Historically, spices are treasured for the unique flavors they bring to food and for their healing properties and most of them provide many health benefits, but one spice that shines for its medicinal benefits is turmeric.
You may have seen turmeric in the news as a potential treatment for diseases as diverse as arthritis, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, psoriasis, and Alzheimer’s, but does this spice live up to its press, and can you get the benefits of turmeric from food alone or should you take a turmeric supplement?
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN TURMERIC AND CURCUMIN?
Turmeric is a spice that comes from the root of Curcuma longa, a beautiful flowering tropical plant native to India. It was used for healing, thousands of years going back to Ayurveda, India’s 5,000-year-old natural healing system.
Cooking residue found on pottery shards shows that people in parts of Asia cooked with turmeric 4,500 years ago.
This versatile spice was used traditionally to improve digestion, dissolve gallstones, relieve arthritis, and alleviate symptoms of allergies and colds and it was applied externally for wounds and skin conditions.
Turmeric paste is still applied to the skin of both the bride and groom in a ceremony before marriage in some parts of India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan to beautify skin and as a form of good luck.
THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN TURMERIC AND CURCUMIN
Turmeric contains hundreds of compounds, each with its own unique properties. But, of all the compounds in turmeric, curcumin is by far the most promising and is the most widely studied. It is not unique to turmeric, it is also found in ginger, another spice with a long history of medicinal use.
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health says this about turmeric studies: “There is little reliable evidence to support the use of turmeric for any health condition because few clinical trials have been conducted.”
WHY WOULD THIS BE?
It’s easier to study a compound like curcumin which can be isolated and standardized and acts more drug-like than spice-like. But the overriding reason may be that there is little monetary incentive to research a spice that’s already found in millions of kitchens worldwide unless it can be transformed into a substance that can be patented.
Proven health benefits of curcumin include alleviating allergies, breaking up the brain plaques of Alzheimer’s, easing the pain of arthritis, treating depression, controlling diabetes, and decreasing risk of heart attack.