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Turmeric (Curcuma longa)

What is Turmeric?

Turmeric is best known for its role in cooking — particularly in Indian and Southeast Asian cuisine.

The characteristic orange-colored rhizome is a close relative of another popular culinary and medicinal plant — ginger (Zingiber officinalis).

Turmeric has a lot of uses medicinally, stemming from its potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, especially if taken over long periods of time.

The main issue with turmeric is a low bioavailability. Only small amounts of the active constituents in this plant are absorbed into the bloodstream. This has lead companies making turmeric supplements to create products with new innovations designed to make the herb more bioavailable. This includes technologies like liposomal turmeric or formulas including other compounds that improve absorption in the gut.

There’s a lot of debate as to whether these innovations are even necessary. Turmeric has been used for thousands of years effectively — while these new innovative forms of turmeric have only been around for the last few decades.

What Else is Turmeric Known As?

  • Turmeric
  • Curcuma (France)
  • Kurkuma (German)
  • Gelbwurzel (German)
  • Cúrcuma (Spain)
  • Gurkmeja (Sweden)

Herbal Actions/Properties of Turmeric

  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Antioxidant
  • Choleretic
  • Cholagogue
  • Antimicrobial
  • Carminative
  • Depurative
  • Antineoplastic
  • Neuroprotective
  • Hepatoprotective
  • Nephroprotective
  • Cardioprotective
  • Vasoprotective

What is Turmeric Used For? 

Turmeric is mainly used in cooking and is one of the primary ingredients of curry. Cooking the herb is thought to increase the absorption of the active ingredients significantly. For this reason, one of the best ways to use the herb medicinally is to use it in cooking.

Medicinally, turmeric is used for its anti-inflammatory profile — which is impressive, to say the least.

The anti-inflammatory effects of turmeric stem from its ability to inhibit an enzyme known as COX — which converts arachidonic acid into pro-inflammatory messenger molecules. By blocking this enzyme, less of these inflammation-causing compounds are created and released into the bloodstream. This is the same mechanism of action for the popular pharmaceutical drug, Aspirin.

Turmeric is best for chronic inflammatory conditions, as it can be used safely for long periods of time. This may include such conditions as interstitial cystitits, inflammatory bowel disease, endometriosis, arthritis, and much more.

Turmeric has long been thought to have anti-depressant activities as well. Recently, a connection has been made between chronic neuroinflammation (inflammation in the brain) and depression — suggesting a direct mechanism of action for the antidepressive effects of turmeric.

Folklore & History of Turmeric

Turmeric has a long history of use in India under the Ayurvedic medical system, and in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

In Ayurveda, turmeric is considered a tonic herb — supporting the overall health of the body. Practitioners of Ayurveda would use this herb in combination with other plants for a wide range of medical conditions and symptoms. The turmeric is thought to balance the three body types — Pitta, Vata, and Kapha. It’s especially popular for supporting the rasa and rakta dhatus (blood and plasma in the cardiovascular system), and for supporting agni (digestive fire).

In traditional Chinese medicine, turmeric rhizome is known as Jiang Huang. It’s used as a stomachic and digestive, and for moving blood and Qi around the body.

Turmeric tuber is used slightly differently in Chinese medicine. It’s still used to move blood and Qi but has a much cooler nature than the rhizome.

Turmeric Side-Effects & Safety

Turmeric is considered a very safe herb. The lethal dose is in excess of 12.2 g/kg in rats — which is exceptionally high.

Some reports suggest this herb should be avoided during pregnancy, but this has not been confirmed and there are a lot of people that use turmeric while pregnant. It’s recommended you avoid turmeric supplements while pregnant unless under the supervision of an experienced health practitioner.

How Much Turmeric Do I Use? 

The usual dose for turmeric liquid extracts is around 5 – 15 mg per day of a standard 1:2 extract.

The dose for this herb can vary a lot, but in most cases, it’s better to err on the side of more, rather than less.

You can also find turmeric extracts consisting of pure curcumin. These products would require much less turmeric to get a similar level of effects. High bioavailability supplements are also suggested to require less of a dose — but this is up for debate.

Scientific Research Involving Turmeric

  1. [2008] Normalization of leaky gut in chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is accompanied by a clinical improvement: effects of age, duration of illness and the translocation of LPS from gram-negative bacteria.
  2. [2007] Impact of curcumin-induced changes in P-glycoprotein and CYP3A expression on the pharmacokinetics of peroral celiprolol and midazolam in rats.
  3. [2006] Curcumin maintenance therapy for ulcerative colitis: randomized, multicenter, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial.
  4. [2005] Curcumin therapy in inflammatory bowel disease: a pilot study.
  5. [2003] Safety and anti-inflammatory activity of curcumin: a component of tumeric (Curcuma longa).
  6. [2001] Specific inhibition of cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) expression by dietary curcumin in HT-29 human colon cancer cells.
  7. [2001] Phase I clinical trial of curcumin, a chemopreventive agent, in patients with high-risk or pre-malignant lesions.
  8. [2000] Cytotoxicity, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities of curcumins I–III from Curcuma longa.
  9. [2000] Curcumin inhibits lipoxygenase by binding to its central cavity: theoretical and X-ray evidence.
  10. [1999] Inhibitory effect of curcumin, a food spice from turmeric, on platelet-activating factor-and arachidonic acid-mediated platelet aggregation through inhibition of thromboxane formation and Ca2+ signaling.
  11. [1999] Inhibition of interleukin-12 production in lipopolysaccharide-activated macrophages by curcumin.
  12. [1999] Inhibition of cyclo-oxygenase 2 expression in colon cells by the chemopreventive agent curcumin involves inhibition of NF-κB activation via the NIK/IKK signalling complex.
  13. [1999] Curcumin inhibits cyclooxygenase-2 transcription in bile acid-and phorbol ester-treated human gastrointestinal epithelial cells.
  14. [1998] Inhibition of lipoxygenase 1 by phosphatidylcholine micelles-bound curcumin.
  15. [1998] Curcumin blocks cyclosporine A-resistant CD28 costimulatory pathway of human T-cell proliferation.
  16. [1997] Presence of an acidic glycoprotein in the serum of arthritic rats: modulation by capsaicin and curcumin.
  17. [1997] Inhibitory effect of curcumin on mammalian phospholipase D activity.
  18. [1997] Effect of curcumin and capsaicin on arachidonic acid metabolism and lysosomal enzyme secretion by rat peritoneal macrophages.
  19. [1997] Curcumin, a compound with anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties, down-regulates chemokine expression in bone marrow stromal cells.
  20. [1997] Curcumin inhibits IL1 alpha and TNF-alpha induction of AP-1 and NF-kB DNA-binding activity in bone marrow stromal cells.
  21. [1995] Inhibition of tumor necrosis factor by curcumin, a phytochemical.
  22. [1995] Curcumin, an anti-tumor promoter and anti-inflammatory agent, inhibits induction of nitric oxide synthase in activated macrophages.
  23. [1995] Chemoprevention of colon carcinogenesis by dietary curcumin, a naturally occurring plant phenolic compound.
  24. [1993] Mechanism of antiinflammatory actions of curcumine and boswellic acids.
  25. [1986] Evaluation of anti-inflammatory property of curcumin (diferuloyl methane) in patients with postoperative inflammation.
  26. [1980] Preliminary studies on antirheumatic activity of curcumin.
  27. [1973] Pharmacology of diferuloyl methane (curcumin), a non‐steroidal anti‐inflammatory agent.

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