(NaturalHealth365) A familiar staple on countless spice racks around the globe, turmeric adds a peppery, intriguing flavor to marinades and sauces; it is also a key ingredient in mustard and curry powder. In addition to adding zip to recipes, turmeric can be used as a natural preservative and as a food coloring to impart foods with brilliant yellow hues.
Although turmeric is a useful culinary seasoning, it is its therapeutic potential that currently interests scientists and medical researchers. Long used in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine as a natural antiseptic and digestive aid, turmeric appears to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. There is also some research showing that turmeric possesses chemopreventive — or anti-cancer — properties. Researchers have found that it not only discourages the growth of cancer cells, but can actually induce apoptosis, a situation in which cancer cells literally “commit suicide.”
A deeper look at this amazing spice
Turmeric, scientifically known as Curcuma longa, is a member of the ginger family that grows in tropical and subtropical regions. It is sometimes called “Indian saffron”; in the Ayurvedic healing system, it is known as “haldi”. The dark brown roots — a brilliant orange-yellow on the inside –are cooked, dried and ground to yield the familiar yellow powder. The turmeric plant’s elliptical leaves also have therapeutic value.
A natural pigment called curcumin gives turmeric its bright yellow color, as well as many of its beneficial qualities. Curcumin, a powerful phenolic antioxidant, is present in turmeric in such abundance that turmeric has the highest ORAC value – or ability to fight free radical damage — of all herbs and spices.
In addition, turmeric contains the essential oils curumene, cineole, termerone and curlone, which contribute additional antioxidant abilities. Antioxidants can help control cholesterol levels, thereby reducing the risk of coronary artery disease and stroke.
The University of Maryland Medical Center notes that turmeric reduces levels of inflammation-producing enzymes, and adds that it may help fight infections and cancers and alleviate digestive problems.
The cancer-fighting effects of turmeric
Many turmeric studies have been performed using injectable turmeric, which is more bioaccessible than turmeric taken orally. And more studies are needed to explore the use of turmeric in treating cancer in humans. However, preliminary animal research is encouraging.
In a 2007 article, published in “Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology,” researchers credited curcumin with having chemopreventive properties that help it combat cancers of the digestive tract, skin and mouth in animals. They noted that curcumin not only triggers the activity of natural carcinogen-detoxifying enzymes, but inhibits cancer cells from growing and spreading.
In addition, they reported that curcumin seems to be able to suppress the growth of blood vessels necessary for tumor formation. Most promising of all is the fact that curcumin can induce apoptosis, causing cancer cells to self-destruct.
The nutritional value of turmeric
Turmeric is virtually free of fat, sugar and cholesterol, and is low in calories and rich in fiber. Turmeric is also a healthy source of B-complex vitamins, including niacin and riboflavin, and it also has calcium and potassium – needed to help regulate blood pressure. Finally, turmeric is a good source of iron, necessary for the production of red blood cells.
Are you ready to spice up your life?
Look for organic turmeric –which has not been irradiated and is more likely to retain its health benefits – and store it in the refrigerator in an airtight container. Turmeric can stain skin and clothing; to avoid discoloration, wash off immediately with soap and water.
Turmeric is considered safe when used as a food, but it can irritate the stomach if taken in large doses for extended periods. It can interact with supplements, vitamins and prescription medications; ask your doctor before using turmeric, especially if you have gallbladder disease or diabetes. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, don’t take turmeric supplements or eat it in large amounts; but, using it as a spice or flavoring is safe.
And, finally, because of turmeric’s blood-thinning properties, don’t use it within two weeks of having surgery. If you have any serious health condition or are taking any prescription medication – find a naturopath to help guide you in the right direction.
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