Turmeric (Curcuma longa), also called yellow ginger, saffron root, is a plant species of the ginger family (Zingiberaceae). It originates from South Asia and is widely cultivated in the tropics.
Turmeric is a perennial with a strongly branched root stock. The rhizome – that stores nutrients – strongly resembles that of ginger, however, it is intensely yellow. The upper part of the plant grows reed-like, the leaves are light green and can be up to one metre long. They form a pseudostem directly above the ground, from which an inflorescence of about 20 cm long develops. The blossoms appear of white, yellow or pink colour. The herb of the perennial plant is not applicable as a spice. It is the rhizome that is important. For harvesting, parts of the dense rhizome network are dug up, because they are surrounded by a kind of thick cork layer. It must be removed by hot water. The remaining rhizomes are dried and ground into powder.
Turmeric is a sacred spice and a proven medicinal plant in India. Its use in Ayurvedic medicine is at least 3000 years old. Since the early Middle Ages, the bright orange coloured root tuber has also been common in North Africa and Europe. Turmeric is a main ingredient in curry powder. Traditionally, it is also used for dying textiles, leather or wood.
Indian wedding ritual: In India, the bride gets a full-body massage with a paste of chickpea flour and turmeric before the wedding. This acts like a peeling that makes the skin soft and luminous-bright, so that the bride meets her beloved most radiantly on this special day.
To improve the absorption of turmeric, the substance piperine is used, 5-8% of which is found in black pepper. This combination of piperine and turmeric increases the absorption of turmeric by 20 times. For this reason, every Indian curry contains not only turmeric but also pepper in significant quantities.
Recent studies show that piperine also boosts fat burning enormously and thus helps to lose weight.
Since turmeric is relatively inexpensive, it is often used by counterfeiters to stretch saffron.
On Youtube a film clip on turmeric against Alzheimer’s: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hZzokaJ4x50
Healing and active ingredients
The ingredients of turmeric consist essentially of about 5 % essential oil of sesquiterpenes (especially turmerone and zingiberene), which determine the taste, and of 3 to 6 % of the very intense, yellow to orange colouring agent curcumin, which is heat-stable but not lightfast. In addition, the rhizome contains 30 to 40 % starch and is used locally as food.
Turmeric is a tested and proven medicinal plant for diseases of the gall bladder and liver and for stimulating the secretion of gastric juices. Of particular interest is its strong antioxidant effect, which can protect against degenerative diseases and chronic inflammation.
Application and use
Turmeric is considered an important remedy in Indian medicine.
The active ingredient curcumin is being researched worldwide. This is shown by a research at the US National Library of Medicine. A search with the keyword “curcumin” results in over 5,000 references to scientific publications from all over the world. There is a long list of study results and field reports that show possible applications and effects of curcumin and almost regard turmeric as a panacea:
Turmeric against osteoporosis
Turmeric can be used in the treatment of osteoporosis. It inhibits the development of osteoclasts, cells that break down bone substance. Turmeric active ingredients can also partially replace oestrogen deficits in women after the menopause and thus prevent and or stop bone atrophy.
Turmeric against overweight
Turmeric is one of the most effective fat burners in nature. Basically, everything that tastes spicy supports fat melting. Some ingredients have fat-reducing properties, for example by stimulating cell metabolism and accelerating digestive processes or optimising the water supply of the cells. They also suppress the formation and growth of specific fat cells that are partly responsible for overweight and obesity.
Turmeric has a collagen-rejuvenating effect and thus stimulates the rebuilding of connective tissue. In beauty care, it should have a positive effect on skin and hair.
Turmeric against inflammation
Turmeric has an anti-inflammatory effect. This alone opens up a wide range of applications, as many complaints and diseases develop from an inflammation that is often initially unnoticed. Curcumin has been proven to inhibit the synthesis of prostaglandins (tissue hormones) that trigger inflammation and is therefore recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) against rheumatism. Turmeric also has an effect on arthritis.
Numerous studies have shown that curcumin is just as effective against inflammation in the body as many relevant remedies such as hydrocortisone, phenylbutazone (a remedy for rheumatic pain, but with such strong side effects that it is now rarely prescribed), Aspirin® and Ibuprofen® – however without their harmful side effects.
Turmeric against stroke and heart attack
Turmeric reduces free radicals and is thus a natural antioxidant. Therefore, it is also used, for example, in the treatment of (chronic) heart diseases.
Antioxidant turmeric also prevents the oxidation of cholesterol. And cholesterol only becomes really dangerous when it is oxidised, only then does it damage the blood vessels and promote the development of arteriosclerosis.
Turmeric also contains vitamin B6. This vitamin, together with vitamin B12 and folic acid, ensures that homocysteine level does not rise too high.
High homocysteine levels can lead to damage to the vascular walls and are considered significant risk factors in arteriosclerotic deposits and heart disease.
Turmeric against Alzheimer’s
Free curcumin, as it occurs in nature, passes unhindered through the blood-brain barrier that is normally almost impenetrable for foreign molecules. This makes natural curcuminoids excellent agents for the treatment of neurodegenerative (autoimmune) diseases of all kinds, such as multiple sclerosis or Alzheimer’s disease. Curcumin can help to prevent the premature degradation of myelin layers in the brain, i.e., to put it simply, the “white matter” of the brain, so that our brain remains efficient to old age. In fact, there are few Alzheimer’s diseases in India, where turmeric is enjoyed as a spice almost every day. In this context, it is also extremely important to boost oxygen. Already one hour after intake of turmeric, the oxygen levels in the blood are significantly better.
Turmeric inhibits tumour formation
On one hand, turmeric should be able to prevent tumour formation, i.e. to prevent cancer. On the other hand, a new study indicates that turmeric can also prevent the formation of metastases in existing cancer, namely breast cancer, so that the cancer does not spread to the lungs.
Turmeric acts as a switch for special transcription factors. These transcription factors regulate all genes that are required for tumour formation. Turmeric simply switches off the transcription factors concerned, and the growth and spread of the cancer cells are stopped.
Curcumin has another anti-cancer or cell-protective effect. According to American scientists, it strengthens the membranes of the body cells and thus increases their resistance to pathogens.
Turmeric for pulmonary fibrosis
Researchers report in the Journal of Experimental Medicine and Biology in 2007 that existing remedies are not effective in treating acute and chronic lung diseases. These diseases are caused by occupational and environmental exposures such as mineral dust, air pollution, cigarette smoke, chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
Several studies tested curcumin in pulmonary fibrosis. Curcumin was found to alleviate (in animals) those lung lesions and pulmonary fibrosis caused by radiation, chemotherapeutic agents and toxins.
Turmeric in respiratory diseases
Various studies also suggest that curcumin generally has a protective function for many other respiratory diseases, for example in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), in acute shortness of breath syndrome (ARDS), of acute inflammatory lung illness (ALI) and allergic asthma.
The mechanism of action can probably be explained again with the strongly anti-inflammatory and antioxidant potential of curcumin.
Turmeric against intestinal diseases
Turmeric stimulates the production of gastric juice and bile and thus has a positive effect on gastrointestinal problems caused by disturbed fat digestion.
A study was presented in Molecular Nutritional and Food Research according to which intestinal inflammations could be completely prevented.
The researchers involved confirmed that curcumin exerts this protective effect due to its antioxidant effect. In addition, curcumin is able to suppress the activation of a cellular regulator molecule (NFkappaB). Active NFkappaB is considered critical for the development of inflammation.
Turmeric is also a medicinal plant that has a particularly positive effect on liver health. It protects the liver, promotes its regeneration and supports the healing process of diseases.
Turmeric detoxifies mercury
A study from 2010 showed that turmeric can be taken during the discharge of mercury to support detoxification.
Of course, on the one hand, curcumin reduces the oxidative stress that mercury can cause in the body. However, on the other hand – according to the study results published in the Journal of Applied Toxicology – curcumin led to a reduced mercury concentration in the tissue and additionally to improved liver and kidney values.
Use of turmeric
Turmeric is available almost everywhere as a ground spice. To make sure that turmeric has not been irradiated, you should only use turmeric in organic quality.
It is true that curry also contains a proportion of turmeric. But pure turmeric naturally contains more curcumin than curry. Therefore it is better to use pure turmeric. Or add a little extra pure turmeric to dishes seasoned with curry.
Turmeric goes particularly well in rice, potatoes and vegetable dishes.
Turmeric can also be stirred into hot water and drunk as turmeric tea (1 tsp).
Curcumin is already effective in small doses, as you normally give it to eat. But even in very high doses, there are no side effects after taking turmeric.
The bioavailability and thus the effect of curcumin can be increased many times over when taken together with piperine, the active ingredient from black pepper.
Curcumin – combined with piperine – is also available in capsules, which not only simplifies the intake but also helps to absorb sufficient amounts of curcumin daily in the same dose.