Dr Jalaja Ramaswamy
When Ravi got hurt during a game of football, his mother took him to the doctor for a tetanus shot and to get the wound dressed. But she also supported this with a more traditional treatment — a topical application of turmeric powder.
Turmeric (manjal or haldi) is not new to us. For thousands of years this mild spice has been used in Indian households and other countries in the Orient to add colour and flavour to foods and for antiseptic, preventive and therapeutic purposes for various ailments.
But turmeric is a recent arrival to the western spice shelf. It is only now that the potential of turmeric is being recognised by the West and it is being referred to as the “Spice for Life” and the “Indian solid gold”. Yes, turmeric has created quite a stir in the world of medicine.
Turmeric is related to the ginger family. The yellow colour is due to the presence of Curcuminoids, the most important being curcumin. All the health benefits of turmeric are due to this active ingredient curcumin.
What’s so special
So, what is special about turmeric? Curcumin has been shown to exhibit antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial/antiseptic activities and, therefore, can help as a preventive and therapeutic agent against Alzheimer’s disease, cancers, Diabetes Mellitus, allergies, arthritis, and other chronic illnesses.
Over a thousand clinical trials on humans and animals have confirmed the health effects of curcumin and turmeric. If you are exploring dietary components to combat or prevent human diseases, curcumin leads the way.
Our good old turmeric shows promise for the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. A generous addition of turmeric to the recipe may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and help maintain mental function and retention of memory. It has also been shown to reverse some of the changes already present.
Inflammation plays a big role in Alzheimers disease. Turmeric is able to reduce this inflammation. Reports indicate that curcumin reduces the build up of amyloid plaques (knots in the brain) that have been linked to Alzheimer’s
In fact, low rates of Alzheimer’s among rural Indians first drew the attention of western researchers to curcumin. The likelihood of people over the age of 65 developing Alzheimer’s disease in certain rural areas of India is reported to be less than one per cent and in the larger cities and other rural areas of India, the risk is just 2.4 per cent. In the United States, the corresponding figures range from five to 17 per cent. The most likely reason for this dramatic difference seems to be their high consumption of turmeric.
Curcumin is an effective antioxidant and may slowdown cancer growth. Many research centres, including the MD Anderson Cancer Center at Houston, are conducting trials on the efficacy of curcumin on bone marrow, pancreatic, colon and other cancers.
It is suggested that curcumin be used in addition to the standard cancer therapies to enhance their effectiveness and reducing their toxicity. This means that turmeric in biologically active doses could play a useful role as an adjunct in the treatment of cancer.
Curcumin helps the body get rid of cancer-causing free radicals and also blocks oestrogen receptors and enzymes that promote cancer. Cancer grows and spreads by promoting the growth of new blood vessels in cancerous tumours; curcumin is able to control and stop this and also bring about the death of cancer cells by a process called apoptosis.
Turmeric is valued for its ability to fight arthritis. It suppresses many of those factors and enzymes associated with inflammation leading to arthritis. Some preliminary clinical studies suggest that it may relieve symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis
There is evidence to suggest a possible cardio-protective role of curcumin — an effect that could be attributable to the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory roles of turmeric.
But turmeric in medicinal doses can increase blood thinning effects and therefore such high doses are contraindicated if you are already on blood thinners like aspirin. A study with a small number of human subjects does indicate that it may increase the levels of the good HDL cholesterol and reduce the total cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
It is also possible that curcumin could complement the traditional therapies as a natural and safe treatment for Diabetes Mellitus. Mice given curcumin exhibited improved glucose tolerance indicating that it may benefit Type II diabetics.
Turmeric holds tremendous promise in maintaining the health of the liver and the kidney. This certainly is good news for those with compromised liver and kidney functions. It also appears to increase the clearance of urea and creatinine by the kidney, protects liver from a variety of toxins and enhances liver function.
Turmeric is a digestive aid. It has been shown to stimulate the production of bile and to promote the emptying of the gallbladder.
But, a word of caution for those diagnosed with gall stones or obstruction of bile passages or an extremely toxic liver condition; consult your physician before you embark on curcumin therapy.
Japanese workers have also associated the intake of turmeric with some relief from Ulcerative Colitis. Turmeric may help reduce symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
Curcumin’s antimicrobial effects are well known. Whenever there is a cut or a bruise, the home remedy is turmeric powder. It is widely applied to skin as a cleansing agent. It may also relieve some skin conditions. Curcumin creams are being developed for the treatment of psoriasis. A pinch of turmeric taken with warm milk can bring relief to persistent cough.
But is it safe to take supra-nutritional doses of turmeric? Unlike some modern medicines, turmeric is not toxic when administered in moderate doses and is tolerated well when used for medicinal purposes for short periods of time. Consuming up to 12 g of turmeric a day seems to be absolutely safe.
At high doses, the side effects are mild and usually limited to gastric distress, although there have been reports of extended high doses being toxic to the liver. Such high doses are generally associated with supplements.
Turmeric extract supplements are available as curcumin/turmeric supplements. One such costs $9 for 60 capsules! But most of us would benefit from a regular liberal addition of this spice during cooking every day. So make the most of turmeric to keep you healthy.