Turmeric is a member of the ginger family, and is known for its vibrant yellow colour. It has been a natural part of the Asian diet for years, and is often thought to be one of the reasons for their youthful features and longevity. This article will cover the health benefits of turmeric, and how it behaves in the body.
Phenolic compounds in turmeric
As with most herbs, the health benefits of turmeric originate from the phenolic compounds found in them. Turmeric is the only source of group of phenolic compounds called curcuminoids. The most abundant curcuminoid found in turmeric is curcumin (which can make up to 75% of all curcuminoid compounds). It is curcumin which has been most researched, and is thought to be the primary source of the benefits of turmeric, although other curcuminoids are likely to be beneficial too.
Turmeric & Oxidative Stress
Aside from antioxidant vitamins such as vitamin C, your body protects itself from free radicals using enzymes, one in particular being superoxide dismutase. The role of this enzyme is to protect the cell from damage from a radical called superoxide, which is a by-product of energy production in the cell. Consumption of curcumin can increase the production of this enzyme in the body, which will offer the body greater protection from this oxidative species. This shows that turmeric can increase the activity of our natural antioxidant fighting potential and protect the body from oxidative damage.
Superoxide is an incredibly reactive species, and can damage DNA and other parts of the cell. It has been linked to the ageing process, and it is possible that prolonged damage to the cells from this molecule is thought to be a main cause for the ageing process.
Curcumin itself is also a powerful antioxidant, and so as well as increasing the radical neutralising enzymes, it will also directly react with radicals, which will reduce the oxidative stress on the body even further.
Turmeric as an anti-inflammatory
Inflammation is a natural process, but can lead to a number of ailments from mild discomfort to cancer development if it is prolonged. Turmeric has long been known to act as an anti-inflammatory agent, and this benefit is again due to curcumin, which inhibits the pro-inflammatory enzymes cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) and lipoxygenase (LOX). By reducing the activity of these enzymes consumption of turmeric can lower the risk of inflammatory disorders developing. These findings have been replicated over many studies which solidifies the evidence.
Turmeric & stomach health
One of the primary causes of stomach ulcers the stomach is a pathogenic bacteria called H.pylori, which inhabits the stomach wall. This bacteria is particularly hard to eradicate from the body, and is likely to populate up to 50% of the UK population. In mice it has been shown that curcumin had antimicrobial activity against H.pylori which inhabited the stomach of the mice. Turmeric was not able to eliminate the bacteria, but it did show an ability to control its population, and minimise the inflammation of the stomach.
Turmeric & cancer
Turmeric can reduce the risk of cancer in two ways. The first is by reducing the oxidative stress on the body (as explained above). Oxidative stress is known to increase the risk of developing cancer, as oxidative damage to DNA can destroy genes and prevent their expression. This can lead to irregular cell function, which can result in cancer cell development. The second, is that curcumin can induce apoptosis (cell death) in developed cancer cells. This induced cell death has been observed at low concentrations, and leukemia cells have had apoptosis induced with concentrations of curcumin as low as 3.5 μg/ml. This demonstrates a very powerful ability to prevent cancer development and progression.
Turmeric has been part of the Asian diet for hundreds of years and no ill effects have been recorded. In supplement form dosages of up to 8g daily for several months have also been consumed with no side effects. This shows that turmeric is not toxic, even at high dosages for prolonged periods of time. There is also nothing to suggest that more than 8g a day would have any ill effect, although to be honest I don’t see why you would want to consume more than 8g.
How to get turmeric into your diet?
Short of eating curry everyday the best way to get turmeric into your diet is by taking a turmeric supplement. Turmeric supplements can be found in 2 ways, either as pure turmeric capsules, or as an extract of turmeric (curcumin). There are pros and cons to each, but you need to understand the differences and how they apply to your needs. We were getting quite a few emails about the differences, so I wrote an article on them here – its worth a read! Make sure you read the bottle of whatever you are planning on buying, I’ve seen a number of companies call their products ‘curcumin’ when in fact its turmeric in the bottle.
Turmeric is the only source of a nutrient called curcumin. This compound can reduce oxidative stress on the body, reduce inflammation and prevent the development of cancer. It has no known toxic levels, and has been part of the Asian diet for many hundreds of years, showing that it is very safe to consume. The best way to get a regular supply of turmeric in your diet is to take it in a supplement form.
Menon VP, Sudheer AR. (2007). Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin. Adv Exp Med Biol.595 (1), 105-25.
Chainani-Wu N. (2003). Safety and anti-inflammatory activity of curcumin: a component of tumeric (Curcuma longa). J Altern Complement Med. 9 (1), 161-8.