The medicinal properties of turmeric have long been known in Eastern cultural traditions, particularly in traditional Chinese medicine. Recently, however, turmeric has emerged as “one of nature’s most powerful potential healers.” Its medicinal benefits are numerous, according to Dr. David Frawely, Founder and Director of the American Institute for Vedic Studies in Santa Fe, New Mexico, who says: “If I had only one single herb to depend upon for all possible health and dietary needs, I would without much hesitation choose the Indian spice Turmeric. There is little it cannot do in the realm of healing and much that no other herb is able to accomplish.”
The pigment curcumin is responsible for more than simply giving turmeric its yellow-orange color. Curcumin can inhibit both the activity and the synthesis of several enzymes that have been implicated in inflammation, giving turmeric its potent anti-inflammatory properties. Curcumin has been shown to be effective against Alzheimer’s, which is caused in part by amyloid-induced inflammation. Clinical trials studying the effects of curcumin in fighting Alzheimer’s are underway at UCLA.
Curcumin also contains antioxidant properties that can counteract the damaging effects of free radicals, inhibit the growth of tumor cells, prevent the development of an additional blood supply necessary for cancer cell growth, among other cancer-fighting attributes. In fact, in numerous animal studies, curcumin has been shown to prevent many types of cancer. A study in Biochemical Pharmacology found that curcumin can slow the spread of breast cancer cells to the lungs in mice. “Curcumin acts against transcription factors, which are like a master switch,” says lead researcher, Bharat Aggarwal. “Transcription factors regulate all the genes needed for tumors to form. When we turn them off, we shut down some genes that are involved in the growth and invasion of cancer cells.” In India, the prevalence of four commonly found cancers in the U.S. – colon, breast, prostate and lung – is 10 times lower. Turmeric is also thought to be the reason that prostate cancer is so rare in India.
In additional, turmeric supports healthy liver function. It has been shown to be very helpful in increasing key detoxification enzymes in the liver, as well as induces the formation of a primary liver detoxification enzyme, glutathione S-transferase (GST) enzyme. It is also a natural cholagogue (a medicinal agent that promotes the discharge of bile), helping to detoxify the liver and helping the body digest fats.
To get the greatest benefit from turmeric, a pure turmeric powder, rather than a curry powder, should be used as curry powders contain much less curcumin. Supplement forms are also available.