Turmeric – The Golden Spice
Turmeric (Curcuma longa), is a member of the Ginger family. It has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for over two thousand years to treat inflamed joints, digestive conditions such as peptic ulcer and dyspepsia, skin problems, and age-related degenerative conditions.
A native of South Asia, turmeric is also extensively cultivated in China, Africa and the Tropics. It is a perennial herb that can grow to a height of a metre. The part of the plant used in herbal medicine is the rhizome. These are around 1cm in diameter and up to 6cm long, with bright orange flesh. They can be used fresh, but are more usually boiled and then dried in an oven or in the sun, after which they are ground to produce the familiar deep yellow-orange powder ubiquitous in Indian cooking.
The active constituent in turmeric is the yellow flavonoid curcumin. This substance has been shown to protect cellular DNA from environmental toxins thereby helping to allay inflammation and other cellular damage. It also contains bitter principles, resin and volatile oil.
Many clinical studies and trials are now confirming the traditional uses of turmeric as a medicine, and exciting research into curcumin as an adjunct to treatment for breast and other cancers is ongoing. Other trials have confirmed turmeric’s marked anti-inflammatory effect, making it of value in the treatment of rheumatic, arthritic, and other inflammatory conditions. Its slightly bitter action stimulates the appetite and encourages digestive secretions; it also increases mucus production, thereby protecting the lining of the stomach. It is frequently used as a liver tonic and its cholesterol-lowering action means that it is a valuable remedy for helping to reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke.
The recommended dosage of dried turmeric rhizome is 350mg three times a day. However, you should be aware that many over-the-counter products have been ‘standardised’ to contain specific amounts of curcuminoids – in those cases you should follow the dosage instructions on the pack. The active constituents of turmeric are fat-soluble, so is best taken with a little warm milk (almond milk is a lovely alternative if you are vegan or vegetarian).
Turmeric is generally safe to use, except by people with gallstones or other gallbladder disorders. It should only be used during pregnancy and breastfeeding on medical advice. Some studies have suggested that Turmeric may have a very slight anticoagulant effect, so people taking anticoagulant medication (blood-thinners) should seek professional advice before taking it.
Did You Know
- 94% of the world’s supply of turmeric is produced by India, where it is known as Haldi (a Sanskrit word).
- Turmeric is often used as a safe, natural yellow food colouring – look for E100 in the ingredients (not all E-numbers are bad!).
- The yellow colour of piccalilli pickle and English mustard is produced by the addition of turmeric. You can find a recipe for piccalilli on the River Cottage website. Or try Nigel Slater’s Quick Vegetable Curry!
- It is used in Asia and the Middle East as a textile dye – the ‘saffron’ robes of Buddhist monks are often dyed with the much cheaper turmeric. Try it for yourself with this recipe from Kew Gardens.
- In South Asia turmeric is considered to be an auspicious spice associated with fertility and prosperity and it plays a part in many ceremonies including Bengali weddings, where it is applied to the betrothed couple’s arms and faces. Newborn babies are often given a necklace of turmeric to ward off evil spirits.
- Turmeric was once used rather like litmus paper in chemistry laboratories – it turns red in the presence of alkaline substances but will remain yellow in the presence of an acid or neutral substance.
If you’d like to know more about the medicinal applications of turmeric and curcumin, you should go to http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed and then enter the 8-digit number at the end of each reference in the search box. The relevant abstract, or synopsis, will then appear.
Al-Suhaimi EA, Al-Riziza NA, Al-Essa RA. Physiological and therapeutical roles of ginger and turmeric on endocrine functions. Am J Chin Med. 2011; 39 (2) :215-31. PubMed PMID:21476200.
Alappat L, Awad AB. Curcumin and obesity: evidence and mechanisms. Nutr Rev. 2010 Dec; 68 (12) :729-38. PubMed PMID:21091916.
Darvesh AS, Aggarwal BB, Bishayee A. Curcumin and Liver Cancer: A Review. Curr Pharm Biotechnol. 2011 Apr 5; PubMed PMID:21466422.
Du Q, Hu B, An HM, Shen KP, Xu L, Deng S, Wei MM. Synergistic anticancer effects of curcumin and resveratrol in Hepa1-6 hepatocellular carcinoma cells. Oncol Rep. 2013 Feb 27. doi: 10.3892/or.2013.2310. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 23446753.
El-Moselhy MA, Taye A, Sharkawi SS, El-Sisi SF, Ahmed AF. The antihyperglycemic effect of curcumin in high fat diet fed rats Role of TNF-α and free fatty acids. Food Chem Toxicol. 2011 May; 49 (5) :1129-40. PubMed PMID:21310207.
Garcia-Gomes AS, Curvelo JA, Soares RM, Ferreira-Pereira A. Curcumin acts synergistically with fluconazole to sensitize a clinical isolate of Candida albicans showing a MDR phenotype. Med Mycol. 2011 May 4; PubMed PMID:21539505
Hu B, Shen KP, An HM, Wu Y, Du Q. Aqueous extract of Curcuma aromatica induces apoptosis and G2/M arrest in human colon carcinoma LS-174-T cells independent of p53. Cancer Biother Radiopharm. 2011 Feb; 26 (1) :97-104. PubMed PMID:21348775.
Khajehdehi P, Pakfetrat M, Javidnia K, Azad F, Malekmakan L, Nasab MH, Dehghanzadeh G. Oral supplementation of turmeric attenuates proteinuria, transforming growth factor-β and interleukin-8 levels in patients with overt type 2 diabetic nephropathy: A randomized, double-blind and placebo-controlled study. Scand J Urol Nephrol. 2011 May 31; PubMed PMID:21627399.
Khuwaja G, Khan MM, Ishrat T, Ahmad A, Raza SS, Ashafaq M, Javed H, Khan MB, Khan A, Vaibhav K, Safhi MM, Islam F. Neuroprotective effects of curcumin on 6-hydroxydopamine-induced Parkinsonism in rats: behavioral, neurochemical and immunohistochemical studies. Brain Res. 2011 Jan 12; 1368:254-63. PubMed PMID:20951685.
Kulkarni SK, Dhir A. An overview of curcumin in neurological disorders. Indian J Pharm Sci. 2010 Mar; 72 (2) :149-54. PubMed PMID:20838516; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC2929771.
Luo F, Song X, Zhang Y, Chu Y. Low-dose curcumin leads to the inhibition of tumor growth via enhancing CTL-mediated antitumor immunity. Int Immunopharmacol. 2011 Apr 15; PubMed PMID:21497674.
Mohankumar S, McFarlane JR. An aqueous extract of Curcuma longa (turmeric) rhizomes stimulates insulin release and mimics insulin action on tissues involved in glucose homeostasis in vitro. Phytother Res. 2011 Mar; 25 (3) :396-401. PubMed PMID:20734343.
Mythri RB, Veena J, Harish G, Shankaranarayana Rao BS, Srinivas Bharath MM. Chronic dietary supplementation with turmeric protects against 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine-mediated neurotoxicity in vivo: implications for Parkinson’s disease. Br J Nutr. 2011 Apr 8; PubMed PMID:21473798
Oner-İyidoğan Y, Koçak H, Seyidhanoğlu M, Gürdöl F, Gülçubuk A, Yildirim F, Cevik A, Uysal M. Curcumin prevents liver fat accumulation and serum fetuin-A increase in rats fed a high-fat diet. J Physiol Biochem. 2013 Feb 22. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 23430567.
Prakobwong S, Gupta SC, Kim JH, Sung B, Pinlaor P, Hiraku Y, Wongkham S, Sripa B, Pinlaor S, Aggarwal BB. Curcumin suppresses proliferation and induces apoptosis in human biliary cancer cells through modulation of multiple cell signaling pathways. Carcinogenesis. 2011 Feb 16; PubMed PMID:21325634
Quiroga A, Quiroga PL, Martínez E, Soria EA, Valentich MA. Anti-breast cancer activity of curcumin on the human oxidation-resistant cells ZR-75-1 with gamma-glutamyltranspeptidase inhibition. J Exp Ther Oncol. 2010; 8 (3) :261-6. PubMed PMID:20734924.
Rajasekaran SA. Therapeutic potential of curcumin in gastrointestinal diseases. World J Gastrointest Pathophysiol. 2011 Feb 15; 2 (1) :1-14. PubMed PMID:21607160; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3097964.
Ramadan G, Al-Kahtani MA, El-Sayed WM. Anti-inflammatory and Anti-oxidant Properties of Curcuma longa (Turmeric) Versus Zingiber officinale (Ginger) Rhizomes in Rat Adjuvant-Induced Arthritis. Inflammation. 2010 Dec 1; PubMed PMID:21120596.
Roy M, Sinha D, Mukherjee S, Biswas J. Curcumin prevents DNA damage and enhances the repair potential in a chronically arsenic-exposed human population in West Bengal, India. Eur J Cancer Prev. 2011 Mar; 20 (2) :123-31. PubMed PMID:21332098.
Rungseesantivanon S, Thenchaisri N, Ruangvejvorachai P, Patumraj S. Curcumin supplementation could improve diabetes-induced endothelial dysfunction associated with decreased vascular superoxide production and PKC inhibition. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2010 Oct 14; 10:57. PubMed PMID:20946622; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC2964550.
Seo SW, Bae GS, Kim SG, Yun SW, Kim MS, Yun KJ, Park RK, Song HJ, Park SJ. Protective effects of Curcuma longa against cerulein-induced acute pancreatitis and pancreatitis-associated lung injury. Int J Mol Med. 2011 Jan; 27 (1) :53-61. PubMed PMID:21069254.
Shehzad A, Khan S, Shehzad O, Lee YS. Curcumin therapeutic promises and bioavailability in colorectal cancer. Drugs Today (Barc). 2010 Jul; 46 (7) :523-32. PubMed PMID:20683505.
Shehzad A, Ha T, Subhan F, Lee YS. New mechanisms and the anti-inflammatory role of curcumin in obesity and obesity-related metabolic diseases. Eur J Nutr. 2011 Apr; 50 (3) :151-61. PubMed PMID:21442412.
Singh M, Singh N. Curcumin counteracts the proliferative effect of estradiol and induces apoptosis in cervical cancer cells. Mol Cell Biochem. 2011 Jan; 347 (1-2) :1-11. PubMed PMID:20941532.
Taylor RA, Leonard MC. Curcumin for inflammatory bowel disease: a review of human studies. Altern Med Rev. 2011 Jun; 16 (2) :152-6. PubMed PMID:21649456.
Wang Y, Rishi AK, Wu W, Polin L, Sharma S, Levi E, Albelda S, Pass HI, Wali A. Curcumin suppresses growth of mesothelioma cells in vitro and in vivo, in part, by stimulating apoptosis. Mol Cell Biochem. 2011 May 19; PubMed PMID:21594647
White B, Judkins DZ. Clinical Inquiry Does turmeric relieve inflammatory conditions?. J Fam Pract. 2011 Mar; 60 (3) :155-6. PubMed PMID:21369559.
Wickenberg J, Ingemansson SL, Hlebowicz J. Effects of Curcuma longa (turmeric) on postprandial plasma glucose and insulin in healthy subjects. Nutr J. 2010 Oct 12; 9:43. PubMed PMID:20937162; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC2964546.
Wilken R, Veena MS, Wang MB, Srivatsan ES. Curcumin: A review of anti-cancer properties and therapeutic activity in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma. Mol Cancer. 2011 Feb 7; 10:12. PubMed PMID:21299897; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3055228.
Wong TF, Takeda T, Li B, Tsuiji K, Kitamura M, Kondo A, Yaegashi N. Curcumin disrupts uterine leiomyosarcoma cells through AKT-mTOR pathway inhibition. Gynecol Oncol. 2011 Jul; 122 (1) :141-8. PubMed PMID:21450334.
Wright LE, Frye JB, Gorti B, Timmermann BN, Funk JL. Bioactivity of turmeric-derived curcuminoids and related metabolites in breast cancer. Curr Pharm Des. 2013 Feb 19. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 23448448.
Xie L, Li XK, Takahara S. Curcumin has bright prospects for the treatment of multiple sclerosis. Int Immunopharmacol. 2011 Mar; 11 (3) :323-30. PubMed PMID:20828641.
Yiu WF, Kwan PL, Wong CY, Kam TS, Chiu SM, Chan SW, Chan R. Attenuation of Fatty Liver and Prevention of Hypercholesterolemia by Extract of Curcuma longa through Regulating the Expression of CYP7A1, LDL-Receptor, HO-1, and HMG-CoA Reductase. J Food Sci. 2011 Apr; 76 (3) :H80-9. PubMed PMID:21535835.
Zhong F, Chen H, Han L, Jin Y, Wang W. Curcumin attenuates lipopolysaccharide-induced renal inflammation. Biol Pharm Bull. 2011; 34 (2) :226-32. PubMed PMID:21415532.