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Turmeric – The Health Benefits

Dr. Kristie Leong

If you eat Indian food on a regular basis, you probably recognize the taste of the spice turmeric and recognize its brilliant yellow-orange colour. This vibrantly coloured spice is becoming increasingly known for being more than just a way to add flavour to food. The health benefits of turmeric are making this modest spice a rising star in the world of herbs and spices. Its use as a medicinal agent dates back to around 600 B.C. where it was used in Asia to treat a variety of gastrointestinal problems. Ancient wisdom must have been right on target since turmeric is being investigated for its effects on a variety of chronic disease including gastrointestinal diseases. What are some of the health benefits of turmeric?

Rheumatoid arthritis treatment

Turmeric has both strong antioxidant as well as anti-inflammatory properties. It's these properties that allow it to relieve some of the painful joint inflammation and swelling experiencing by people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. Turmeric has also shown the  ability to modulate the immune response which may make it effective in treating other autoimmune disorders. So far, studies have yielded mixed results with some studies showing a positive effective on joint pain and stiffness and others showing no obvious benefit. Studies are continuing to determine what role turmeric plays in rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases.

Potential cancer prevention

A number of laboratory studies have shown turmeric to have anticancer effects in animal models. It appears to act in a variety of ways to keep cancer cells from multiplying and seems to have the added benefit of preventing damage to cellular DNA which can lead to formation of cancer cells. Thus turmeric may play a role in preventing a variety of cancers, particularly cancer of the breast and colon.

Inflammatory bowel disease

Because of the anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric, it's being looked at for possible treatment of inflammatory bowel disease. Scientists are encouraged by preliminary animal studies that show that turmeric may reduce the inflammatory changes seen with this disease even when given at low doses. Human studies will be needed to confirm these results.

Cholesterol lowering effect

Several animal studies as well as short term human studies have shown that turmeric can lower serum cholesterol levels. It's suggested that curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, may send a message to the liver to increase its receptors for clearing cholesterol from the bloodstream. This may account for turmeric's apparent cholesterol lowering effects. Larger, controlled human trials are needed to determine whether this effect is real and how much turmeric is required to lower cholesterol levels.

Other proposed health benefits of turmeric include the potential to protect against Alzheimer's disease and to help prevent obesity. Although preliminary results are encouraging, there have not been enough human studies performed to determine the optimal dose of turmeric needed for therapeutic benefits. There may be variability the rate of absorption of this spice from person to person. The best advice is to add a little turmeric to your recipes on a daily basis. Plus, it can add a little spice and flavour to your favorite dishes.

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