Turmeric, The Spice Of Life

More than just a spice in your cupboard, turmeric has powerful medicinal properties

By Dr. Robyn Land

Turmeric has anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, anti-oxidant and anti-neoplastic (cancer-fighting) properties, making it a powerful medicine for many conditions.

That bright yellow spice you have in your cupboard does a lot more than flavour your food. For centuries and around the world, it’s been used for cooking, as a cosmetic, in dying material, but most importantly, in medicinal remedies.

Turmeric (Curcuma longa) has anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, anti-oxidant and anti-neoplastic (cancer-fighting) properties, making it a powerful medicine for many conditions.

In Ayurvedic medicine, whose principle is to find health through balance, Turmeric is regularly used. As a member of the ginger root family, it boosts digestion and relieves inflammation—both internally and externally.

While the root has over 100 different components to it, the primary medicinal property is the curcuminoids, often just called curcumin.  Western medicine is catching on to the medicinal properties of curcumin and in the last 30 years it has been widely studied in over 3000 research publications.

The results of the research shows turmeric may be helpful in:

  • lowering lipid levels in people with Type II Diabetes
  • protecting the heart by lowering a protein called CRP that brings in train cardiovascular risk when elevated
  • decreasing inflammation in patients undergoing chemotherapy
  • supporting mood disorders
  • alleviating the pain of osteoarthritis by decreasing inflammatory responses.

Not all Turmeric is Equal
Curcumin is a hydrophobic compound, meaning it repels water molecules, which makes it a challenging substance for the body to absorb. This means that when you eat turmeric as a spice, your body will absorb only a minimal amount of the curcuminoids, so you would have to eat a lot of turmeric to get a therapeutic benefit. For example, eating 2.5 g (1/2 teaspoon) of curcumin per day would be an intake of approximately 100 mg of curcuminoids.

Compare this with a capsule of curcumin, which may have 130 mg or more of active substance in it.  High quality supplements are also more bioavailable — meaning that you absorb more of the supplement and over a longer period of time. This is commonly done by grinding the turmeric into extremely small particles and emulsifying them with an oil so that they are absorbed more slowly into the blood. This longer-lasting absorption is extremely important as research of several therapeutic curcumin supplements shows this process allows for the anti-inflammatory benefits to last in the body between 12-24 hours.

Several studies have shown curcumin supplements to be as effective as common NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatories) in reducing pain and inflammation in osteoarthritis, but without the side effects and risks that these pharmaceuticals carry. Clinically, I have worked with several arthritic patients for whom we have swapped prescription strength pain medication for 1 capsule of good quality curcumin a day…and their digestive system underwent a notable improvement.

Perhaps it’s time to add a little spice to life and incorporate turmeric into your daily diet to help optimize your health. For those who are looking to support or address a health concern, it is best to consult a healthcare practitioner who can guide you to a good quality curcumin supplement and the appropriate dosage. In the meantime, you might try sipping this delicious turmeric latte. It makes for a lovely after-dinner drink (perhaps to replace dessert?). It is a cozy cuppa to cuddle up with as we head into the fall.

Turmeric Latte (caffeine-free)

  • 1 tsp coconut oil
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp black pepper
  • 1 cup water
  • cup full fat coconut milk (canned) or dairy-alternative
  • 1 tsp honey

In a saucepan, combine coconut oil and spices until coconut oil is melted. Add water and bring to a simmer. Add coconut milk and bring to a simmer once again. Remove from heat. Serve like this or pour it into a blender (not an airtight one like a magic bullet… it will explode!), and blend for 20-30 seconds or until frothy before serving.

Publisher’s Note: Dr. Robyn Land is a Naturopathic Physician and owner of Local Health Integrative Clinic in Vancouver, BC. She is also an adjunct faculty member at the Boucher Institute of Naturopathic Medicine and the Program Director for ProHealth Yoga & Retreats .