Turmeric is a tropical plant, mainly grown in India, which has been used as an herbal remedy for centuries. Actually there is some evidence that it was being used 10,000 years ago in India so there is a long track record for us to examine.
If you like Indian food, especially curry, you have tasted this spicy herb. If you ever used yellow mustard or butter, you have tried it since it is used as a food coloring for these and many other foods.
For health purposes, the active ingredient in the plant is curcumin and that is what makes it a good antioxidant as well as anti-inflammatory. With its long history of use, science did not isolate curcumin until the early 1800's and created its crystalline form around 1870.
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Digging deeper, the molecular structure of curcumin was mapped out in 1910. The point is that this plant and its active ingredient have been widely researched and analyzed for the last hundred years.
In spite of that, there is still conflicting opinions as to its health benefits in humans. Most of the testing has been done in research labs in vitro (test tubes and Petri dishes) as well as some animal studies.
According the University of Maryland Medical Center, there are conflicting results in the studies that have been done and some used an injectable form of isolated curcumin instead of the whole food.
In the absence of double blind placebo controlled clinical studies on large numbers of human beings, we will always see some statement to the effect that "although we see great results in the lab and with animals, it may not work as well in humans".
We all understand the "scientific method" and that scientists like to see reproducible cause-and-effect relationships based on the traditional western randomized controlled (clinical) trial before they will stick their neck out and declare that something might actually be good for us.
In fairness, it isn't just the scientists. It’s our FDA that demands such rigorous testing before any health claim can be made. In the case of curcumin, shame on anyone that makes such a health claim merely based on 10,000 years of positive results by real people in China and India.
Having given that lead-in about the FDA's position, there are in fact many, many positive health claims being made about this amazing herb and many are linked to specific disease conditions. It makes one wonder how all those health practitioners making those claims get away with such audacity.
That is a very encouraging bit of information.
The following paragraphs cover the purported health benefits of turmeric and where possible, the justification for those claims is given. It is an extensive list and illustrates why curcumin, in whatever form it is taken, should be included in ones diet.
Indians (the India variety, not the American variety) have one eighth as many lung cancers as Westerners, one ninth as many colon cancers, one fifth as many breast cancers and one tenth as many kidney cancers.
This doesn't seem to compute since Indians are exposed to many more environmental carcinogens than those in the west. Could it be due to the fact that Indians eat an average of a quarter to half a teaspoon of turmeric per day? Possibly so!
Curcumin has such a huge anti-inflammatory effect that no other food or spice comes close. In the lab, the active ingredient curcumin has shown an ability to inhibit growth in most types of cancers and in addition inhibits the formation of new blood vessels to feed the tumors; a process called angiogenesis.
Dr. Bharat Aggarwal of the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston has demonstrated the linkage between inflammation and the development of tumors and that controlling one particular inflammation factor in tumor development was a matter of "life or death".
He went on to prove that curcumin is very active in cell cultures for stopping cancerous growth and then proved the same in mice that no longer responded to the latest cancer drugs.
Based on Dr. Aggarwal’s work, M. D. Anderson has launched three clinical trials using curcumin focused on multiple myeloma or blood cancer, a gynecological cancer and the third on prevention of lung cancer in high risk individuals.
Below is a fairly short You Tube video that shows one man's approach to fighting esophageal cancer using his own concoction of turmeric, flax oil and curry powder. Take a few minutes and see how Ron LaSalle dealt with his particular cancer.
LaSalle was president and CEO of Burke Hospice and Palliative Care in North Carolina. For Ron LaSalle, his home treatment didn't work and he died at age 47 after a two year battle with his cancer. He got halfway through his chemo treatments then quit in favor of the turmeric remedy.
The takeaway message is that home cures for deadly health conditions are serious business and they don't always deliver the hoped for results; but then neither does chemo, radiation or surgery.
If someone has a potentially fatal disease condition and wants to try self-medication with supplements, at least give careful consideration to the integrative approach. There is a strong case for combining traditional medical treatment with nutritional supplements under the care of a qualified medical practitioner.
In supplementing, there is a vital affinity between the spice and black pepper that one must be aware of. When taken in capsule form as an extract, it will not be absorbed by the digestive system. Whether by design or not, pepper is always an ingredient in Indian curry and other ethnic dishes.
It turns out that pepper increases the absorption by two thousand times. So when supplementing in capsule form be sure the label indicates that it contains black pepper extract.
If you were to visit a local drugstore and find the bottles of curcumin/turmeric in the supplement section and see the "with black pepper extract" phrase on the label you might scratch their head and ask "what's with the pepper?" Now you know.
Also when shopping for turmeric or any herbal supplement for that matter, always look for a certified organic producer that follows Good Manufacturing Processes (GMPs) and offers a product without all the fillers, additives and excipients (aids in processing or stability).
So instead of visiting your local CVS or Walgreen's for turmeric, you could click on the product link to the left and go to Starwest Botanicals and use their search box to see all their offerings. This is probably the highest quality product around and buying by the pound is very economical.
Two additives to avoid in particular are magnesium stearate or stearic acid which is a toxic metal in pill form and Dibasic Calcium Phosphate which can inhibit the absorption of essential minerals during digestion.
The source material for the cancer benefits of turmeric came from the David Servan-Schreiber, MD, PhD book, Anticancer, A New Way of Life. It is available from Amazon.com and can be purchased by clicking the text link below.
Osteoporosis and Bone Loss
The University of Maryland Medical Center reports that "because of its ability to reduce inflammation, curcumin may help to relieve the symptoms of osteoarthritis.
Research done on diabetic mice by endocrinologist Drew Tortoriello, MD at the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center at Columbia University Medical Center indicated that curcumin has significant effects on type 2 diabetes.
Specifically, the research showed that mice that were fed turmeric were less susceptible to type 2 diabetes and that obese mice showed significantly reduced inflammation in fat tissue and liver compared with the control mice (those not fed with turmeric).
The speculation is that curcumin lessens insulin resistance and prevents type 2 diabetes by mitigating the insulin response brought on by obesity.
Other researchers have seen blood sugar levels fall in diabetic mice and cholesterol levels drop when fed turmeric. As always, research on mice in the lab is not definitive that it will do likewise in humans.
The Research Goes On
Many other health benefits of turmeric are indicated with numerous trials and research projects underway focused on:
There are numerous good texts on the benefits of this amazing Indian plant and its active ingredient curcumin. A couple of reasonably priced, interesting titles from Amazon.com are: