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Turmeric: A Guide for Beginners

It is likely turmeric has been sitting in your spice cabinet for years, and you had no idea what to do with it. That golden hue you see in curry and some mustards comes from turmeric. And yes, turmeric is delicious. It will spice up plenty of dishes. 

But there is much more to turmeric than its good taste. Turmeric, it turns out, is something of natural medicine. Turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties that many are learning to use instead of conventional medicines. 

As people work toward maintaining wellness with healthy, natural foods and supplements, turmeric is a powerful addition to your list of things to help with your health. As we will see below, turmeric is much more than the latest in natural food trends. The science behind the medical benefits of turmeric is strong.  

In fact, there are scientific studies that show that turmeric has serious benefits for your body and your mind. Besides the anti-inflammatory benefits, turmeric appears to have positive effects on your whole body. From the brain to your muscles and limbs, turmeric provides serious benefits. 

What exactly is turmeric? What are the benefits of turmeric? How do you include turmeric in your diet? And are there any downsides to eating turmeric? These are the important questions we explore in this guide, giving you everything you need to know to get started with turmeric.  

What is Turmeric? 

Turmeric as we know it comes from the turmeric plant. Part of the ginger family of herbs and plants, the turmeric plant is native to India and parts of Southeast Asia, which accounts for the prevalence of turmeric in Indian and Southeast Asian cuisine.  

You will recognize the taste of turmeric as the primary spice in curry. It has a slightly warm and bitter flavor and a distinctive orange-yellow color. This distinctive color comes from the chemical curcumin. Turmeric is commonly found in curry, mustard, and some cheeses. 

But the turmeric root has long been used as a traditional medicine in the parts of the world where it is found. Turmeric is primarily understood to be an effective treatment for inflammation. The anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin are now being studied widely by conventional medical researchers.  But turmeric can be used to treat conditions like hay fever, depression, high cholesterol, some types of liver disease, and even itching. 

There is some evidence to show that turmeric may be effective in enhancing memory and treating depression and stress. 

Turmeric Health Benefits

In recent years science has begun to catch up with things that the people of India and herbalists have known for a long time; that turmeric is good medicine. The active ingredient in turmeric, curcumin, has powerful antioxidant properties. It is a highly effective anti-inflammatory medicine. And it shows real promise for treating mood disorders and depression. The list of positive benefits of turmeric is growing as scientists continue to explore the powerful effects of curcumin.  

Some of the more prominent benefits of turmeric are: 

For Memory, Mood, and Attention 

One of the most surprising benefits of turmeric is how it affects the brain. Turmeric has numerous positive effects on the brain, including increased memory.  

Scientists once believed that neurons could not divide and reproduce once we were beyond early childhood. New research shows that this is not the case. Neurons can form new connections and they can multiply and increase in number. This means more brain connections and increased brain function.  

What makes this happen is a chemical in the brain called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). This is essentially a growth hormone that affects brain function. One of the complications with conditions like Alzheimer’s disease is decreased levels of BDNF. Thus, the ability to establish new neuron connections is diminished.  

Researchers have found that curcumin, the primary ingredient in turmeric, can increase levels of BDNF. With increases in BDNF that result from taking turmeric, people experience increased memory capacity and turmeric has the potential to slow the progress of neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s disease. 

For Digestive Health

Turmeric has long been used in Ayurvedic medicine as a treatment for a variety of digestive problems and general digestive health. 

Western medicine has finally caught up with these practices. The World Health Organization recommended taking turmeric to treat acid reflux, flatulence, and functional dyspepsia in 1999.

More recently, researchers found that turmeric can benefit people in the treatment of colon cancer. Studies showed that turmeric was effective in preventing the growth of cancerous cells in the colon.  

Another study in the UK found that people suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) showed marked improvements in their symptoms and discomfort by taking turmeric tablets. 

For Inflammation

Inflammation is a natural and necessary reaction to foreign invaders like bacteria. It is also the mechanism by which the body repairs itself after an injury. Without the natural reaction of inflammation, pathogens would take over the body and become lethal. 

Short-term inflammation is necessary and beneficial, but it becomes a problem when inflammation becomes chronic. This indicates a problem in which the body is working against itself.  

Medical professionals now believe that chronic, low-level inflammation plays an important part in most other chronic conditions. Heart disease, cancer, metabolic syndrome, Alzheimer’s disease, and other degenerative conditions have all been linked to inflammation as a symptom that aggravates these other chronic problems.  

Doctors believe that anything that fights inflammation would naturally help in combatting or alleviating these medical conditions. Since curcumin is known to be a powerful anti-inflammatory, medical researchers have been studying the potential benefits of turmeric as an anti-inflammatory. 

Researchers have found that turmeric is so effective as an anti-inflammatory that it rivals some of the pharmaceutical treatments without causing any of the adverse side effects that come with pharmaceuticals. Several studies found that the anti-inflammatory effects of turmeric were highly effective in treating things like osteoarthritis. Turmeric appears to be more effective in treating the pain of osteoarthritis than ibuprofen. 

The curcumin in turmeric blocks a specific molecule that causes inflammation. This same molecule plays a major role in many of the chronic diseases associated with inflammation. The bottom line is that the curcumin in turmeric works as a bioactive substance that naturally fights inflammation. 

Fresh Vs. Dried Turmeric 

Studies seem to show that fresh turmeric is more bioavailable than dried turmeric. This means active ingredients—the ingredients that provide the most benefit are more available to your metabolism and easier for your body to access and use.  

Researchers found that there is a significant improvement in the results people see who use fresh turmeric versus dried and ground turmeric. It appears that fresh turmeric has more of what is called pharmacokinetics, or the ability of a substance to move around in your body than dried.   

Fresh turmeric is a small root that looks a little like ginger. It can be prepared in much the same way you prepare ginger. There are a number of ways to take fresh turmeric. Here is a list of useful methods:

  • Stewed and made into a tea
  • Blended into soups
  • Blended into smoothies
  • Mixed with fresh juices
  • Grated into salads
  • Grated onto fresh vegetables
  • Grated into stir-fries
  • Mixed with lemon water

You can use your imagination here. The main goal is to get fresh turmeric into your foods and drinks in a way that preserves the active beneficial ingredients. 

Dried turmeric is healthy and provides the same benefits as fresh turmeric. It is just not quite as effective. On the other hand, dried turmeric is easy to find and easier to use. 

You can mix dried turmeric in the same ways listed about. Or you can simply add dried turmeric to many of the savory dishes you already enjoy. 

There are also a number of well-regarded turmeric teas available. Some of these combine the flavors and benefits of turmeric and ginger. 

It is strongly recommended that you make certain you are buying organic turmeric and turmeric products. Things like irradiation that is used to treat some foods can destroy the beneficial qualities of turmeric.   

Turmeric Side Effects

Turmeric is just as safe as any other herb or spice you add to your food. But, like anything, it can cause some negative reactions in some people. The side effects of turmeric can include:

Upset stomach

The same chemical in turmeric that aids with digestion can also lead to stomach irritation in some people. Turmeric stimulates the stomach and causes a release of gastric acid. Some people may find that this causes discomfort. 

Thins your blood

It is not clear to researchers why this is the case, but turmeric tends to thin the blood. This is one reason turmeric is under study as a potential treatment for high blood pressure. But the downside of this is that it can make you bleed more easily. 

May stimulate contractions

People have long believed that eating curry can put a woman into labor. It turns out that some of the chemical properties of turmeric can actually stimulate contractions in pregnant women. However, this effect has led researchers to study turmeric as a possible treatment for PMS. 

Turmeric Dosage

Most studies suggest a fairly wide range of doses for turmeric. Anywhere from 500 to 2000 mg of turmeric per day is acceptable. Often the extract of turmeric contains varying levels of the active ingredient curcumin, and the amount of this particular chemical will change.  

You can compare this with the average diet in India in which people consume 2000- 2500 mg of turmeric in their food per day. 

For some common problems, turmeric can be taken in the following doses:

  • For osteoarthritis: 500 mg of turmeric extract twice daily for 2–3 months.
  • For high cholesterol: 700 mg of turmeric extract twice daily for 3 months.
  • For itchy skin: 500 mg of turmeric three times daily for 2 months.

Most doctors warn against taking high doses of turmeric for a long period because the effects of these doses are not yet known. 

Turmeric Facts

Turmeric is a root similar to ginger. It is indigenous to India and parts of Southeast Asia and is a staple ingredient in things like curries and mustards.

Turmeric has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries to treat things like inflammation and digestive problems. 

Recent research has shown turmeric is highly effective as a treatment for inflammation, digestive problems, and to help protect and enhance memory in people with neurodegenerative diseases. 

Turmeric is widely available as natural food and in the form of a supplement. 

There are few side effects to taking turmeric, but it can cause upset stomach, thin blood, and may stimulate contractions in pregnant women. 

Wrapping things up

Things like turmeric ginger tea are now available in cafes and tea shops all over. The presence of turmeric in foods has become something of a fad. But the facts about turmeric back up the claims that it is a healthy and medically beneficial natural food. 

The ancient natural medicine practices that prescribe turmeric for inflammation and digestive problems have now been tested by modern science. The results show that turmeric holds up to scientific scrutiny. Turmeric is now recommended as part of the range of treatments for devastating problems like Alzheimer’s disease. The chemical components of turmeric actually help repair and generate new neuron growth in the human brain. 

The relentless problems of inflammation that has become associated with so many contemporary diseases can also be treated with turmeric. Even something as serious as cancer is now treated, at least in part, with turmeric. 

And people who live with debilitating problems like irritable bowel syndrome have found relief with turmeric. Turmeric appears to relieve the symptoms of IBS in ways that are just as effective as conventional pharmaceutical treatments. 

It appears that the trendy turmeric ginger tea is more than just trendy. It has real and scientifically proven benefits that go far beyond treating simple indigestion. Since turmeric can be found in just about any grocery store, the tremendous benefits of turmeric are available to everyone.

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