The health benefits of turmeric

You only have to look at some of the 53 names for turmeric in Sanskrit to appreciate its status in Indian culture; from ‘bhadra’ meaning ‘auspicious or lucky’, to ‘jayanti’ meaning ‘one that wins over diseases’, this golden spice has enjoyed a long history of culinary and medicinal prestige dating back almost 4,000 years. Whether adding its sunny colour to a curry or drinking it in a latte, there are so many ways to reap the health benefits of turmeric.

What are the health benefits of turmeric?

Today turmeric remains a staple ingredient in Indian cooking and is still highly regarded in Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine for its therapeutic benefits. Places such as India, with high daily turmeric intakes, boast lower rates of particular diseases, including certain cancers. Yet turmeric has only recently found itself on the radar of modern medicine, with over 3,000 studies being published in the past 25 years alone.

One study, developed by Professor Martin Widschwendter and his team at UCL, showed compelling results for how turmeric can affect DNA methylation, the process that changes the activity of the gene. ability to be able to spot signature DNA methylation changes offers the prospect of being able to predict cancer before it occurs.  In the study, 100 volunteers were split into three groups, and were given either turmeric powder, a turmeric substitute, or a placebo. Fascinatingly, the group who took a teaspoon of powdered turmeric everyday (and not those who took a supplement or placebo) saw a very significant change in the methylation of a particular gene that’s associated with depression and anxiety, asthma and eczema, and cancer. We don’t yet know the implications of such a methylation change, but the fact that turmeric has already been associated with improving such conditions suggests beneficial change. The compound in turmeric thought to be responsible for this change is curcumin.

What is Curcumin?

Turmeric has an active compound called ‘curcumin’ that has been shown to exhibit antibacterial, antioxidising, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial activity, as well as cancer-fighting potential. It is what gives curcumin its yellow colour. Indications of curcumin’s anticancer activities were first shown in 1987, when it was discovered that topical curcumin put directly on the skin produced remarkable symptomatic relief of cancerous lesions in patients. More recently, a study in 2009 in Ireland found that curcumin killed off oesophageal cancer cells in the laboratory, with researchers finding that curcumin started to destroy the cancer cells within 24 hours. However, at present, much of the research on curcumin has only taken place in a lab or on animals. Indeed, because of curcumin’s poor bioavailability and how quickly it metabolises in the body, it has so far been a challenge to successfully translate turmeric’s suggested anti-cancer activity to humans.

How to take Turmeric

There are a number of ways to benefit from the curcumin in turmeric. Piperine, found in black pepper, has been shown to significantly increase its absorption, as well as consuming it alongside fats, due to its lipophilicity (ability to absorb into fat particles). For this reason, many believe that the key to benefiting from turmeric’s cancer-fighting potential may lie in what many have been doing for thousands of years – cooking with it. Here are a few of our favourite recipes to help you enjoy the benefits of turmeric:

This delicious, colourful turmeric latte is a great caffeine free alternative to your morning coffee.

Packed full of crunchy vegetables, this crispy roasted turmeric cauliflower salad with vegetable noodles contains olive oil which helps to absorb the aromatic kick of turmeric to deliver you its full benefits more effectively.

A bowlful of this warming wild mushroom broth is sure to keep a cold at bay as it is infused with turmeric and lemon and ginger.