Turmeric – Curcumin an Anti-Inflammatory Superfood

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Turmeric a History

Turmeric or Curcuma longa Linn, the golden yellow spice that was once compared to saffron by Marco Polo was first used by the Vedic culture in India over 4000 years ago. Turmeric is native to the India and Southeastern areas of Asia, however today wild turmeric or Curcuma aromatica Linn is no longer present in the wild. This perennial plant is widely cultivated in the tropics, however India still produces the greatest amount. 60% of agricultural land devoted to the harvesting of spices is taken up by turmeric, 80% is consumed domestically and the rest India exports.

It is in India where it was first used as a dye for textiles. Its earliest noted use as a medicinal plant in Ayurvedic treatment was in 250 BC, where it was used to cure ailments that resulted from poisoning. It would eventually becoming a very important medicinal herb in both the Ancient Greek Unani and Indian Siddha medicinal practices. Turmerics voyage out of India began around 300 BC when Alexander the Great entered diplomatic relations with several Indian states. From there it moved into Greece and further along the Spice Route eventually making  its way into China in 700 AD. Turmeric enter Eastern Africa in 800 AD, the west of Africa in 1200 AD and it sailed across the ocean to land in Jamaica in the 18th century.

Turmeric influenced each society it arrived in differently. Its principle medicinal properties may have in one way or another been translated and passed on to its new users, however its culinary influence is distinct in each case.  Traditionally in India it was used at a cure-all for coughs, colds, sore throat, asthma, peptic ulcers and dyspepsia. They used it to rid the body of worms and as a topical paste to apply to the skin to reduce inflammation and aid in the healing of measles, chicken pox and smallpox. In the Greek Unani medicinal practice it was used as a blood purifier, aid for the cardiovascular system as well as a cleanser for the liver. Siddha used turmeric for its antioxidant benefits, boosting the immune system and revitalizing the body.

Classification and Cultivation

Turmeric is a rhizomatous herb, meaning it has a progressively growing horizontal underground stem which lays out oblique shoots and  roots, and is a part of the Zingiberaceae family of plants (with ginger being a relation). It possesses a long stock that grows between 1-2 meters tall with pointed oblong leaves and flowers that range in colour from yellow to white to pink.  Although the plant is a perennial it is grown on rotation with chilli, onion, garlic, sugar cane, garlic and yam, so as to allow the soil to replenish with nutrients. Soils are often have a high sand content; though any well fertilized and nutrient rich soil would do well for the herb.

Turmeric is a herbaceous tropical plant, cultivated at a temperature of between 20-30 degrees Celsius and needing a great deal of water and irrigation. Although it grows very well in the shade, turmeric grows best and more bountifully in a field exposed to high amounts of sun.The yellow herb is harvested between the months of January-March/April, with early varieties of the herb maturing within 7-8 months, which other varieties take a few months longer and mature within 8-9 months. When its leaves begin to change from green to yellow and the plant as a whole begins to wither it is essentially time to dig the root out of the ground and begin the process of curing the golden little fingerling spice.

Curing a Golden Little Fingerling

Is a process by which food is preserved as well as its flavour. Curing turmeric involves boiling and sun drying the herbs rhizomes. Turmeric is boiled to ensure the following;

  • diminishing the growth of the fresh rhizome
  • hinder the bad odor
  • cut down on the initial drying time
  • gelatinize the starch within the turmeric to make it firmer
  • to allow it’s golden yellow colour to spread through the root more evenly

Turmeric is boiled for between 45 minutes to an hour in either a copper, iron or earthenware vat with enough water to ensure that all the rhizomes are submerged slightly. The drying process takes between 10 to 15 days and involves the turmeric fingers to dry in the sun on bamboo mats. After the sun drying they are essentially ready to either be sold as a whole or ground into a powder.

Nutritional Constituents

Turmeric is rich in minerals and incredibly potent in plant secondary compounds. Nutritionally speaking it is a complex herb/spice, on average containing;

  • protein 6.3%
  • fatty acids 5.1%
  • minerals 3.5 %
  • carbohydrates 69.4%
  • moisture/water content 13.1%
  • essential oils 5.8

Turmeric contains traces of various vitamins and minerals, however it is richest in its sources of manganese, iron, vitamin B6, copper, fiber and potassium. Though the amounts may seem minimal one does not need to take a great deal of turmeric or curcumin to receive the benefits from this golden root.

Turmeric’s secondary plant compounds are very prevalent in its essential oils. It contains approximately 2-5% curcuminoids, though there are some varieties of turmeric that can contain upwards of 9%, as well as a mixture of a-phellandrene at 1%, cineol at 1%, zingiberene at about 25%, sabinene at 0.6%  and sesquiterpenes at 53%. These oils provide turmeric and its derivative curcumin their beneficial health properties, making the herb a potent antioxidant, immune booster and inflammation reducer amongst other things.

Turmerics Health Benefits

Curcmin

Is the principal curcuminoid within turmeric, providing it with its golden yellow colour as well as numerous health benefits. It was first isolated in 1815, from which point studying its individual benefits on the human body began. It has been shown to be advantageous to wounds both aseptic and septic as well as being beneficial for the protection of cancers of the stomach and mouth. It is high in anti-inflammatory activity, aiding in reducing joint pain, eliminating intestinal gas (and preventing its formation) as well as aiding in nerve disfunction and inflammation. Curcumin promotes the increase of bile secretion from the liver as well as increases the activity of the pancreas and the enzymes it produces.

Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s is a progressive neurodegenerative disease which is defined, amongst other things, by cognitive decline, depreciation of daily life and changes in behavioural patterns. Approximately 6% of women and 5% of men over the age of 60 are affected by it worldwide. Over 1000 scientific studies have been conducted on the effects of curcumin – the active component in turmeric – on Alzheimer’s. The benefits curcumin has shown in reducing the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and preventing it all together include;

  • Increasing the ability of macrophages to eliminate/uptake plaque – boosting the immune system
  • Curcumin has a lipophilic characteristic that allows it to move through all cell membranes delivering benefits within the cells and possess anti-proliferative actions on microglia. A small amount of curcumin affects neuroglial proliferation and differentiation.
  • Aids in reducing inflammation of nerve cells, which is the chronic issue of Alzheimer’s
  • Aids in the elimination and formation of free radicals in the body
  • Eases symptoms of Alzheimer’s that are attributed to oxidation and inflammation
  • Protects brain mitochondria from oxidative damage
  • Aids in the removal of heavy metals (cadmium and lead) from the body and aids in detoxification. This reduces the toxic load for Alzheimer’s patients and aids in the reduction of their symptoms.
  • Aids in balancing cholesterol levels

All across the board curcumin and turmeric alike have shown to be very beneficial for patients with Alzheimer’s disease, even with the spice/herb is take in small doses, as a food source such as in curry or in larger doses as in the form of the more potent curcumin.

Oral Health

Turmeric and curcumin respectively have been used in the treatment of oral pain and inflammation for centuries through Ayurvedic medicine. As some dentists has taken a turn in the past decade to a more holistic approach to use and study of turmeric and curcumin’s effect on oral health more scientific research has emerged detailing the benefits on this golden powder on the health of gums and health.

  • Topically applied to gums to reduce inflammation and swelling
  • Pain is relieved by rinsing the mouth with turmeric powder
  • Turmeric powder has shown to strengthen gums and aid in the elimination of gingivitis and periodontitis
  • Aid in the prevention and removal of plaque from teeth
  • A natural antiseptic and antibacterial agent

There is no toxicity with the use of turmeric (however it may have interactions with certain medications, such as blood thinners so speak with your family health physician before supplementing with turmeric or curcumin) so its benefits cannot be overlooked. Oral health, after all is the first step to overall wellness and well being within and outside of the body.

Anti-Cancerous /Anti-Tumoral

The antioxidant power of turmeric is incredibly powerful.  Its ability to fight off free radical damage, reduce oxidative stress and bring down inflammation make it a potent aid in the fight against and prevention of Cancer.

  • Because it aid in reducing inflammation and pain curcumin and turmeric alike work somewhat similarly to a corticosteroid, however instead of preventing white blood cells from coming to the affected area they allow they to come and aid in their battle against unwanted cells – such as tumors
  • Has been shown to prevent breast cancer cells from spreading to the lungs
  • Aids in the prevention of childhood leukemia
  • Curcumin has been shown to be potentially effective against the prevention of multiple myeloma which has been shown to stop the growth of new blood vessels in tumors The herb’s ability to eliminate heavy metals from the body and support detoxification aids in the reduction of the body’s toxic load – a cleaner body, with more oxygen available and higher antioxidant count allow for a heightened defence and greater prevention of cancer as well as aid in its elimination.

Even if one is partaking in chemotherapy it is beneficial to add turmeric or curcumin to your post surgery, surgery and recovery journey. The slightest bit of help to the body will make a world of difference, so throw this delightful golden yellow herb into your daily regiment and start reaping the benefits.

References

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