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Turmeric (Curcuma longa)

By Denise Elliot

Turmeric is a flowering tropical, perennial herb that belongs to the Zingiberaceae or ginger family. It is believed to be indigenous to India, where it is used both as a spice and a dye. It is also cultivated in China, Indonesia and other tropical countries.

Turmeric β€œthe golden spice of life” is one of the most essential spices used as an important ingredient in culinary pursuits all around the world. However, it also has a long history as a medicinal plant. It has been used in both Ayurveda (a form of medical practice native to the Indian subcontinent) and traditional Chinese medicine for centuries.

The active ingredient of Turmeric and the constituent predominantly studied is called curcumin. This yellow pigment of the turmeric plant is becoming accepted in many parts of the western world as an anti-inflammatory agent. It may also be particularly useful for digestive disorders, to promote liver health and to treat skin diseases.

Curcumin has liver protection activity similar to that of Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum). It is an active choleretic, (something that increases bile flow from the liver). It may help a sluggish bowel, as bile is important for bowel movements. It may also support gall bladder function which can ease flatulence and the poor digestion involved with intestinal spasms.

Curcumin shows significant anti-oxidant action, which may in part explain the possible anti-cancer and heart protection benefits of this spice.

In a double blind cross-over trial in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, curcumin (1200mg/day) was compared with a pharmaceutical anti-inflammatory. The morning stiffness reduction, improved walking time and less joint swelling were comparable in both groups. However, the pharmaceutical treatment came with significant adverse effects, while the curcumin produced no side effects.

At standard dosage levels the product is generally regarded as safe. At excessively high doses, curcumin may damage the gastrointestinal system. Human studies suggest that curcumin is not toxic to humans up to 8,000mg per day, however this high dose is not needed. To provide positive effects, around the 2000mg daily dose has shown positive results for many people.

Interestingly, curcumin has been shown to be just as effective as cortisone in acute inflammation, but only half as effective in chronic inflammation.

Curcumin may influence the adrenal glands which release our own natural corticosteroids, resulting in stimulation of our own internal anti-inflammatory pathways.

As part of a natural health regime for treating inflammation, it is one of the first to consider. The merits for quality of life are immeasurable, definitely a highly recommended choice.