Welcome back to More Than Healthy Week 39! As part of our ongoing Full Year of Resolutions, this week’s tip is all about the many health benefits of curcumin. Most of you probably know this supplement as turmeric.
If you’ve been paying attention to the health and wellness world, you know that turmeric is the healthy ingredient of the moment. It’s getting a lot of airtime right now! But turmeric isn’t new, and its popularity as a medicinal spice goes back hundreds of years. Not only is it a delicious spice to cook with, turmeric has been used because of its health properties in India and South Asia for generations.
It’s only been recently that modern science has caught up. Studies now back the claims users have made about this amazingly powerful spice for thousands of years. In fact, many say that curcumin, found in the spice known as turmeric, may be the most effective nutritional supplement in existence.
What is Turmeric?
Turmeric is the spice that gives curry its yellow color. Native to India, it is sometimes called Saffron, and has been cultivated there since prehistoric times. It is made from the underground stem of a plant in the ginger family, which is boiled, dried, and then ground. It is used in Hindu religious ceremonies, as a skin cleansing and beautifying treatment, and, of course, in cooking. Turmeric adds a pungent, earthy flavor to dishes. Ground turmeric makes up a large part of most jarred curry powders. It can also be used as natural food coloring in cheeses, mustards, and broths.
Turmeric contains compounds called curcuminoids. These compounds have medicinal properties. The most important one is curcumin. It is a powerful anti-inflammatory and a very strong antioxidant.
Let’s take a look at some of the powerful health benefits of curcumin.
Our favorite health benefits of curcumin include:
Benefit #1: Curcumin helps reduce inflammation and pain
At More Than Healthy, we’ve spent a lot of time talking about the negative effects of chronic inflammation. Inflammation wreaks havoc on our bodies and causes so much pain! My own health history is a prime example of this. When I first went to see Dr Gundry’s assistant several years ago, curcumin was one of the first supplements they wanted me to take to help me reduce the inflammation in my body. I’ve been taking the supplement they recommended each day ever since.
I believe my curcumin supplement is one of the main reasons my arthritic pain has gone away. Certainly, removing foods that cause inflammation has helped as well. But the scientific evidence that curcumin reduces pain and inflammation is very compelling!
Several studies show that curcumin has strong anti-inflammatory effects. In one study, participants who were taking curcumin had a reduction in pain after a few months, compared to the control group that got a placebo. There was also a meta-analysis done of several studies with arthritic patients, and it concluded that patients who took curcumin had as much pain reduction as patients that took pain medications. I don’t know about you, but I would much rather take a natural supplement than a pain medication. It is always better to find naturopathic remedies to pain and illness (read our blog post about this here) before heading to the pharmacy to add a drug to my body.
Benefit #2: Curcumin may help reduce oxidative stress
Another benefit of taking curcumin is that it is a potent antioxidant. Oxidation is a healthy, necessary process that occurs in the body. Oxidative stress, however, is not healthy, and it means there is an imbalance in your system. This imbalance causes the damage that often accompanies aging. It is also linked to several neurological diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, etc.
When functioning properly, free radicals can help fight off pathogens that lead to infection. But, when there is an imbalance between free radical activity and antioxidant activity, it becomes problematic. When there are more free radicals present than can be kept in balance by antioxidants, the free radicals can start doing damage to fatty tissue, DNA, and proteins in your body, which can lead to a whole host of diseases. Proteins, lipids, and DNA make up a large part of your body, and when they get damaged, it can lead to diseases like diabetes, atherosclerosis (hardening of the blood vessels), high blood pressure, heart disease, neurodegenerative diseases as mentioned above, and even some cancers.
Antioxidants can help prevent these diseases by neutralizing free radicals due to their chemical structure. Cellular studies suggest that curcumin is a powerful antioxidant because it blocks the action of free radicals, and it may even stimulate the action of other antioxidants.
Benefit #3: Curcumin may improve brain memory
By now you know that brain health is very important to me. Having spent years dealing with brain fog as a side effect of the health issues I was battling, I now proactively do everything possible to take care of my brain.
Studies show that curcumin is good for your brain. It increases brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is a gene that’s involved in making a protein responsible for promoting the life of brain neurons. Scientists used to believe that neurons weren’t able to divide and multiply after childhood. Now they know that neurons are capable of forming new connections, and in certain areas of the brain, they can multiply and increase in number, even as we age.
The BDNF protein plays an important role in memory and learning, especially because it helps brain neurons to thrive. Many neurological diseases have been linked to decreased levels of BDNF protein, including depression and Alzheimer’s disease. The science is pretty promising – curcumin may be effective in delaying or even reversing many brain diseases and age-related problems with brain function. Studies show curcumin shows promise in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease. It’s also been shown to help improve memory and attention, which makes sense, given curcumin’s effects on BDNF levels.
I think everyone is interested in these kinds of brain benefits – especially as we age. If we can find a way to avoid those frustrating “senior moments,” especially something as easy as adding curcumin (or turmeric) to our diets and supplement routine, we’re in!
Benefit #4: Curcumin could reduce your risk of heart disease
Did you know that the number one cause of death in the world is heart disease? In fact, there are over 2,353 deaths from heart disease every single day. And, in the U.S. alone, somebody has a stroke every 40 seconds.
This disease is complicated, and there are a lot of things that contribute to it. But, studies suggest that curcumin may help reverse many of the steps in the heart disease process. For example, curcumin has the ability to improve the function of the endothelium, the lining of your blood vessels. This is important because endothelial dysfunction is a major driver of heart disease.
Studies show it works
In one study, healthy middle-aged and older adults took curcumin for 12 weeks. Results showed a marked improvement in resistance artery endothelial function. Curcumin increased vascular nitric oxide bioavailability and reduced oxidative stress (see Benefit #2). It also improved conduit artery endothelial function. That’s a lot of big words, but the bottom line is that when there’s endothelial dysfunction, your endothelium is unable to regulate blood pressure, blood clotting, and various other factors that contribute to heart disease.
Another study focused on 121 people who were undergoing coronary artery bypass surgery. Researchers assigned them either a placebo or 4 grams of curcumin per day a few days before and after the surgery. Results showed the curcumin group had a 65% decreased risk of experiencing a heart attack in the hospital. That one study is enough for me to continue taking curcumin for the rest of my life!
But there are plenty of other studies as well. Many studies say that taking curcumin leads to better heart health. Research has also found that curcumin is as effective as exercise in post-menopausal women. And, science confirms that curcumin reduces “bad” LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, reducing the risk of heart disease as a result. That is a lot of evidence that curcumin is good for my heart!
Benefit #5: Curcumin may reduce the risk of cancer
As if the benefits we’ve already discussed weren’t compelling enough, this last benefit hits especially close to home. If you follow us or have read our book, you know I’ve dealt with bladder cancer for several years. I am interested in anything that can help reduce my risk of cancer! And curcumin has been shown to be effective in many different types of cancer.
One way cancer is characterized is by uncontrolled cell growth. Studies have shown that curcumin can contribute to the death of those cancerous cells, reduce the growth of new blood vessels in tumors, and reduce the spread of the cancer.
In a 30-day study, 44 men with lesions in the colon, that sometimes turn cancerous, were given 4 grams of curcumin per day. Results confirmed they reduced their lesions by 40%. And, although research is still in the early stages, many studies say curcumin may reduce the activity of cancer cells. There is also evidence that it may prevent cancer from even occurring in the first place.
Wow! That little yellow spice that makes your curry taste good sure works hard for your health! That is a pretty amazing list of benefits.
How to get the health benefits of curcumin
It’s true that there is some curcumin in the turmeric in that bowl of curry you eat. However, curcuminoids only comprise a small part of turmeric. To get the anti-inflammatory effects that are so good for you, you need to consume between 500-1,000 milligrams of curcumin per day. One teaspoon of ground turmeric has around 200 milligrams of curcumin (depending on the quality of the source). And, since a recipe for chicken curry that feeds six people only calls for 1 teaspoon of turmeric, you’re not going to get the necessary amount of curcumin from your food, even if you eat a lot of curry.
Most of us have to take a supplement of turmeric to get the full benefit of curcumin’s health properties. Also, it’s important to note that curcumin isn’t easily absorbed in your bloodstream, so it helps to consume it with black pepper, which contains piperine. Piperine is a natural substance that enhances the absorption of curcumin by 2,000%. So you will want to make sure your turmeric supplements contain piperine to ensure their effectiveness.
We recommend and use this brand of turmeric curcumin supplements, which contain piperine. It is also available at Costco.
Because curcumin is fat soluble, which means it breaks down in fat or oil, we recommend you take your curcumin with a meal that has healthy fats.
Spice up your drinks
Beverages are an additional way that you can add some turmeric to your diet. You can add a bit of this spice to your morning smoothie. There is also a healthy and yummy traditional Indian drink that uses turmeric. “Golden Milk” is packed with nutrients and is known for fighting inflammation and boosting your immune system. It’s a perfect drink for fall, rich with flavorful spices like turmeric, ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon. There are many versions of Golden Milk recipes available. You can find a delicious, non-dairy recipe to try here.
Add some curcumin to your day – every day!
Did I convince you that the health benefits of curcumin are worth adding a turmeric supplement to your daily regimen? We’ve seen the benefits in our health for sure. What are your thoughts on curcumin? Do you take a turmeric supplement? What other ways have you found to use turmeric? Perhaps you add it to your morning smoothie, or to your salad dressings or soups? We’d love to hear about it. As always, although turmeric is considered to be very safe, please work with your doctor to make sure it’s right for you.
Please reach out if you have any questions about the health benefits of curcumin. We always love hearing from you! For those of you interested in our free More Than Healthy coaching calls, we do them once a month on a Tuesday night at 6 PM MST. In fact, tomorrow night is our next one. Anyone can join us. If you have health questions on anything we’ve discussed or really any issue, you can ask them live, you can type them in comments, or you can just listen in as others get coached. It’s up to you how you’d like to show up.
If you’d like to join us, just text COACHING to 1-647-558-9895 to join our email list or watch our social media pages and we will have the link there.
Thanks for joining us, and we’ll see you next week.