As you may already know, the bright yellow curry spice, turmeric (also a member of the ginger family), has been praised for its medicinal and healing qualities. Numerous research studies have pin-pointed Curcumin as the vital anti-oxidative element contained within the spice. Asian medicine has championed the health benefits of turmeric for a long time and the scientific research to date supports many of these beliefs. The super spice has hit the news headlines more than once for its ability to help in treating arthritis, dementia, and even skin problems (when used on the skin).
More positive evidence…
Turmeric is once again under the spotlight and this time is attracting more attention than ever before in Europe and America after scientists showed that the chemical curcumin can kill cancer cells. Reported in the British Journal of Cancer, a recent study undertaken in the lab by a team at the Cork Cancer Research Centre, has shown that curcumin can destroy oesophagus cancer cells. Curcumin caused the affected cells to die by triggering lethal cell death signals. Not only that, but the cells also began to digest themselves within 24 hours of being treated with the chemical!
Westerners are often reminded of the dangers of obesity and high alcohol intake. It is surely no coincidence that the occurrence of oesophageal cancer has more than doubled since the 1970s. With (oesophageal) cancer becoming an increasingly common cause of death, this latest research offers a potential lifeline, which could see the chemicals found in turmeric being developed into new cancer treatments.
How can you use Turmeric to your benefit?
Unfortunately it seems that it is not as simple as dowsing all of your meals with a generous portion of the yellow stuff (warning – it has a slightly taste bitter which can overpower a meal). Evidence suggests that consuming curcumin either as turmeric or in extract form, does not mean that we simply absorb all of its health related benefits. In fact, studies show that very little curcumin is absorbed during our digestion because it is unstable in the liver and intestinal wall. So what can we do about this limitation? Well, apparently its absorption can be increased by adding Piperine (black pepper extract), which can also increase the uptake of many other nutrients in foods and supplements by our bodies. For those who rather not sprinkle black pepper all over their food, it is available in supplement form which could be taken alongside meals.
The story does not end there. As is so often the case in life, moderation is the key. Whilst it seems that more is better than less when it comes to using turmeric (with black pepper), animal studies have shown excessive exposure to curcumin can cause negative side effects such as hair loss. Some human subjects taking high doses of curcumin in clinical studies have reported mild nausea, diarrhoea, and even iron deficiency in particularly vulnerable patients!
So go ahead, embrace the positive scientific results that promote curcumin (not forgetting the black pepper too) but as always, it’s best not to overdose!