Widely used as a coloring agent, spice and condiment in Asian cooking, turmeric is the common name for the rhizome of the plant Curcuma longa. It belongs to the same family as ginger – Zingiberaceae, and is commonly known as Indian saffron because its deep orange color is reminiscent of saffron.Although modern science is only now recognizing the medicinal value of this rhizome, turmeric health benefits are widely documented in Ayurveda, the Indian traditional system of medicine. Besides India, turmeric is also cultivated in countries such as China, Indonesia, Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, Phillipines, Madagascar and Vietnam.
Why Turmeric is Beneficial?
Turmeric contains several chemical constituents with the main one being the coloring principles called the curcuminoids. These make up between 50 and 60 percent of the content of turmeric and the major curcuminoid responsible for turmeric health benefits is curcumin. Curcumin has been found to possess valuable antioxidant properties and this is what makes turmeric useful in a wide variety of health disorders. Apart from this turmeric also contains yellow coloring material and turmeric oil (turmerol). This gives turmeric its characteristic taste and odor.
Turmeric has zero percent of Cholesterol and very low levels of Sodium. It is a great source of Vitamin C, Vitamin B6 and minerals such as Magnesium, Iron, Potassium and Manganese. It is considered to be a very good source of dietary fiber too.
The volatile oil present in turmeric contains substances such as zingiberene, curcumene and turmerone which are also responsible for some of the turmeric health benefits. The coloring material in turmeric acts as a cholagogue stimulating the contraction of gall bladder causing an evacuation of bile
Turmeric Health Benefits
Turmeric is useful in a variety of health conditions that involve different body systems. Although it was traditionally associated with the treatment of digestive problems, the latest scientific research points to its usefulness in dealing with conditions such as cancer, arthritis and pain and inflammation.
Digestive Benefits : Turmeric is useful against dyspepsia or indigestion which is a condition of fullness in the stomach accompanied by a recurring pain along with a feeling of nausea, bloating and heartburn. Scientific research attributes this action of turmeric to the effect of curcumin on the gall bladder to increase the production of bile.
Turmeric is also useful in persons with ulcerative colitis, a chronic condition in which the affected person suffers from abdominal cramps, severe pain, a gurgling sound in the intestine and diarrhea.
Usefulness in Cancer : Research is increasingly pointing out turmeric health benefits in preventing, treating and preventing the spread of cancer. Cancer is associated with damage of the cellular DNA by the action of free radicals that are generated during metabolic reactions in the body. The curcumin in turmeric prevents such damage because of its antioxidant action against these free radicals. Besides, it also increases the necessary actions by the liver to destroy the cancerous cells in which such DNA damage may have occurred. It also prevents the further spread of the cancerous cells throughout the body. Studies on turmeric have found that using turmeric frequently is associated with lower incidence of cancer of the lung, breast, colon and prostate glands.
Some animal studies have also found that combining turmeric with onion helps to reduce the growth of tumors in the colon and also slows down their spread. Other researchers also report that a combination of turmeric with cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower has the ability to prevent prostate cancer.
Benefits in Inflammation and Pain : Another of the important turmeric health benefits is its value against pain and inflammation associated with conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and menstrual disorders such as dysmenorrhoea and amenorrhoea. This action arises from both the curcumin as well as the volatile oil present in turmeric. In fact, many studies show that this anti-inflammatory effect is equivalent to that produced by prescription medications such as phenylbutazone, but without the toxic effects of ulcers and intestinal bleeding that such drugs cause.
People with arthritis who use turmeric frequently also find relief from the pain and inflammation. As a result, they are able to walk for longer time without pain and do not experience the early morning stiffness in the joints that is a typical feature of arthritis. This again is due to curcumin’s antioxidant action against free radicals that cause inflammation and damage to the joints.
Benefits in Heart Disease : Turmeric has a protective effect against cardiovascular disease which is a result of its action against cholesterol. The antioxidant effect of curcumin does not allow the oxidation of cholesterol; since oxidized cholesterol is responsible for the plaque that builds up on the arterial walls, curcumin helps to reduce the development of atherosclerosis.
It has also been found that turmeric has a cholerectic action; that is, it improves the transport of bile as well as cholesterol to the gall bladder from the liver. This makes it easier for the body to excrete the cholesterol out of the body and maintain lower levels of cholesterol in the blood.
Benefits in cough and cold : As a traditional cold and cough remedy, turmeric powder is mixed with warm milk and is given before sleeping at night. It is known to prevent formation of excess mucus thus helping in running nose. In case of catarrh (cold and running nose) and cold in head inhaling fumes of burning turmeric powder is found to be very useful. This inhalation is taken before sleeping.
Benefits in Urinary disorders : Turmeric has been found useful in cases of Gonorrhoea too. In this condition the urine discharge is think, occurs in small quantities and is accompanied with pain. For this condition turmeric with amla / amalka / India gooseberry / Emblica officinalis is used. It helps in normal discharge of urine and reduces burning sensation during urination.
Turmeric has also been found useful in other urinary disorders – 1) urinary discharge with semen 2) urinary discharge is colored and foul smelling. In both these cases too turmeric along with amla is found to be helpful.
Turmeric Benefits to skin : Turmeric is known to be a great for various skin diseases. Use of turmeric renders the skin soft and silky. Turmeric acts as an astringent when applied over wounds and cuts, this helps in quick healing of the wounds. In case of deep injuries when blood clotting takes place, application of turmeric can help in restoring normal blood flow.
Ear disorders : Turmeric is also used in case of ear disorders such as discharge oozing out of the ear. In these cases finely powdered turmeric is added with alum and used.
Snake and insect bites : Turmeric have been used since ages for treating snake, scorpion and insect bites. In case of scorpion bite the stung part is exposed to the smoke of burning turmeric over coal for a few minutes.
Turmeric for piles : Turmeric is also beneficial in piles. When used an ointment prepared by mixing crushed hemp leaves, onion and warm mustard oil over piles it gives relief. It is particularly helpful in case of piles protruding outside.
Researchers are finding increasing evidence of turmeric health benefits in neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis as curcumin tends to slow down or block the disease from progressing rapidly.
Turmeric also shows promising results in studies on cystic fibrosis which is a condition in which viscous mucus develops within the lungs, causing an infection that can turn fatal.
How to Select and Store Turmeric
Turmeric is generally used as a powder that is obtained after drying the rhizomes. The color of the turmeric powder may differ depending on the particular variety but it may also be an indication of admixture with some artificial colorant. Therefore, it is preferable to buy turmeric from a trusted supplier of the material. The volatile oil and therefore the turmeric health benefits are lost if you expose the powder to heat and the atmosphere. Similarly, moisture can cause caking of the powder. Therefore, it is advisable to store it in a tightly closed container, away from heat, sunlight and moisture. Fresh rhizomes of turmeric should be stored in the refrigerator to keep them fresh for longer.
When not to use turmeric
Turmeric should not be used by pregnant women and persons who have a known hypersensitivity to it. Persons suffering from gallstones or other liver disorders such as acute bilious colic, hepatitis or jaundice should not use turmeric. People who are on medications such as blood thinners, antacids and oral anti-diabetic agents should speak to their physician before consuming turmeric because it may interfere with the actions of these drugs.
Common Turmeric Home Remedies
- Cough and cold: Roast turmeric and use 1-2 grams of it with honey syrup.
- Turmeric for Skin: Mix 10 gms of turmeric with 50-60 grams of Neem (Azadirachta indica) leaves and then apply using butter on the affected area. It will help in itching and also make skin soft
- Inflammation: It is well known in healing wounds, sprains, ulcers. Mix one table spoon in one glass of hot milk and drink before sleeping. It relieves pain and reduces swelling.
The health benefits of turmeric have been know to our ancestors but now even medical research is proving that using turmeric as a spice in daily cooking has protective and therapeutic actions against several health conditions. Therefore, it makes sense to make the most of these turmeric health benefits by using it as a medicinal agent as well as a flavoring agent to spice up your cooking.