muscle soreness. These pain and stiffness, otherwise called as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), occurs for a couple of hours to several days. Typically, it happens when the contracting muscles become stressed, which triggers an inflammatory response, hence, the sustained muscle soreness.
Several treatment strategies and therapies have been found useful to alleviate DOMS, especially for novice athletes. Medications such as non-steroidal drugs have demonstrated positive effects as well as exercise. But, recent studies show that the analgesic effect of exercise is also temporary. Fortunately, researchers of the European Journal of Applied Physiology found out in a study that curcumin can effectively decrease the symptoms of muscle soreness post workout.
In the study, researchers gave seventeen men a randomized-controlled trial using either a placebo or oral curcumin supplementation twice daily for up to three days. Then, the participants were asked to perform single-leg press exercise to induce muscle soreness. After that, they have been evaluated based on post-workout leg pain, muscle swelling, and single jump height. Serum markers were also checked to determine muscle damage and inflammation.
In conclusion, the researchers found out that the participants who took curcumin supplementation experienced reduced DOMS-related symptoms. The diagnostic blood test also showed decreased serum markers for inflammation and muscle damage, proving that curcumin from turmeric root could offer a way to halt the effects and symptoms of delayed onset muscle soreness. In the long run, curcumin can improve performance, training endurance, as well as injury prevention.
We hope that you enjoyed reading the health benefits of curcumin from turmeric. While many of these effects are scientifically proven, it is crucial to note that the effects of these compound may differ from one person to another. If you consider taking turmeric supplements in any form, be sure to consult first with your primary health care provider and discuss further if turmeric is suitable for you.
About the Author:
Mike Zhang is the founder of the MZF Group. He graduated from the University of Toronto on the dean's list with a Masters Degree in science. Mike was a two time National Muay Thai Champion, and a strength and conditioning coach to several learned athletes. He has over 14 years of experience as a Muay Thai Coach.