Nutrition

Health Benefits of Turmeric

Read on to understand the importance of turmeric in our day to day lives.

Turmeric or Haldi is a very common item seen in Indian households. It is used in the preparation of most Indian food items and also applied during a majority of auspicious functions in India. Haldi ceremony is an imperative part of Indian marriages. Married Indian women even apply it on their foreheads. From its use as a spice in the kitchen to its importance in Indian traditions, turmeric has a wide spectrum of applications. For many years now, the health benefits of turmeric are being studied and highlighted. Let us find out more about how turmeric is used and what advantages can be reaped by using turmeric in our day-to-day life.

What is Turmeric?

Health Benefits of turmeric

Curcuma longa or Turmeric is one of the cheapest ancient spices. It is a native of South East Asia and is mainly cultivated in Bengal, China, Taiwan, Sri Lanka, Java, Peru, Australia, and the West Indies. India is a leading producer and exporter of turmeric in the world (1). Turmeric derives its name from the Latin “terra merita” or “meritorious earth” referring to the color of ground turmeric which resembles a mineral pigment (2).  The turmeric plant is a flowering herbaceous plant that belongs to the ginger family. The rhizome or the stem of this plant is its most commonly used part. The main active components of the rhizome are the nonvolatile curcuminoids and the volatile essential curcumin oil (3) .

As stated earlier, turmeric has a variety of uses. Let us have a look at the most common uses of turmeric.

Culinary use

Turmeric has a warm, bitter taste with an earthy aroma. It is used as a traditional spice in many Indian and Asian cuisine. From savory dishes to sweets and desserts, turmeric has made its way in the majority of these recipes. Turmeric leaves are also used to steam special sweet dishes in India. Usually, turmeric is used in a dry powder form to impart a golden yellow color.

Apart from this, it is also used fresh, like ginger to make pickles in the form of fresh soft chunks. The turmeric milk drink known as haldi doodh is a traditional Indian recipe. Turmeric is also used as a food additive to protect food products from sunlight.

Dyes

Curcumin component imparts the classic golden yellow color to turmeric. Although it is a poor fabric dye and not lightfast, it is commonly used to dye Indian clothing like saris and Buddhists monk’s robes that are usually made of cotton fabric.

As an indicator

Turmeric paper, also called Curcuma paper, is used in chemical analysis. The paper is yellow in acidic solution and turns brown to reddish-brown in alkaline solutions.

Traditional uses

The traditional uses of turmeric include its use in herbal teas and during weddings in certain Indian communities where turmeric tubers are tied with strings by the couple to their wrists. Apart from its religious and cultural uses turmeric has also been an inseparable part of the Indian ayurvedic system and even the Chinese medicine system.

Pesticides

Apart from the above mentioned uses research efforts and data from the international literature have shown a satisfactory potential of turmeric as a natural pesticide for possible use in crop protection. Turmeric thus can become a cheap and more environmentally friendly alternative to chemical pesticides. (4)

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Benefits of Turmeric – Facts or Myths?

Benefits of turmeric

The health benefits of turmeric mainly revolve around curcumin which is the active chemical compound produced by the turmeric plant. Following are the hypothesized benefits of turmeric. Why hypothesized, you ask? Read further and you will find the answer to this question.

  • Anti-inflammatory Benefits 

Turmeric is said to have numerous benefits from being an anti-inflammatory to having anti-cancer properties and helping in depression. Turmeric is also said to help in treating osteoarthritis. These and such claims are not backed by conclusive scientific evidence. Numerous clinical trials have been conducted to study the health benefits and anti-disease effects of turmeric but no high-quality evidence is seen (5,6). 

As of 2020, no scientific evidence exists which shows that curcumin reduces inflammation (5,6). 

There is weak evidence that turmeric extracts may be beneficial for relieving symptoms of knee osteoarthritis (7). 

Studies have also shown that turmeric or curcumin did not decrease several inflammatory markers in patients with chronic inflammatory diseases (5).

  • Dermatological Benefits

It is claimed that turmeric/curcumin products and supplements, both oral and topical, may provide therapeutic benefits for skin health. In the case of smallpox and chickenpox, turmeric is applied as a powder or as a paste to facilitate the process of scabbing. It is also believed that topical application of turmeric cures acne. 

Turmeric and the conventionally formulated curcumin products are probably safe when they are consumed orally or applied to the skin in the recommended amounts. However, currently published studies are limited and further studies will be essential to better evaluate the efficacy and the mechanisms involved (2).

  • Antithrombotic and Cardiovascular Protective Benefits

Even though curcumin stands out as having numerous positive effects when it comes to platelet aggregation, anticoagulation, and fibrinolysis, and can be considered as adjunctive therapy to currently-marketed anticoagulant and antiplatelet agents, it is recommended that clinical trials should be conducted to fully evaluate the untapped potential of curcumin in the clotting process to better treat patients suffering from cardiovascular disease (8).

  • Antioxidant Activities

According to previous studies, turmeric is a good source of natural flavonoids, which are theoretically hypothesized to have antioxidant activity, free radical-scavenging capacity, coronary heart disease preventive activities, and anticancer activities but due to inadequate clinical trials, further high-quality studies are needed to firmly establish the clinical efficacy of these claims (9). 

  • Anti-diabetic Properties

Based on current, preliminary evidence from human trials, curcuminoid extracts and other novel formulations may have the potential to help manage symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. Yet, due to inconsistent findings from trials that differ substantially in quality, and due to incomplete understanding of curcuminoids’ effective doses, duration, their safety, and their interactions with comedications, it is premature to recommend their supplemental use to improve health in a clinical setting or in the general population. Future larger, longer, high-quality RCTs are needed to better characterize any potential health benefits of this spice’s bioactive constituents (10).

  • Antibacterial and Antifungal Properties

All previous investigations have shown the extensive antimicrobial activity of turmeric. Although in vivo studies, some cases reported less effective results. Among all former, the most promising result is against gastritis causing bacteria. Regarding the studies on antifungal activities of Curcumin, the most significant effect was found against Candida species. In spite of these various biological activities, no real clinical uses of turmeric or Curcumin have been reported and still, clinical trials are undergoing for different ailments and diseases (11).

How to use Turmeric?

Even though the health benefits of turmeric are ambiguous, we cannot deny the fact that this spice does fill our food with its bright yellow color and its delicious aroma. There are a number of ways in which you can include turmeric in your daily diet.

  • As a spice

Turmeric is used in a majority of spice blends and is the main ingredient in most curry powders. You can use it in the form of these spice blends for the preparation of your vegetables or as a stand-alone spice to add color and an earthy taste to your food.

  • In pickles 

It comes across as a pungent ingredient in pickles in the form of chunky pieces. You will have to develop a taste for the same but once you do, there is no looking back!

  • As a beverage 

Turmeric can also be used to make smoothies with milk and a banana. For this, you need to take your milk and banana in a blende jar and add a pinch of turmeric powder to it. Blend these in a smooth mixture. You can even add some ginger for a spicy hint of taster or stevia for the extra sweetness. 

  • While cooking lentils 

Cooking your daals with turmeric gives it a nice yellow color and helps in getting turmeric mixed with the daal evenly. You can even use it in lentil soup for that extra flavor.

  • As a salad dressing 

Turmeric can be added to your salad dressings along with other ingredients like ginger, olive oil, salt pepper, etc.

  • Supplements

Nowadays, curcumin supplements are available in the market. These are available in formulations like soft gels and capsules. These supplements claim to have increased bioavailability of curcumin, although, there are no specific guidelines on their use or advantages.

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Words of Caution

Turmeric has a variety of interesting biological activities, but studying them is challenging because curcumin is unstable and has low bioavailability when it’s taken orally.  In addition, the products made from turmeric may differ in composition. This makes the results of research on these products difficult to understand and compare. Due to these reasons, no clear conclusions can be drawn about whether turmeric has benefits for health conditions.

Turmeric may not be safe for use during pregnancy in greater amounts than those commonly found in food. Not much is known about its use in a greater quantity during breastfeeding.

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Author: Dr. Pooja Nilgar (Content writer & editor)

References

  1. Lijio T. and Rajeev P., 2015. Turmeric-Indian Institute of Spices Research; Turmeric-Extension Pamphlet, ICAR.
  2. Debjit Bhowmik C., Kumar K.S., Chandira M. and Jayakar B. 2009. Turmeric: a herbal and traditional medicine. Archives of applied science research, 1(2), pp.86-108.
  3. Dosoky N.S. and Setzer W.N., 2018. Chemical composition and biological activities of essential oils of Curcuma species. Nutrients, 10(9), p.1196.
  4. Damalas C.A., 2011. Potential uses of turmeric (‘Curcuma longa’) products as alternative means of pest management in crop production. Plant Omics, 4(3), pp.136-141.
  5. Nelson K.M., Dahlin J.L., Bisson J., Graham J., Pauli G.F. and Walters M.A., 2017. The essential medicinal chemistry of curcumin: miniperspective. Journal of medicinal chemistry, 60(5), pp.1620-1637.
  6. “Turmeric”. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, US National Institutes of Health. May 2020. Retrieved 25 November 2020.
  7. Wang Z., Singh A., Jones G., Winzenberg T., Ding C., Chopra A., Das S., Danda D., Laslett L. and Antony B., 2021. Efficacy and Safety of Turmeric Extracts for the Treatment of Knee Osteoarthritis: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Randomised Controlled Trials. Current Rheumatology Reports, 23(2), pp.1-11.
  8. Keihanian F., Saeidinia A., Bagheri R.K., Johnston T.P. and Sahebkar A., 2018. Curcumin, hemostasis, thrombosis, and coagulation. Journal of cellular physiology, 233(6), pp.4497-4511.
  9. Yashin A., Yashin Y., Xia X. and Nemzer B., 2017. Antioxidant activity of spices and their impact on human health: A review. Antioxidants, 6(3), p.70.

10 Singletary K., 2020. Turmeric: potential health benefits. Nutrition Today, 55(1), pp.45-56.

  1. Zorofchian Moghadamtousi S., Abdul Kadir H., Hassandarvish P., Tajik H., Abubakar S. and Zandi K., 2014. A review on antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal activity of curcumin. BioMed research international, 2014.

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