Turmeric and its active component, Curcumin, has been trending among health circles for its many benefits. What was once a dinner table staple in Middle Eastern and Southeast Asia, is now lining people’s natural-health shelves.
Turmeric to most is a spice, but it has a long, little-known-until-now history as a food medicine. This rhizome has been used to treat a variety of ailments for thousands of years. Like 4,000 years. So like just about everything else that goes trendy, turmeric has actually been around a while.
But the recent craze is going hand in hand with real research. Nearly 5,000 studies and articles have been completed as of January 2015, earning turmeric (or its active component, curcumin) a list spot in the National Institutes of Health PubMed database.
And the more science uncovers, the more popular turmeric becomes.
Studies on turmeric’s positive effect on pain, wounds, bowel trouble, eyes, skin, diabetes and cancer are being done. Turmeric is proving to be an anti-everything: anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-parasitic, anti-malarial—you name it, turmeric seems to affect it.
It’s being hailed as one of the greatest, most beneficial medicinal plants known to man.
Perhaps its most touted use is for pain management. Ethnobotanist and author Chris Kilham is all for it, even compared to over-the-counter remedies:
“Let’s say you take ibuprofen for pain… there is a cascade—a downward cascade of negative consequences. For ibuprofen, that cascade may include kidney failure, or increased risk for heart attack and stroke if you take too much … when you take turmeric for pain, however, you get this upward cascade of benefits you didn’t necessarily ask for, such as anti-inflammatory effects and antioxidants.”
So, what’s the downside?
Just like anything, turmeric can take care of only a sliver of your daily nutritional needs. We all know that no one thing is a cure-all. We also know that too much of a good thing can be not such a good thing. Overload on the turmeric, and you may end up feeling queasy or battling diarrhea.
You also have to remember that turmeric is a food, not a drug, so it will act like a food in your system.
It’s been shown that its bioavailability isn’t great, meaning it’s harder to absorb. So if you take it in supplement form, look for one that’s designed for absorbability. And if you’re chopping it at home, add a little oil, and that may help slow down how fast you metabolize it and give you a chance to absorb it.
So feel free to add turmeric to your diet, but keep in mind that the studies being done are conducted with very concentrated amounts of curcumin—far more than you’ll get by simply sprinkling this little yellow spice on your food.
While that’s of course a good idea, taking a supplement is the surest way to get noticeable results.