Turmeric is a plant in the ginger family and it is known for its uses in the culinary world and traditional medicine. The rhizome can be used fresh or in a powdered form and is a common ingredient in many curries. It contains molecules known as curcuminoids and the most important in this family is curcumin (which gives it a yellow color by the way).
Curcumin is the main active molecule in turmeric, to which we attribute anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Turmeric powder (which is dehydrated and ground fresh turmeric) contains around 3% of curcumin, which means that the fresh rhizome contains even less of it. Another thing to keep in mind is that curcumin does not have a very high absorption rate by itself, but when consumed with piperine (a molecule found in black pepper), it increases the bioavailability by 2000% (yes that’s three zeros, not a typo!).
Let’s be clear here, inflammation an important process for your body to get better when something goes wrong (damaged tissues or the presence of a pathogen for example). But, it is good to know that there is two types of inflammation :
- Acute inflammation, which happens quickly after the incident and helps to body get better faster
- Chronic inflammation, which is a low-level form of inflammation that lingers and ends up damaging the body’s tissues
It is believed by the scientific community that chronic inflammation is an important factor in the development of many diseases like cancer, metabolic disease, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer’s, and other degenerative conditions. This means that any compound that helps fight this chronic inflammation is a very good thing and many studies assess curcumin’s anti-inflammatory properties. (1,2,3,4)
Powerful antioxidant effects
Free radicals are unstable and highly reactive molecules that are derived from either normal metabolic processes in the body or they are produced by external sources such as exposure to X-rays, ozone, cigarette smoking, air pollutants, and industrial chemicals. These molecules tend to react with important cellular components such as fatty acid, DNA, and protein (which includes our enzymes)(5).
Antioxidants on the other hand help reduce the effects of these free radicals by taking the damage instead of the body. Curcumin was found to be a powerful antioxidant that will help protect the body from getting these damages (6) and it also boosts antioxidant enzyme activity to further enhances the protection(7). In other words, curcumin acts directly on free radicals to block them and it helps other antioxidant processes in the body. That’s pretty impressive!
Helps fight depression
Depression has been linked to low levels of brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein in the nervous system that plays a role in the communication between nerve cells. A study (8) conducted on rats showed that curcumin raised the level of BDNF, which indicates that it would help fight depression.
Another interesting study (9) compared the effectiveness of fluoxetine (Prozac) with curcumin. Three groups of 20 people took either the antidepressant, the curcumin or a combination of both. After six weeks, the patients showed similar results which lead researchers to think to curcumin could have some interesting antidepressant properties.
Almost every study on the curcumin is using extract, which is a concentrated form of turmeric that contains mainly curcumin and they are using a dose of around 1g per day. You can always buy fresh ou dried turmeric, as it is available in most grocery stores, however, supplements provide a more concentrated form of curcumin. Turmeric, as I said earlier, contains around only 3% of curcumin, so it would be difficult to reach the same results as the studies without the help of turmeric supplements. Make sure you read the information about the supplement to ensure they align with your personal goals. Some contain only turmeric (curcumin) and others blend it with other components to help with a certain aspect. For example, Brain Energizer, blends turmeric with other ingredients to stimulate the brain.
Turmeric tea is a fun way to consume curcumin every day. The tea is brewed using grated fresh turmeric root or turmeric powder. Here is the basic recipe and remember that you can scale it depending on how much you want to consume or share :
- Boil 2 cups of water in a small saucepan
- Add 1/2 to 1 tsp of fresh grated or powdered turmeric (you can always add more or less depending on your taste)
- Simmer for 10 minutes
- Strain the tea into the container of your choice to consume (it will be too hot to consume right away, so you might want to let it sit for a couple of minutes before consuming it)
This is the basic recipe, but you can always add other ingredients to improve the taste and help with the absorption of curcumin. Here are a few suggestions :
- Honey, maple syrup, or any sweetener you like!
- Whole milk, almond milk, coconut milk, or your preferred type of milk!
- Black pepper (for the absorption), cinnamon, ginger, clove, or any spice that gets you inspired!
- Lemon, lime, orange, or any citrus that will give a little kick to it!
Try your own version and let me know how it turned out! Be smart, stay healthy!