It seems like everyday we hear about some new “super food”. Avocados, coconut oil, green tea – beneficial foods that you suddenly NEED to be eating as part of a healthy diet. Some of these super foods do indeed offer myriad benefits. Other fade as soon as the next big food comes into the spotlight. But some super foods have been around for thousands of years, like turmeric and curcumin. Turmeric is a spice most commonly used in Indian cooking and medicine. But it’s gaining steam in this country as an ACTUAL super food, and for good reason. Several studies have shown that it has some pretty major benefits for your body and brain. So how quickly do you need to jump on the turmeric train? Like … yesterday.
So what is turmeric and curcumin?
In this country, we know it as a spice. It’s what gives curry that bright yellow color, and brings life to a lot of dishes! But in other parts of the world, turmeric has been used medicinally for centuries. One of the things that may make it medicinally beneficial is curcucim, a compound in turmeric. Curcumin is believed to be anti-inflammatory, has been used as a pain reliever, and is considered a very strong antioxidant. However, there isn’t much curcumin in turmeric, so in order to reap those benefits, it’s recommended that you take a turmeric supplement that is mostly curcumin. Side note: curcumin can be difficult for the body to absorb, but black pepper is thought to help, so look for a supplement that has piperine.
What are some of these magical health benefits of turmeric and curcumin?
1. Well, the anti-inflammatory properties, for one.
Short-term inflammation is beneficial, in that it plays a role in repairing damage in your body and fights off invaders. But chronic inflammation can be a huge problem, and has been linked to potentially deadly conditions like heart disease. Turmeric acts as a very strong anti-inflammatory by blocking Nf-kB, a molecule that “turns on” genes related to inflammation. Turmeric and curcumin are believed to be as effective, if not more effective, than the most powerful anti-inflammatory drugs.
2. Curcumin can boost brain function!
Curcumin can increase brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a growth hormone that functions in your brain. Low levels of BDNF have been linked to brain diseases like Alzheimer’s and depression. Turmeric and curcumin may be effective at delaying some of those brain diseases, or even reversing them. Interestingly enough, India has one of the lowest rates of Alzheimer’s in the world.
3. Turmeric and curcumin are very strong antioxidants.
Antioxidants fight oxidative damage, which is believed to be partly responsible for aging and some diseases. In a nutshell: oxidation involves free radicals, molecules that react with organic substances in your body like DNA. ANTIoxidants protect your body from free radicals. Curcumin is a powerful antioxidant that can protect your body from free radicals, and boost your body’s own antioxidant enzymes.
4. It can also lower your risk of heart disease.
In addition to improving inflammation and oxidation, turmeric and curcumin improves the function of the endothelium, which is the lining of your blood vessels. Endothelial dysfunction is a major driving force behind heart disease, as it affects your body’s blood clotting and ability and blood pressure. In one of the most highly-regarded studies on curcumin, the group who received a curcumin supplement lowered their risk of heart attack by 65%.
5. Turmeric and curcumin have been shown to offer substantial relief to arthritis sufferers.
Many types of arthritis involve inflammation of the joints. Remember that bit up there about turmeric and curcumin being a strong anti-inflammatory agent? Ding, ding, ding! Several studies have shown that curcumin was more effective at managing the painful symptoms of arthritis than the strongest anti-inflammatory drugs.
6. Curcumin may be effective as an antidepressant.
In an interesting controlled study, participants were put into three groups. One group took Prozac, one group took a curcumin supplement, and one group took both in conjunction. After six weeks, the group that took curcumin showed as much improvement as the group that took Prozac. The group that fared the best in the study was the one that took both. Obviously, lots of research needs to be done in this arena. However, this one study shows promise.
So, are turmeric and curcumin the real-deal super food? It appears that they definitely have staying power. Plus, that golden yellow is so pretty.
(Image: iStock / Vima)