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Turmeric. Worth the hype?

2nd February 2018

This colourful, signature spice turmeric has gained popularity within the world of Western foods in recent years but it has also seen a great deal of interest as a supplement. A relatively recent Google food trend analysis actually ranks turmeric as a rising star in terms of interest and searches online. While its original use was often found in Asian dishes, these days you could end up seeing it used in a spiced latte or even a hot chocolate. So what’s the interest and is it all just hype?

What is turmeric?

The colourful turmeric comes from the root of the turmeric plant. It looks very similar to ginger and is often prepared in the same way. With a subtle, earthy flavour, the colour is perhaps its most notable feature, as it has a bright yellow / orange hue. In fact, in days long gone, turmeric was used as a dye, because the colouring is so strong.

What are the Claims?

In Asia, Turmeric is seen as a home remedy, believed to have medicinal properties. These properties have had claims that it improves cognitive function, diabetes, arthritis symptoms and cardiovascular function, plus a whole lot more. However, while studies have seen potential for its anti-inflammatory properties, the more extreme claims have yet to be fully proven. Although on balance, it seems there is a lot of interest in understanding turmeric in more depth.

Research

There is a large body of research that has studied turmeric and heath, focusing on the curcumin within turmeric. This polyphenol compound within is thought to be responsible for the therapeutic effects of the food. The University of Maryland Medical Center suggests that curcumin is a powerful antioxidant and could help or reduce the damage that free radicals can cause within the body.

Preclinical studies have suggested that curcumin might help to prevent or treat various chronic diseases. Studies have been with relatively small numbers of people and for shorter durations, so there is still a long way to go. However, it is important to note that smaller-scale studies often inform larger scaled trials.

Issues that have been suggested to benefit from curcumin include:

Indigestion – curcumin stimulates the gallbladder to produce bile, which some people think might assist with improving digestion. The German Commission E, the body responsible for determining which herbs can be safely used, has approved turmeric for digestive problems.

Heart Health - Some early studies have suggested that turmeric may help with heart health. In some animal studies, an extract of turmeric lowered cholesterol levels and kept LDL from building up in the blood vessels.

Joint Health – There have been a range of studies that have shown turmeric is effective at preventing joint inflammation and a 2010 clinical trial found that a turmeric supplement provided improvement in pain and function in 100 patients with a knee OA.

While there is still a long journey ahead with regards to studies of turmeric, it does seem that there are a range of studies that suggest it can be beneficial, which is never a bad thing!  

Supportive Research

Aggarwal BB, Sundaram C, Malani N, Ichikawa H. Curcumin: the Indian solid gold. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2007;595:1-75.

Asai A, Miyazawa T. Dietary curcuminoids prevent high-fat diet-induced lipid accumulation in rat liver and epididymal adipose tissue. J Nutr. 2001;131(11):2932-2935.

Asher GN, Spelman K. Clinical utility of curcumin extract. Altern Ther Health Med. 2013;19(2):20-22.

Blumenthal M, Goldberg A, Brinckmann J. Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs. Newton, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications; 2000:379-384.

Davis JM, Murphy EA, Carmichael MD, et al. Curcumin effects on inflammation and performance recovery following eccentric exercise-induced muscle damage. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2007;292(6):R2163-2173.

Funk JL, Frye JB, Oyarzo JN, et al. Efficacy and mechanism of action of turmeric supplements in the treatment of experimental arthritis. Arthritis Rheum. 2006;54(11):3452-3464.

Goel A, Kunnumakkara AB, Aggarwal BB. Curcumin as "Curecumin": from kitchen to clinic. Biochem Pharmacol. 2008;75(4):787-809.

Jagetia GC, Aggarwal BB. "Spicing up" of the immune system by curcumin. J Clin Immunol. 2007;27(1):19-35.

Johnson JJ, Mukhtar H. Curcumin for chemoprevention of colon cancer. Cancer Lett. 2007;255(2):170-181.

Kapakos G, Youreva V, Srivastava AK. Cardiovascular protection by curcumin: molecular aspects. Indian J Biochem Biophys. 2012;49(5):306-315.




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