I’m going to go ahead and say what you all were thinking: Turmeric is an under-appreciated, much-maligned spice in the United States. (You were all just thinking that, yes?) Turmeric, or haldi in Hindi, is probably best known for its inclusion in curry powder (side rant: “curry powder” as we know it has as little to do with Indian cuisine as Martian rocks. Curry powder does not a curry make).
Turmeric is what gives that powder its yellow color, as pure turmeric is a rich, deep, all-staining, saturated yellow-orange. If you see actual turmeric root in a grocery store or farmer’s market, you might not even realize what it is. Looking like a cross between ginger root and a caterpillar (right?), this spice is probably one of the best things you can consume to achieve and maintain optimal health.
Turmeric has a very potent compound in it called “curcumin” (nothing to do with the spice cumin, mind you). One of the ways I used it most in my acupuncture practice (and in my personal life) is as an anti-inflammatory. When we think of inflammation, often we think of just aches and pains. However, chronic inflammation underlies almost all of our chronic, degenerative diseases, from arthritis (“-“itis” simply means “inflammation) and inflammatory bowel disorders (like IBS & Crohn’s) to asthma (inflamed air passages) and eczema (inflammation in the skin). Turmeric can also be helpful with skin irritation topically; in fact, Johnson & Johnson markets a band-aid with turmeric in it in India! Not only is it a powerful anti-inflammatory, but it is a big boost for the liver.
The liver has over 500 jobs in the human body; the one we hear about most is its role as our “filter.” Everything we ingest has to be “sampled” by the liver, either to be tossed out or used. Turmeric boosts this filtering mechanism of the liver, leaving it more time to accomplish its 499 other important tasks.
Even more exciting is research being done in the West now about turmeric in its relation to dementia and Alzheimer’s. Curcumin has been found to decrease the amyloid plaques in the brain that are consistent with Alzheimer’s.
By now I hope you’re asking yourself, “Where can I score some of this magical root?” In fact, you may even have a jar of powdered turmeric in your pantry right now. Although I traditionally like to use food as medicine first, this is one situation where you’re better off with a good supplement. In the fresh root or powder form, curcumin in concentrated at about 1-6% of the whole. In comparison, supplements are typically standardized at 95% curcumin by weight—big difference. I have had patients protest in the past, insisting they’ll just add turmeric to their smoothies (have we mentioned how potent the taste is?) That lasts about one day before they come back and buy the pills.
There is an axiom in Chinese Medicine that the milder the taste in food and herbs, the milder the action; the stronger the taste, the more potent the action. If you’ve had turmeric in any dishes recently, you can vouch for its strong taste; if a quarter-teaspoon can pack such a wallop, imagine what therapeutic doses will do! In addition, some turmeric supplements add a black pepper extract (patented under the name “BioPerine”) that increases the bioavailability of turmeric immensely. It is well worth your money to seek out one of these brands; my favorites include Vitality Works, Gaia Herbs, and Planetary Herbals, based on their price, quality, and ethics of the company. It’s a win-win-win; joint health, brain health, liver health, general anti-inflammatory properties, all in a ginger-meets-caterpillar shape.
It is well worth your money to seek out one of these brands; my favorites include Gaia Herbs and Planetary Herbals, based on their price, quality, and ethics of the company. It’s a win-win-win; joint health, brain health, liver health, general anti-inflammatory properties, all in a ginger-meets-caterpillar shape.The information contained on this website is general in nature and should not be a substitute for, or be used instead of, a clinical or therapeutic relationship with a health care professional who is fully familiar with the specifics of your case. The information on this website may assist you in your personal, general research, but none of it constitutes the practice of medicine or any other healthcare profession.