If you frequently consume Middle Eastern dishes, you are most likely familiar with the golden, yellow spice turmeric. If you often cook with it, you may also be familiar with turmeric’s ability to stain EVERYTHING! Turmeric is part of the ginger family which makes sense as it looks just like a ginger root but yellow/orange inside.
The natural component that gives turmeric it’s vibrant yellow color is called curcumin. Turmeric, in addition to adding flavor and color of food and dying cloth, has also been used for centuries as a medicinal remedy for gastrointestinal upset.1 Curcumin has been shown to have anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and antioxidant properties. As I mentioned in my previous post Lowering the Risk of Disease by Reducing Chronic Inflammation, foods considered to have anti-inflammatory properties can provide protective benefits from cancer, heart disease, obesity, and arthritis.
Correlations with other chronic conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease have been studied in regards to the anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric. Alzheimer’s disease involves the chronic inflammation of nerve cells in the brain which can deteriorate the brain’s thinking ability over time affecting the individuals daily activities. In a large population-based study of 1,010 elderly Asians who were not demented, based on the frequency of consuming turmeric containing dishes, those who consumed more curry performed better on the Mini-Mental State Exam (MMSE) than those who rarely consumed curry. Research has shown anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen have reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. However, these drugs, when taken over long periods of time, can take a toll on the kidneys, liver, and stomach. As turmeric is considered anti-inflammatory, there is speculation that it can be a beneficial and safer means of preventing Alzheimer’s disease.2
In individuals with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), joints become inflamed due to an autoimmune response of the body. In a randomized pilot study, 45 patients diagnosed with RA were split into three groups: curcumin (500 mg), diclofenac sodium (50 mg), and a combination of both. Diclofenac is an well known NSAID drug used to treat RA. While significant improvements were seen in all three groups on their Disease Activity Scores (DAS), the curcumin only group showed the highest level of improvement overall.
In addition to anti-inflammatory properties, turmeric is touted to have anti-cancer properties which may be related to the antioxidants it contains. One study has shown a significant reduction in prostate cancer of mice by introducing a diet containing 2% curcumin for 6 weeks. A study conducted in 2011 concluded curcumin enhanced the expression of p53 molecules, which are known to suppress tumor cells, in colorectal cancer patients. Despite promising results, various studies are still in the preliminary stages.
With the rise in research on turmeric and its health benefits, comes with the increased popularity in curcumin supplements. The FDA has approved curcumin as a “Generally Recognized As Safe” compound, however effective dosage is still unclear. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, an adult can tolerate 1-3 grams of ground turmeric per day. Even though research is inconclusive in the amount of turmeric to consume, you can still include it in your cooking to potentially gain those health benefits. Try out this recipe for Kefta Mkaouara (Meatball & Egg “Tagine”).
1 Turmeric, the Golden Spice. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92752/
2 The Effect of Curcumin (Turmeric) on Alzheimer’s Disease: An Overview. Curcumin as an Anti Inflammatory in Alzheimer’s. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2781139/#CIT5