The Health Benefits of Turmeric
India is widely known for its traditional holistic approach to medicine, referred to as Ayurveda. For hundreds of years, plant-based ingredients, such as the now-well-known spice turmeric, have been used to promote health and wellness.
As it became evident that certain botanicals could have significant medicinal properties, biomedical research has exploded with fascinating results and promising findings. For instance, turmeric has been shown to reduce symptoms associated with the common cold, possess anti-mutagenic effects, be protective for DNA, and have powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. New research also suggests that turmeric may aid in increasing brain-derived neurotrophic factor, also known as BDNF (1,2).
BDNF is a neurotrophin that facilitates neurogenesis, neuroprotection, neuroregeneration, cell survival, synaptic plasticity, as well as formation, retention, and recall or memory in the brain. In other words, BDNF is very important growth factor for the brain and central nervous system, and it plays a key role in cognitive function, mood, and mental health.
So, what exactly is turmeric, and what give turmeric its medicinal properties. Turmeric is a spice derived from the root of Curcuma longa L., a member of the ginger family. While there is a laundry list of health benefits associated with turmeric, it seems that its medicinal properties come from the curcuminoids, a group of bioactive compounds found in turmeric. The most notable member of the curcuminoids is, you guessed it, curcumin.
With regard to turmeric’s protective effects on DNA, one study demonstrated that breaks in DNA strands in peripheral cells were effectively repaired by turmeric (3). Another popular use for turmeric is for its powerful antioxidant properties. As oxidative stress has been linked to an abundance of health issues, turmeric has received a lot of attention as a natural remedy to combat oxidative stress and promote healthy levels of inflammation.
In one study, researchers induced high levels of oxidative stress in rats by using paracetamol and DMBA. To assess the effects of turmeric, they measured thibarbituric acid reactive substances, a common measure of oxidative stress, before and after the experimental period. The results demonstrated that the rats given turmeric demonstrated significantly lower levels of oxidative stress compared to control (4).
Another unique property of turmeric is it has the ability to pass the blood brain barrier and also increases BDNF, which may offer a variety of benefits for patients with cognitive disorders (2). Additionally, turmeric may help support brain health and cognitive function through several other mechanisms:
- Favorable alterations in Aβ metabolism (e.g., reduced formation, increased clearance).
- Antioxidant protection against Aβ-induced oxidative stress.
- Lowering levels of oxidative proteins and markers of inflammatory stress (e.g., IL-1).
- Chelation (i.e., elimination) of heavy metals that accumulate in the brain.
- Suppressing oxidative damage, inflammation, and amyloid accumulation.
- Inhibiting lipid peroxidation.
- Reducing existing plaques.
It appears that the curcumionoids present in turmeric display a variety of molecular actions. Curcumionoids have been suggested to promote differentiation, inhibit oncogenic expression to growth factors while also promoting apoptosis (i.e., cell death). Moreover, curcumionoids inhibit the inflammatory process by reducing TNF-alpha and other cytokines (5).
Turmeric has received a lot of hype lately and for good reason, as there is an abundance of evidence demonstrating a variety of beneficial effects. While our understanding of curcumionoids is still developing their application is evident. Given its antioxidant capacity and ability to favorably modulate the body’s inflammatory responses, it’s no wonder curcumin has been described by some as “an enigma”. Turmeric/curcumin may have beneficial effects on:
- Brain health and cognitive function
- Heart health
- Joint health
- Carbohydrate metabolism and glycemic control
- Athletic performance and recovery from exercise
- Digestive health
- Skin health
- Healthy aging
- Quality of life
Consider adding turmeric and curcumin into you daily routine to reduce inflammation and maximize your health! Because it is poorly absorbed, it’s recommended to use an enhanced turmeric/curcumin extract (e.g., curcumin phytosomes, water-soluble curcumin), which improves absorption. Generally speaking, 80 – 500mg/day of curcumin is a good starting point.
- Krishnaswamy, K. (2008). Traditional Indian spices and their health significance. Asia Pacific journal of clinical nutrition, 17.
- Xu, Y., Ku, B., Tie, L., Yao, H., Jiang, W., Ma, X., & Li, X. (2006). Curcumin reverses the effects of chronic stress on behavior, the HPA axis, BDNF expression and phosphorylation of CREB. Brain research, 1122(1), 56-64.
- Polasa, K., Naidu, A. N., Ravindranath, I., & Krishnaswamy, K. (2004). Inhibition of B (a) P induced strand breaks in presence of curcumin. Mutation Research/Genetic Toxicology and Environmental Mutagenesis, 557(2), 203-213.
- Krishnaswamy, K. (2009). Turmeric: The Salt of the Orient is the Spice of Life(Vol. 1). Allied Publishers.
- Aggarwal, B. B., Kumar, A., & Bharti, A. C. (2003). Anticancer potential of curcumin: preclinical and clinical studies. Anticancer research, 23(1/A), 363-398.