Gloriously golden, aromatic and sensual, turmeric is is famed over the world for its incredible health properties. So, if you’ve decided to add this fabulous spice into your regular health routine, what’s the best way to take turmeric? We look at the options available and weigh up the pros and cons.April 27, 2022 4:41 pm June 03, 2021 5:07 pm
What is turmeric?
If you are a regular cook or enjoy Indian food, you probably have a little jar of turmeric sitting in your spice cupboard. Instantly recognisable thanks to its bright, golden-yellow colour, turmeric has an aromatic taste and fragrance.
In cooking, turmeric is used in curries and spiced dishes to add flavour and colour. It’s also often used as a dye (and anyone who has ever spilt a sauce containing turmeric will know just how effective a dye it is!).
The powdered spice we often use in cooking is made from the root (or, more accurately, the rhizome) of the turmeric plant. Turmeric is a member of the same family as ginger, which explains why they look rather similar.
It’s actually a rather lovely flowering plant, although the flowers inevitably get less attention than the famous roots.
Although it has been used for generations in Ayurvedic medicine, the Western world has only recently become interested in turmeric as a health food.
Turmeric is an adaptogen, which means it has a modulatory effect on the body. For instance, if you are feeling stressed, it can help relax you, but if you’re feeling sluggish it can help energise you.
Alongside its adaptogenic properties, the main reason why turmeric has attracted attention as a health food is down to one bioactive compound, called curcumin. It’s a polyphenol, and scientists have spent a lot of time studying its potential health effects.
Curcumin is thought to be an antioxidant. More impressively, it shares a characteristic with one of the moist powerful antioxidants around: vitamin E. Both vitamin E and curcumin are ‘chain-breaking antioxidants’.(1)
This means that they can disrupt the chain reaction which causes free radical damage to spread. (You can find more detailed information on the antioxidant chain reaction in our article all about antioxidants.)
But perhaps the most well-known benefit of curcumin is its anti-inflammatory properties.
We’re going to hit you with some complicated-sounding chemical names now, but bear with us as it’ll help explain how curcumin works!
In many diseases, inflammation is regulated by a substance called Tumor Necrosis Factor α (TNF-α). This in turn is controlled by a transcription factor, NF-κB (a transcription factor is like a switch which turns certain genes on and off).
If you can stop NF-κB’s from switching on inflammation-causing TNF-α, then you are able to dampen down the body’s inflammatory response. And this is precisely what curcumin does.(1)
Scientists have noted that inflammation is present in many diseases, from obesity to depression, but they do not yet fully understand the role inflammation plays.
To find out more, you can also check out our article on turmeric’s impressive health benefits.