Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a culinary spice that spans cultures - it is a major ingredient in Indian curries, and makes American mustard yellow. But evidence is accumulating that this brightly colored relative of ginger is a promising disease-preventive agent as well, probably due largely to its anti-inflammatory action.
One of the most comprehensive summaries of turmeric studies to date was published by the respected ethnobotanist James A. Duke, Phd., in the October, 2007 issue of Alternative & Complementary Therapies, and summarized in the July, 2008, issue of the American Botanical Council publication HerbClip.
Reviewing some 700 studies, Duke concluded that turmeric appears to outperform many pharmaceuticals in its effects against several chronic, debilitating diseases, and does so with virtually no adverse side effects. Here are some of the diseases that turmeric has been found to help prevent or alleviate:
- Alzheimer's disease: Duke found more than 50 studies on turmeric's effects in addressing Alzheimer's disease. The reports indicate that extracts of turmeric contain a number of natural agents that block the formation of beta-amyloid, the substance responsible for the plaques that slowly obstruct cerebral function in Alzheimer's disease.
- Arthritis: Turmeric contains more than two dozen anti-inflammatory compounds, including sixdifferent COX-2-inhibitors (the COX-2 enzyme promotes pain, swelling and inflammation; inhibitors selectively block that enzyme). By itself, writes Duke, curcumin - the component in turmeric most often cited for its healthful effects - is a multifaceted anti-inflammatory agent, and studies of the efficacy of curcumin have demonstrated positive changes in arthritic symptoms.
- Cancer: Duke found more than 200 citations for turmeric and cancer and more than 700 for curcumin and cancer. He noted that in the handbook Phytochemicals: Mechanisms of Action, curcumin and/or turmeric were effective in animal models in prevention and/or treatment of colon cancer, mammary cancer, prostate cancer, murine hepatocarcinogenesis (liver cancer in rats), esophageal cancer, and oral cancer. Duke said that the effectiveness of the herb against these cancers compared favorably with that reported for pharmaceuticals.
How can you get more turmeric into your diet? One way is via turmeric tea. There are also extracts in tablet and capsule form available in health food stores; look for supercritical extracts in dosages of 400 to 600 mg, and take three times daily or as directed on the product.
And, of course, one can simply indulge in more curried dishes, either in restaurants or at home. However you do it, adding turmeric to your diet is one of the best moves toward optimal health you can make.