The versatile turmeric for good health and more

From time immemorial, turmeric has been extensively used in every Indian kitchen

TurmericAyurveda proclaims that to keep one's immune system intact and prevent diseases, one needs to consume a variety of tastes daily - so, turmeric, cumin, ginger, clove, pepper, sweet, salt, sour etc., have been advocated.

From time immemorial, turmeric has been extensively used in every Indian kitchen. And today turmeric is making waves in the scientific world. Be it cancer research or Alzheimer's disease, one hears a lot about the magical therapeutic effects of turmeric.

Did you know?

In the mid-1990s, turmeric became the subject of a patent dispute with important ramifications for international trade law. A US patent on turmeric was awarded to the University of Mississippi Medical Center in 1995, specifically for the "use of turmeric in wound healing." This patent also granted them the exclusive right to sell and distribute turmeric. Two years later, a complaint was filed by India's Council of Scientific and Industrial Research [CSIR], which challenged the novelty of the University's "discovery".

In India, turmeric has been used medicinally since ancient times; so, concerns grew about the economically and socially damaging impact of this legal "biopiracy". In 1997, the patent was revoked. But, for two years the patent on turmeric had stood, although the process was not novel and had, in fact, been traditionally practised in India for thousands of years.

According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, research activity into curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, is exploding. 256 papers on curcumin were published in the past year alone according to the US National Library of Medicine. Sales of turmeric as a supplement have increased dramatically, and the US National Institutes of Health [NIH] has four clinical trials underway to study the use of curcumin for pancreatic cancer, multiple myeloma, Alzheimer's disease, and colorectal cancer.

Versatile turmeric

Apart from its medicinal value and as a dietary supplement, turmeric is used as a dye, in chemical tests, in paint industry. It is in great demand as natural colour.

Turmeric tastes pungent, bitter, and slightly sweet. It has a distinctive deep yellow colour and is used regularly in small quantities as additive, flavouring and colouring agent in many dishes like pickles, butter, cheese, ghee, rice, kicchadi, sambar or curry. Turmeric has found application in canned beverages, baked products, dairy products, ice-cream, yogurt, biscuits, popcorn, sweets, cakes, cereals, sauces, gelatins, direct compression tablets etc.,

Wonder herb

Therapeutically, turmeric is a versatile drug-diet against micro-organisms inclusive of viruses, bacteria, chalmydia, and fungus. It has been advocated in heart problems, diabetes, skin afflictions, leprosy, infection of ear, eye, nose, throat, digestive disorders, in neoplasm [benign tumours], allergies, fevers etc.,

Researchers today have found that turmeric is an anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, anti-microbial. It may also slow down the development of Alzheimer's disease. Pharmacologically, curcumin has been found to be safe. Human clinical trials indicate no dose-limiting toxicity when turmeric is administered at doses of up to 10 gm/day.

According to a University of Chicago, US, study, curcumin inhibits a bacteria [H pylor], which is associated with gastric/colon cancer.

A great cosmetic

Indian ladies have been adorning themselves with glowing complexion, blemishless skin all due to judicious use of this wonder herb. A pinch of turmeric powder mixed with one teaspoon of coriander juice is an effective remedy for pimples, blackheads and dry skin. Turmeric powder mixed with yogurt, lemon juice, honey or milk cream when applied on the skin helps improve the health of your skin.

Andrew Weil, one of the world's leading authorities in complementary medicine, has discussed at length the benefits of turmeric, and its apparent cancer-fighting properties, in his best-selling books. He has the following to state: "I wish researchers would get off the reductionistic bandwagon and come around to appreciate the inherent complexity of nature." This, doubtless, includes the wonder herb, turmeric.

Uses of Turmeric

Anti-inflammatory. Turmeric and its volatile oil possess anti-inflammatory properties. In general, turmeric is comparable to cortisone as an anti-inflammatory. Its advantage is that is has virtually no toxicity. It can also be used topically and internally. Traditionally, the herb has been used externally by mixing with slake lime [calcium hydroxide] which produces sodium curcuminate. This is a household remedy for sprains, muscular pain, and inflamed joints. Taken internally in capsule form or mixed with food or drink, it is very effective for all inflammatory conditions.

Cardiovascular effects. The effects of turmeric on the cardiovascular system include lowering of cholesterol levels and inhibition of platelet aggregation. This helps prevent atherosclerosis [clogging of arteries] and its complications. If one is not diabetic, it is advisable to take turmeric powder with sugar.

Liver health. Turmeric exhibits liver protection properties because of its potent anti-oxidant properties. It is traditionally used for liver disorders. It may be used with organic licorice extract to form a powerful synergy for liver protection and rejuvenation.

Diabetes. Ayurveda recommends turmeric with amla [Embalica officinalis] to control blood glucose and also avoid complications of diabetes.

Alzheimer's disease. In India, only 1 per cent of those aged 65 and older contract this degenerative brain condition. Many scientific reports point towards the lavish use of turmeric in various preparations, such as curries, which is the staple diet for millions in the subcontinent. A team from the University of California at Los Angeles, US, believes that turmeric may play a role in slowing down the progression of the neuro-degenerative disease.

Curcumin's anti-inflammatory activity reduces arthritic swelling and progressive brain damage in animals. In a UCLA research study, eating food laced with low doses of curcumin slashed Alzheimer's-like plaque in the brains of mice by 50 per cent.

Arthritis. A study was conducted among patients with rheumatoid arthritis to compare turmeric [1,200 mg per day] with phenylbutazone [300 mg per day]. The results showed that the improvements in the duration of morning stiffness, walking time, and joint swelling were comparable in both groups. Turmeric has a great advantage, because it does not produce any adverse side-effects, whereas phenylbutazone has significant adverse effects.

Anti-aging. Aging effects are compared by some researchers to "caramelisation" or "glycation." Aging occurs when sugar and protein bind together under the body's own heat and gum up vital organs.

There are some researchers who believe that cooked foods that are browned and caramelised - such as baked goods, glazed meat and roasted coffee - may also contribute to the effect.

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Shantala Priyadarshini
Shantala Priyadarshini, MS [Ayurveda], is an academician-researcher. Her areas of special interest are: chronic degenerative eye conditions, compromised states of immunity, cancer and auto-immune disorders. She lives in Mysore.

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