Understanding The Phytochemical Power Of Turmeric
Sometimes called Indian saffron, turmeric is an ancient ayurvedic medicine that has been used for centuries throughout Indonesia and Southeast Asia. It is a powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant with a long history of use both medicinally and in cuisine. A perennial plant native to South Asia, turmeric is a member of the ginger family. Some regions use the leaves or eat the root raw, but usually the root is harvested, boiled, then dried in hot ovens and ground into powder. The yellow-orange colored powder is used as a spice, a food additive for coloring, and as a dye. It is the main ingredient in curry powder, an earthy, peppery spice used prevalently in many types of cuisine, from Thai to Indian. Also used by practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), turmeric is a symbol of prosperity and considered to be a cleansing herb for the whole body.
Long used in food for its medicinal value, the main component in turmeric is the phytochemical curcumin, which is a strong anti-inflammatory that helps fight viral infection, cancer, and arthritis (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22921746). Its antioxidant properties help to neutralize free radicals, stimulate the gall bladder, and protect the liver. Turmeric has been shown to reduce the cellular inflammation and oxidative stress that causes degenerative disease. It improves blood flow, which improves cognitive function and speeds wound healing.
Researchers are investigating the benefits of turmeric for treating Alzheimer’s, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, HIV, cataracts, gallstones, endometriosis, atherosclerosis, heart attacks, and more. Bach says it has antioxidant properties that inhibit the development of free radicals, and neutralizes existing ones. Some research shows turmeric to have anti-fungal and anti-bacterial compounds as well. It is one of the most-studied herbs today. Turmeric truly is a superfood.
The phytonutrients in turmeric
There are more than 90 active constituents found in turmeric, many with overlapping biological activities (http://www.herballegacy.com/Alter_Chemical.html). Some of them are:
Curcuminoids: Natural polyphenols that improve cell communication and reduce prostaglandins and cytokines, thereby reducing inflammation
- Vitamins: A, C, E, B1, B2, and B3
- Minerals: Calcium, iron, phosphorous, chromium, manganese, potassium, selenium, zinc
- Several carotenoids, xanthophylls and carotenes, indicated by bright yellow, orange, and red colors, they either convert to vitamin A (for immunity) as needed by the body, or combat free radicals and prevent heart disease, according to the Mayo Clinic
- Starch and protein
- Resin, a fatty substance in the root that is soluble in ether and a glucoside, turpethin reduces pain and inflammation
- Essential (or volatile) oil with turmerone, zingiberene, and p-tolymehyl
- COX-2 inhibitors (painkillers) without the body function inhibiting COX-1s found in aspirin and other anti-inflammatory drugs
- Cineole and other monoterpenes
- Additional phytochemicals of note: Alpha-pinene, alpha-terpineol, azulene, beta-carotene, borneol, caffeic acid, caryophyllene, cinnamic acid, eugenol, guaicol, limonene, linalool, p-coumaric acid, p-cymene, turmerone, vanillic acid, phellandrene, sabinene, and many more
Each constituent has many health benefits, but they also work synergistically together, making the whole herb more powerful than any singled out ingredient on its own. When using the powder, there is little to no essential oil. This is of note because some researchers believe that some of the health benefits come from the oil. Likewise, curcumin removed from turmeric may be a more potent antioxidant than turmeric, while giving up some of the other health benefits found in the whole herb.
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