Lending its hallmark peppery/earthy flavor and vivid yellow-gold color to traditional South Asian and Middle Eastern dishes, turmeric is an unmistakable spice. But when you add up the mounting number of studies chronicling the health benefits of this flavor booster, it's clear that you're wise to move beyond those traditional uses and start using it in all sorts of dishes. These days, turmeric has duly earned its place in your spice rack.
In its acceptance speech of this place of honor among your most highly ranked spices, turmeric would be remiss to not give credit to curcumin. Curcumin is the compound that gives the spice its trademark color and trademark health benefits, including anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antitumor, antibacterial, and antiviral properties, according to research from the Journal of the American College of Nutrition.
“Turmeric is a wonderful example of an edible medicinal used to prevent or treat a broad range of health conditions,” says Michael Balick, PhD, author of Rodale's 21st Century Herbal. “Long revered in traditional Asian healing practices, turmeric is considered an excellent anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, and antioxidant.”
Balick does caution that pregnant women or people with bile duct obstruction, gallstones, stomach ulcer, or stomach hyperacidity should not use turmeric medicinally, so check with your doctor to make sure it's OK for you.
Check out these eight conditions you can improve by spicing things up with turmeric.
A zit is a big inflamed pore, so anti-inflammatory turmeric is a perfect acne-fighting solution. Tasneem Bhatia, MD, author of What Doctors Eat, recommends blending turmeric with water or yogurt into a paste. Applied topically, she says it will improve acne lesions and scarring.
#2. Alzheimer's Disease
This incurable neurodegenerative disease may be preventable with regular helpings of turmeric. Research has found that curcumin cleans up the beta-amyloid plaques associated with Alzheimer's disease. Importantly, unlike failed treatment options for the disease, curcumin's molecular weight is low, so it's small enough to pass through the blood-brain barrier to get into the brain.
People suffering from knee osteoarthritis saw improvements in pain severity, stiffness, and functional limitations after taking turmeric, according to research from Inflammopharmacology. Even more impressive was that people taking turmeric saw greater improvements than those taking glucosamine, a common supplement for joint pain.
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Gut inflammation can be a cause of bloating, according to Isaac Eliaz, MD, founder of the Amitabha Clinic & Healing Center, and that makes turmeric an obvious solution to relieve it. Also, turmeric promotes circulation and detoxifies, which can help get your digestion back on track.
Char-grilled meat is tasty, but it comes with a side of carcinogens. Meat cooked at high temperatures naturally produces heterocyclic amines (HCAs), a carcinogen also found in cigarette smoke. Fortunately, researchers from the Cancer Research Center of Hawaii found that marinating your meat in a sauce containing turmeric (the researchers used a turmeric-garlic sauce, specifically) reduced carcinogens by 50 percent. Importantly, the sauce was a thin, vinegar-based marinade with no sugar.
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Avoiding sugar isn't the only thing you can do to avoid diabetes. In a study from Diabetes Care, taking curcumin capsules daily for nine months protected those diagnosed with prediabetes from developing full-blown type 2 diabetes.
#7. Lyme Disease
Reducing oxidative stress is key to giving your body its best shot against Lyme disease. Dr. Eliaz says that not only does curcumin reduce oxidative stress, but it can also give a boost to standard antibiotic treatment against the disease.
Put down the painkillers—they can come with more unexpected sid effects than you bargained for. Turmeric is a safe, natural way to help control pain. According to Dr. Eliaz, turmeric supports circulation, immunity, and tissue repair—all factors that, when awry, can be at the root of pain.
PMS can be the perfect storm of moodiness, bloating, and cramps, leaving you feeling miserable. Fortunately, some of these symptoms can be alleviated with curcumin, according to Iranian researchers. Women took curcumin supplements seven days before menstruation and three days after, for three cycles.
The researchers measured mood symptoms (restlessness, irritability, anxiety, depression or sadness, crying, feelings of isolation), physical symptoms (headache, breast tenderness, back ache, abdominal pain, weight gain, swelling, muscle stiffness, gastrointestinal symptoms, nausea), and behavioral symptoms (fatigue, insomnia, difficulty concentrating, change in appetite). Across all three categories of measures, the curcumin group showed significant improvements in symptoms while the placebo group did not show any significant change.