When I decided to find out more about turmeric, I was sure there would be lots I’d learn.
And wow ! It has certainly made for some pretty impressive reading.
It wouldn’t be wrong, I think, to call this a wonder spice. The list of real and potential benefits that tradition and even modern research claim for it is very long indeed (though some of these claims, as a few sources are careful to say, are based on clinical trials with animals, with similar effectiveness in humans yet to be conclusively proved) .
Here is a summary of the highlights:
Haldi, a commonly used spice, has been an important element of traditional Indian and Chinese medicine for centuries. It has been used as an antiseptic , to treat respiratory problems, to treat skin diseases, to treat rashes, boils, ulcers and infections. In fact in 1997, India’s Council of Scientific and Industrial research managed to stop a patent being granted to researchers (led by two Indian born scientists) in the U.S., who were working on creating products based on the healing properties of turmeric, by proving that knowledge of the benefits of turmeric has been in the public domain in India for a very long time.
The active/main compound of turmeric is curcumin, a polyphenol that has been found to have anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial qualities. It has been found to be effective in the relief of arthiritic pain, because it alleviates joint inflammation.
Turmeric, which has been the focus of a great deal of research around the world in recent years -to quote one source, two hundred and fifty-six curcumin papers were published in 2004 – is being hailed as a potential cure for a range of health conditions – neurodegenrative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and MS, auto-immune diseases, many kind of cancers, and Type-2 diabetes.
Scientists have noticed for quite long now that prostrate cancer – the second most common cause of death due to cancer – is rare in India. This is attributed to a diet rich in vegetables such as cauliflower, and the use of turmeric in Indian cooking. In laboratory tests, curcumin has been found to inhibit the growth of human prostrate cells implanted in immune-deficient mice.
(The flip side to the potential befit of turmeric for inhibiting cancer cell growth is that recent animal studies indicate that dietary turmeric may inhibit the anti-tumor action of chemotherapeutic agents so it has been suggested, for example, that breast cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy should limit intake of turmeric and turmeric-containing foods)
The use of turmeric in Indian food – is also the reason, studies indicate,for the much lower occurrence (one of the lowest rates in the world) of Alzheimer’s among older Indians who are in the age group usually at most risk for this disease.
Research has also shown that curcumin helps lower bad cholesterol, and increases the levels of good cholesterol, in the body. It also helps alleviate the inflammation response in the body caused by obesity, and could thus help prevent Type-2 diabetes.
If you want more detail on any of this, here are the sources I looked at: