Welcome to the ninth installment in my ten-part natural immune booster series. (If you missed any in the series, there are links at the end of this article.) I think I am most excited about today’s immune booster. Not just because I am using it therapeutically myself, but also because I had no idea just how healing this spice really is. If you thought ginger was amazing, read on to learn about turmeric.
Disclaimer: I am NOT a medical practitioner of any kind, and this series of articles on natural immune boosters is not intended to diagnose or attempt to cure any disease. This series is for informational purposes only. If you have a medical condition, please see your medical practitioner for professional advice.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a perennial rhizome in the same family as ginger and cardamom. Although we most often think of turmeric when eating curry, it is actually a powerful medicinal that’s been used in India for thousands of years. Now, many scientific research studies are showing that turmeric is truly a medical marvel. (Please see the links at the bottom of this post for more information on those studies.)
Turmeric contains several natural phenols called curcuminoids, the most important of which is curcumin. It is curcumin that gives turmeric it’s many medical benefits. However, eating lots of fresh turmeric will not give you therapeutic levels of benefit (at least 1 gram/day) because the fresh root contains only 3% curcumin. To use turmeric therapeutically, you will have to take a supplement that contains curcumin extract randomized at 95%.
Unfortunately, curcumin by itself is not well absorbed into the bloodstream. However, taking it with black pepper, which contains piperine, enhances curcumin absorption by 2000%! A good curcumin supplement will contain black pepper/piperine for this purpose.
There are so many health benefits to curcumin, I was almost overwhelmed with the research-backed claims. I can’t possibly cover them all in detail, so I’ll just share the major benefits.
I’ll start with the reason I’m taking it – it’s a strong anti-inflammatory that rivals pharmaceutical anti-inflammatory drugs without the side effects. Although some inflammation is good, helping the body fight foreign invaders, chronic (long-lasting) inflammation is very bad. Most major diseases are caused or exacerbated by inflammation. Curcumin targets several steps in the inflammatory pathway at the molecular level, which is why it is so effective. It has been found to be helpful in treating arthritis, rheumatism, and other inflammatory diseases.
Curcumin is a powerful immune booster with antioxidant benefits that are 5-8 times stronger than vitamin E and stronger than vitamin C! It enhances antibody response, boosts the activity of the body’s own antioxidant enzymes, and neutralizes free radicals – those pesky molecules that contribute to cancer.
Speaking of cancer, curcumin reduces the growth of new blood vessels in tumors, decreases metastasis, and aids in killing cancer cells. It may also help prevent cancer, especially cervical cancer and cancers of the digestive system.
Not only does curcumin aid the immune system, it also heals the brain. Because it crosses the blood-brain barrier, curcumin clears the build up of Amyloid plaques (protein tangles) that cause Alzheimer’s disease. Another way it aids in fighting Alzheimer’s disease is that it increases the brain’s levels of the hormone BDNF (Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor). Increased levels of BDNF enable brain neurons to multiply and form new connections, help fight many degenerative brain diseases, and possibly increase memory. It’s also possible that curcumin helps increase levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, thus helping to heal clinical depression.
Treatment for heart disease is also helped by curcumin because it improves the endothelial function of the lining of blood vessels. Its anti-inflammatory properties are also a benefit in preventing heart disease. A study was done with 121 patients that were to have coronary bypass surgery. For a few days before and after the surgery, one group received a placebo while the other group received a curcumin supplement. The curcumin group showed a 65% reduction in risk for heart attack while in the hospital.
Curcumin is a great detoxifier for the liver because it increases the enzymes that break down the toxins in the body. In addition, it can prevent liver damage, including preventing and reversing cirrhosis. It may be an effective antifibrotic and fibrolytic drug in the treatment of chronic hepatic diseases, as well.
And, if that weren’t enough, here are just a few more health benefits of the curcumin found in turmeric:
- Prevents the development of Type 2 diabetes by lessening insulin resistance
- Aids in wound healing as a natural antiseptic and antibacterial agent for cuts and burns
- Speeds wound healing and assists in the remodeling of damaged skin
- Can prevent prostate cancer and stop the growth of existing prostate cancer when combined with cauliflower
- May prevent melanoma and may kill melanoma cells
- Shows promise in slowing the progression of multiple sclerosis
- Is a natural pain killer and Cox-2 inhibitor
- May aid in fat metabolism
- May help with treatment of psoriasis and other inflammatory skin conditions
- Helps in the treatment of inflammatory bowel diseases, including ulcerative colitis
- Can decrease serum cholesterol levels
- Decreases carcinogenic compounds by 40% when used on meat that is barbequed, boiled, or fried
Whew! Is this spice amazing or what?! However, there are a few caveats.
WARNING: Do not take a curcumin supplement if you have gall bladder problems/stones or GERD (acid reflux) as it can make your condition worse. Use with caution if you’re pregnant. And if you are taking a blood thinner medication, please consult your medical practitioner before taking.
Although I started taking a curcumin supplement for its anti-inflammatory action, I am excited that my liver, blood vessels, and immune system are all being helped, too. And using turmeric in my cooking is just an added benefit.
Do you cook with turmeric? Do you take a curcumin supplement?
For further information on turmeric, please visit these sites which I read in preparation for this post:
- Top 10 Evidence-Based Health Benefits of Turmeric (mentions quite a few studies)
- Three Reasons to Eat Turmeric
- Turmeric Powder – Health Benefits, Uses, and Side Effects (mentions several studies)
- 25 Reasons Why Turmeric Can Heal You
- The 10 Health Benefits of Eating Turmeric
MORE IN THE NATURAL IMMUNE BOOSTER SERIES
- Coconut Oil
- Oil of Oregano
- Manuka Honey
- Tea Tree Oil
- Colloidal Silver