Tumeric is a popular culinary spice from Southeast Asia that has incredible potential benefits for human health.
This perennial plant is native to India and Southeast Asia. It grows up to one meter in height and has small elliptical green leaves and a deep orange or yellow root or rhizome. It is a member of the ginger family.
The brightly colored root and rice were used as a culinary spice in food preparation, and as part of curry powder it was mixed with coriander, cumin, black pepper, ginger and other spices. As a dye, it is used in the clothing and textile industry. It is also used in cosmetics, as well as in the food and beverage industry. The root and rhizome are described as pungent, bitter and earthy. It has also been used in Ayurvedic medicine for several thousand years.
The chemical constituents of turmeric are identified as 1% to 6% curcumin, volatile oils, fiber, minerals, proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Other sources report a curcumin content of 1% to 8%. It should be noted that the total curcumin content of the root is probably better called the total curcuminoid content. This reflects the fact that there are several slightly different but related chemicals in the root and rhizome of this plant.
Curcumin is the name given to the chemical responsible for the bright yellow and orange color of the turmeric plant in its root and rhizome. Curcumin has been identified as the main active ingredient of the plant. However, three main curcuminoid molecules have been identified in the turmeric plant. The natural content of curcumin has been found to be between 60% and 70% of the total amount of curcuminoids.
Turmeric and curcumin have been described as plant compounds with a variety of biochemical effects on human health. Some of these effects include anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antifungal, anti-diabetic, liver protection, wound healing, cholesterol lowering, antioxidant, immune boosting and nerve protection in the brain.
In some studies, curcumin shows anti-inflammatory activity comparable to ibuprofen and other NSAIDs or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory compounds. The use of turmeric and curcumin compounds alone or in combination with other herbs may be beneficial in reducing osteoarthritis pain. Like NSAIDs, turmeric and curcumin have blood thinning and antiplatelet activity.
In other studies, curcumin and turmeric have antioxidant and neuroprotective effects on the brain and nervous system. Curcumin increases BDNP or neurotrophic factors from the brain that protect nerves from oxidative damage and aid in proper maintenance and repair.
A recent study in the BMJ or British Medical Journal found that consumption of turmeric was as effective as a prescription proton pump inhibitor in relieving stomach pain and discomfort. Tumeric can improve the flow of bile in the liver and gallbladder and has an antioxidant effect on liver cells. Curcumin may also be beneficial in inflammatory bowel disease.
The Linus Pauling Institute in Oregon published a review of research into the medical benefits of curcumin. The authors point out that growing evidence from preclinical studies shows that curcumin modulates numerous molecular targets and exhibits antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer and neuroprotective activity.
They further elaborate that although several preliminary studies show that curcumin has anti-inflammatory activity in humans, larger randomized controlled trials are needed to determine its effectiveness in osteoarthritis and radiation-induced dermatitis.
They go on to report that so far there is some evidence that curcumin improves cognitive performance in older adults with or without cognitive impairment. Also, its use for depression is very preliminary and long-term clinical trials are recommended.
The use of curcumin for diabetic patients is also preliminary and longer-term trials are needed. And while in vitro testing of curcumin for cancer activity remains encouraging, human trials are very limited, particularly in patients with breast, prostate, pancreatic, colorectal, lung, and skin cancers.
It is cautioned against its use in cancer patients receiving chemotherapy drugs. Some preliminary studies show that it may help promote the benefits of chemo drugs while having negligible side effects. However, its use in patients receiving chemotherapy should be evaluated and recommended on an individual basis.
Other benefits of curcumin for cardiovascular disease, dermatology, and ophthalmology have been reported, and while encouraging, the study authors conclude that additional research is warranted.
Turmeric is believed to be safe for human use in doses up to 12 grams per day. Reported side effects of consuming curcumin include gas, bloating, indigestion, heartburn, upset stomach, diarrhea, headache, and, in some cases, skin rashes.
Its effect on use during pregnancy and breastfeeding has not been determined, so it is not recommended except for use as a spice in cooking. In vitro studies show that curcumin can inhibit platelet aggregation and its use in patients using blood thinners and anticoagulants is cautioned.
The information provided in this article does not constitute, and is not intended to constitute, medical advice. All information and content is for general informational purposes only.
This article was written by or on behalf of an external columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.
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