It might be no surprise to you that Indians account for 1/6th of the world’s population or that Indians have the highest spice consumption in the world. Turmeric is one of the marvelous medicinal spices so widely used in India since the ancient times (4000 years ago) and has even been mentioned in early Sanskrit writings. It has been commonly used in Unani, Ayurvedic, and even Chinese medicine as an anti-inflammatory to treat digestive and liver problems, skin diseases, and wounds.
Turmeric comes from the root of the Curcuma longa plant, with the root of the plant processed to form turmeric containing approximately 5% curcumin. It is the curcumin that has been the subject of interest and research in the West over the last few decades with respect to it’s medicinal properties.
Benefits of Turmeric:
Here are 3 reasons why you should consider using turmeric in your cooking.
1) A Digestive Aid: Maintaining a strong and healthy digestive system is a requirement for optimal well-being and vitality. It is estimated that the most prevalent health concerns people experience today are digestive related. In Ayurveda, it is said that 80% of all disease can be attributed to digestive imbalance. Curcumin has intestinal repair properties and helps stimulates the gallbladder to produce bile which can improve digestion. A double-blind study found that patients who took curcumin for ulcerative colitis along with medical treatment, had a lower rate of relapse than those who received medical treatment alone.
2) An Antioxidant: Curcumin is a powerful antioxidant capable of eliminating free radicals and helping to prevent some of the damage they cause. Curcumin has been found to inhibit benzopyrene, the carcinogen found in charcoal broiled meat from inducing cancer in several animal models. Research suggests that curcumin exerts anti-carcinogenic activity by lowering the activation of carcinogens and increasing the detoxification of the carcinogens activated. Similarly, a study done on 16 chronic smokers who were given 1.5g of turmeric a day for a 30 day trial showed a reduction in mutagens excreted in their urine.
3) Cancer Preventive and Healing: What has especially caught my attention in the latest research and evidence from test tube and animal studies is that curcumin may help prevent or treat several types of cancers, including breast, skin, and colon cancer Interestingly, when we look at the overall cancer rates in India they are considerably lower in comparison to the USA. Studies on females in the US show that women get 9x more melanoma skin cancer, 10x more colorectal cancer, 5x more breast cancer, 8x more bladder cancer and 9x more endometrial cancer than women in India (based on the incidence of cancer per 100,000 population).
Although population studies can’t prove a direct correlation of dietary turmeric and decreased cancer risk it is interesting to note that approximately 40% of Indians are vegetarians, and generally non-vegetarians in India consume a relatively lower meat consumption than Americans. Indians consume a mostly plant based diet and high intake of spices with anti-cancer properties, Furthermore, research has found that piperine in pepper, which is commonly paired with turmeric in most Indian dishes increases the bioavailability of curcumin. The absorption of turmeric is further increased when eaten with fats.All 3 of these ingredients are the signature of a typical Indian dish and have a potent synergistic effect.
While more research is underway to better scientifically prove the correlation of turmeric consumption and cancer prevention/healing, I’d say we all should be consuming more of this ancient, medicinal and exotic golden spice. And Here is a recipe to get you started.