Turmeric comes from the root of the Curcuma longa plant, native to tropical South Asia with tough brown skin and deep orange flesh. Turmeric is a key ingredient for many Indian dishes, but has also long been used as a powerful anti-inflammatory in both Chinese and Indian medicine.
The active agent in the spice is a plant chemical, or polyphenol, called curcumin. Curcumin gives turmeric its hallmark yellow colouring, and also gives turmeric its numerous health benefits. Here, we give you our top 5 reasons why curcumin should be included in your diet, and how best to go about doing so.
Top 5 health benefits of Curcumin
Curcumin is thought to be a strong antioxidant. Antioxidants are substances that may protect cells from the damage caused by unstable molecules by free radicals. Free radical damage can lead to cancer, aging and a variety of nasty diseases. Antioxidants like curcumin are believed to stabilise free radicals, preventing cellular damage.
Laboratory and animal research suggests that curcumin may prevent cancer, slow the growth of the disease and make chemotherapy more effective. Clinical trials are currently taking place to investigate curcumin as a way to prevent cancer developing in people with precancerous conditions, as well as a remedy for the side effects of chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
3) Respiratory system
Studies have shown that curcumin helps decrease the inflammation of the airway that is associated with asthma.
Curcumin is known for its potent anti-inflammatory properties. Curcumin's anti-inflammatory effects help to reduce irritation to tissues characterised by pain, redness, swelling and heat, which is particularly helpful for osteoarthritis patients.
Curcumin's ability to stabilise cell membranes increases the cell's resistance to infection. Curcumin might help the regulation of several autoimmune disorders including Alzheimer's disease, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, asthma, allergy, inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and scleroderma.
Ways to include Curcumin in your daily diet
Dried turmeric has a much higher content of curcumin than curry powder. Whilst dried turmeric is widely available, it is best to buy it from ethnic markets or spice stores to ensure that it has not been chemically treated. If you are able to find turmeric rhizomes in the grocery store, you can make your own fresh turmeric powder by boiling, drying and then grinding it into a fine consistency.
In addition, there are some great recipes online that use turmeric as a key ingredient. It's not just curries that benefit from the powder- it can be used in a variety of snacks, starters, mains and even desserts. If cooking isn't your thing, incorporate turmeric into your diet by mixing it into rice, sprinkling it onto your curries or add a spoonful to cottage cheese.
You could also add some black pepper to your curry to increase the benefits of curcumin. The medicinal properties of curcumin cannot be fully used due to its limited bioavailability in the body. But adding black pepper to turmeric enhances curcumin's bioavailability by 1,000 times, due to black pepper's hot property called piperine.
Curcumin supplements can be an easy way to add the chemical to your daily routine. However, curcumin supplements may be heavily contaminated - with everything from pesticides to other spices - so you must choose a reliable supplier. But before you start taking supplements speak to your doctor, because curcumin supplements can interfere with other medicines and may not be covered by your health insurance.
Chloe writes articles on health for a health insurance comparison website.