Tumeric – a spice spanning several cultures has a long history dating back about 4, 000 years ago. Native to areas such as India, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia, turmeric has been used to treat a variety of conditions over the centuries and is still revered as a time-honored medicinal seasoning to this day. Over 1 billion people worldwide regularly consume turmeric as part of their diet.
Widely used in cooking, turmeric comes from the plant Curcuma longa, a member of the same family as ginger. It is used to give color to mustard, butter and cheese and also provides the flavor and color to Indian curry. Over the centuries, turmeric has been thrust into the spotlight for its possible and promising disease-preventing abilities.
Turmeric tea’s role in treating disease
The reason why turmeric appears to have a role in treating illness and disease has to do with an active compound present in turmeric called curcumin discovered about a century ago. Curcumin is the major yellow pigment in turmeric giving turmeric its color and flavor and is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory substance.
Turmeric tea is brewed using grated turmeric root or pure powder and is considered to be one of the most effective ways to consume the spice. There is no specific recommendation on a daily intake of turmeric tea.
Research has suggested turmeric tea may have potential benefits for the following conditions:
· Alzheimer’s Disease
The country of India where turmeric is commonly used has a low incidence and prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease. Some people attribute the low rates of Alzheimer’s disease because of the frequent use of tumeric. This devastating condition is characterized by deterioration of cognitive tissue, the build-up of amyloid plaque, and inflammation of nerve cells. It has been suggested that the compound curcumin present in tumeric may help the immune system destroy amyloid plaque, reducing the production of inflammatory cytokines. In doing so, brain function deterioration is reduced slowing down the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Epidemiological studies have looked at the neuroprotective effect of curcumin and have demonstrated regular consumption has also reduced other dementia and cognitive deficits in the elderly.
Over the years, curcumin has been a main focus for research regarding its strong antitumor effects. In fact, several preclinical trials have demonstrated curcumin to have both chemopreventive and antitumor effects against types of cancer. This naturally occurring polyphenolic compound recently has shown promise as a dietary therapy for pancreatic cancer. It cannot be said that it can cure cancer but it may reduce tumor promotion and minimize the spread of cancer.
Tumeric has anti-inflammatory abilities containing more than two dozen compounds which may help relieve osteoarthritis pain. Again, the compound curcumin found in turmeric works as an anti-inflammatory agent with clinical studies finding that curcumin provided protection to joint inflammation in individuals with osteoarthritis.
· Ulcerative colitis
Ulcerative colitis is a chronic, inflammatory bowel disease causing inflammation in the digestive tract. The disease tends to flare up and subside at random. Studies have shown people with ulcerative colitis who took curcumin had a significantly lower relapse rate than people who did not take curcumin.
Depression is a severe neurological disorder manifested in several ways such as depressed or irritable mood, reduced interest in pleasurable activities, fatigue or a feeling of worthlessness. At any one time approximately 15-20% of the world’s population suffers from this disorder. A meta-analysis showed curcumin had the highest effect in reducing symptoms of depression. This provides support of curcumin possibly being used to treat symptoms in people with major depression.
· Diabetic Neuropathy
Diabetic neuropathy is the most common complication of diabetes with around 50% of all diabetics eventually developing nerve damage at some stage of life. The painful, damaged nerves are a result of high blood sugar levels. To prevent neuropathy, tight blood glucose control is necessary to prevent symptoms and problems getting worse. Because curcumin possesses anti-inflammatory properties, it appears it can be used as a therapeutic option in the treatment of diabetic neuropathy.
How to use turmeric
At this time there is no clear recommendation for turmeric or curcumin dosage. However, the University of Maryland Medical Center suggests 1 to 3 g of dried, powdered turmeric root each day to gain health benefits. Most grocery stores spice sections sell either whole or ground dried turmeric. Tumeric powder will have the highest concentration of curcumin. To help increase the absorption of curcumin, it is best to consume it with a meal, especially with fatty foods such as olive oil, avocado, fish oil, and seeds.
Tumeric goes well with rice, lentil, and vegetable dishes and can enhance the flavor of soup and stews. It can also be added to vinaigrettes and to oil or butter for color and flavor.
To make turmeric tea, boil 4 cups of water, add one teaspoon of ground, grated or powdered turmeric and reduce to a simmer for 10 minutes. Then strain the tea through a fine sieve into a cup, add honey and/or lemon to taste.
A cautionary note on turmeric
Certain medications may have adverse reactions if you use turmeric and therefore you need to proceed with caution on tumerics use. Before using turmeric, discuss with your physician if you are using the following medications:
Blood thinners – Coumadin, Plavix and aspirin. Tumeric can strengthen the effects of these drugs increasing the risk of bleeding.
Stomach acid reducing medications – Tagamet, Pepcid, Zantac, Nexium, Prilosec, and Prevacid. Tumeric may increase the production of stomach acid interfering with these medications.
Diabetes medications – Tumeric may increase the risk of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) as it may strengthen the effects of these medications.
Make time for turmeric
Tumeric appears to have a variety of health promoting abilities as more and more evidence supports the role of curcumin in reducing inflammation. As future research is conducted, a standard recommendation for the amount of turmeric/curcumin intake may be determined. In the meantime, turmeric can be used as a medicinal aid for various conditions in addition to providing color and flavor to everyday foods.