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It definitely is a trend right now - but in fact, it’s been used in ancient medicines for centuries. And looking at the research, it’s not hard see why Turmeric is in demand - it’s the very definition of a ‘superfood,’ with many different potential benefits for those who choose to add it to their regime. So what can Turmeric do for you?
Turmeric itself is extracted from the roots of a plant called Curcuma longa, which is actually a species of ginger native to South East Asia. It contains many different natural, active compounds. The best-known - and publicized - are called Curcuminoids. There are three main curcuminoids: Curcumin, Demethoxycurcumin and Bisdemethoxycurcumin. Of these, Curcumin is the most abundant and best-studied - which is why it is the active ingredient most people have heard of.
Research has indicated that when taking a Turmeric supplement, it is best to look for a product which provides a ‘full spectrum’ of Curcuminoids rather than just Curcumin.
Research indicates that taking extra turmeric in our diet, or even in a turmeric supplement could have many potential benefits, including:
Supporting joint health
Providing antioxidant protection
Supporting brain function
Protecting heart health
Supporting a healthy inflammatory response.
Researchers have believed for years that many spices we use in cooking (such as ginger, chilli and yes, turmeric) may be beneficial for joint health. Studies have backed this up: in one clinical trial, turmeric was shown to be as effective as standard anti-inflammatory medications for some people. (1)
During normal metabolic processes, the body produces ‘free radicals’. These natural by-products could cause damage to the cells of our body, so need to be neutralized, which is a process performed by antioxidants. In healthy conditions, the body can produce its own antioxidants, keeping everything perfectly balanced. However, pollution, diet and lifestyle factors (smoking, drinking, and even cooking!) can lead to us having too many free radicals for our body to be able to balance things out effectively on its own. This is why nutritionists suggest eating foods which are high in natural antioxidants - such as blueberries, carrots, and tomatoes (and in fact all the brightly-colored fruits and vegetables) and - yes - also the brightly-colored spice, turmeric.(2)
Our brain is an amazing organ; it is always learning, adapting and remodeling itself. And one of the main factors driving this is a molecule called Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF).
Many nutritional writers suggest that we take nootropics, which are supplements designed to increase the production of BDNF. This is because increasing your level of BDNF has been shown to help support memory, focus and concentration. Curcumin has been shown to effectively increase BDNF, making it an ideal nootropic. (3)
Heart disease is one of the main causes of premature death - so it’s not surprising that we are always looking for ways to protect our heart health.
Heart disease is a complicated issue with many causes: there is no one single ‘magic bullet’. However, scientists have shown that one of the things that might be helpful, alongside making healthy diet and lifestyle choices, is taking curcumin. (4)
Inflammation is a natural process, and something which can be very helpful as part of our immune response. However, too much inflammation has been shown to have many negative effects on our body. Excess inflammation has been linked to several degenerative diseases including arthritis, joint disease and brain disease. Making healthy diet and lifestyle choices is known to help reduce excess inflammation, as can adding in some extra curcumin. (5)
With many people happy to use turmeric as an ingredient in their food, why do many people advocate taking Turmeric supplements, too?
The answer is that the main active compounds in Turmeric are the curcuminoids (with most focus on curcumin). Turmeric naturally only contains 3% curcumin, and many of the studies show that for beneficial effects, we need at least 100mg curcumin - which would mean eating A LOT of turmeric.
In addition, curcumin is not easy for our body to recognize and absorb - which is why many supplements will use a concentrated extract, providing higher levels of curcumin, and also add in black pepper - or piperine. (Piperine has been shown to effectively enhance the absorption of curcumin.)
In addition, to really optimize the potential benefits of taking curcumin, look for a phytosome format. In a phytosome the active curcuminoids have been suspended into sunflower oil and lecithin, which helps the curcumin be absorbed into our cells effectively.
Chandran B, Goel A. A randomized, pilot study to assess the efficacy and safety of curcumin in patients with active rheumatoid arthritis. Phytother Res. 2012 Nov;26(11):1719-25. doi: 10.1002/ptr.4639. Epub 2012 Mar 9. PMID: 22407780.
Menon VP, Sudheer AR. Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2007;595:105-25. doi: 10.1007/978-0-387-46401-5_3. PMID: 17569207.
Ng TKS, Ho CSH, Tam WWS, Kua EH, Ho RC. Decreased Serum Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) Levels in Patients with Alzheimer's Disease (AD): A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Int J Mol Sci. 2019 Jan 10;20(2):257. doi: 10.3390/ijms20020257. PMID: 30634650; PMCID: PMC6358753.
Jiang S, Han J, Li T, Xin Z, Ma Z, Di W, Hu W, Gong B, Di S, Wang D, Yang Y. Curcumin as a potential protective compound against cardiac diseases. Pharmacol Res. 2017 May;119:373-383. doi: 10.1016/j.phrs.2017.03.001. Epub 2017 Mar 6. PMID: 28274852.
He Y, Yue Y, Zheng X, Zhang K, Chen S, Du Z. Curcumin, inflammation, and chronic diseases: how are they linked? Molecules. 2015 May 20;20(5):9183-213. doi: 10.3390/molecules20059183. PMID: 26007179; PMCID: PMC6272784.
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