Spice: Turmeric – Beyond Curry

turmeric root and powderCurcuma longa!

No, that’s not a magical phrase straight out of Harry Potter. It is the botanical name for turmeric; a yellow spice indigenous to Southeast Asia.

A cousin to ginger, turmeric is widely known for its culinary uses. Western cooking mostly treats this spice as a coloring agent, where minute amounts are used to impart color and vibrancy to dairy, bread, and canned products, among others.

In contrast, turmeric plays a much larger role in the cuisine of its native Asia. From Thailand and Indonesia in the southeast to Iran and India in the south and west, the yellow spice is well infused into cuisine that it is hard to imagine an Indian curry, an Iranian kabab or an Indonesian sate (grilled meat) without it.

But turmeric’s uses are not confined to the culinary world. History tells us that even before Marco Polo brought it to Europe, the ancient civilizations of what are now India and China used it in religion and medicine. In folk and herbal medicine, turmeric is either used as an herbal tea or as a poultice. Taken regularly and as an herbal concoction it

  • lowers cholesterol
  • antiplatelet
  • anticoagulant

In this way it helps prevent strokes and heart attacks.

It is also a liver tonic, treating jaundice. As a poultice turmeric is useful for treating wounds and various skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis due to its antimicrobial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties.


Ayurveda is an Indian traditional medicine system thousands of years old that is still practiced today, also maintains the use of turmeric.  Ayurvedic tradition tells us that this spice can be used to treat

  • anemia
  • diabetes
  • wounds
  • infections
  • and also has positive effects on the reproductive system.

Due to the spice’s admirable track record, pharmaceutical companies have also cashed in on turmeric. Today, turmeric based supplements, gels, and skin creams are popular.

Alternative Medicine

The ever-increasing number of people who look to alternative medicine for more options not available from traditional medicine has spurred researches on the medicinal significance of turmeric. It is believed to be beneficial in treating diseases like Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, gout and arthritis. It is also supports the liver functions, especially in those damaged by toxins and drugs.  But perhaps most promising is the possibility of turmeric to prevent and cure cancer.

Promising Cancer Fighter

What is so special about turmeric that it is being considered as a cancer-cure, you might ask. Well, to answer that we will have to be a bit scientific. Turmeric contains many phytochemicals that are beneficial in fighting cancer. The main active ingredient curcumin, which aside from giving it its trademark yellow color, also imparts on the spice the ability to suppress and kill cancer cells. An experiment done in the MD Anderson Cancer Center of the University of Texas, where curcumin was introduced to myeloma-infected cells yielded great results. The researchers found that curcumin either prevented the cancer cells growth or killed them.

Another study in Japan determined that curcumin prevented cancer-cells from producing Interleukin-8 (IL-8), which is a protein believed to be responsible for tumor growth and immune-system suppression. Recently, results of a study stating that curcumin makes cancers more susceptible to chemo and radiation therapy was published.

Sri Lanka is one country with a turmeric rich curry cuisine and has even lower cancer rates than India and far lower rates than Western countries. However, immigration to those Western countries shows that the cancer rate in Sri Lankans increases.

A Major Problem

Promising, right? But there is one major problem. In its pure form curcumin is poorly absorbed by the human body, because curcumin is insoluble in water and our body is mostly made up of water, however, it is completely soluble in oil. Thus people who take pure curcumin or turmeric mix it with some form of fat, such as flaxseed or coconut oil, and even cocoa.  Even still, the bio-availability is not optimal.

Piperine, the active ingredient in black pepper, however is the key to solving that problem.  Adding even a small amount of black pepper, such as 1/8 tsp to 1 tsp turmeric powder boost the bio-availability by 2000%.  Yes, you read that correctly and can read the research abstract here.

Most of them are cancer patients who use curcumin alongside their cancer medications. However, science has yet to discover a safe way to deliver massive amounts of curcumin to the body. This is why, advantageous as it is, the curcumin is not a mainstay in cancer prevention and treatment as of yet.

Turmeric must be taken with oil for it to become bioavailable and transported throughout the body by the lymphatic system. What more enjoyable way to take it than in a curry or other food?

One the other hand, it won’t hurt to add moderate amounts of curcumin-rich turmeric to your diet. An important reminder though, is that turmeric in therapeutic doses can act as an anticoagulant.  You can read more about dosage by following the link below this article, Dosage and Method.

So if you’re taking warfarin, coumadin, clopidogrel, or even aspirin, do not take high doses without talking to your health practitioner (normal amounts are not a problem so don’t worry about having to give up your curry).

It is always a good idea to inform your healthcare provider if you intend to use herbs and spices in conjunction with your medications. Be smart about it, and you’ll enjoy more beautiful and tastier food. You will be boosting your health with this super food!

Curcuma longa. Turmeric. In retrospect, there is something magical about it after all.


More related articles:

Dosage and Method: Turmeric

Turmeric – Take It With Food and Why

Turmeric – Does Your Supply Pass the Test

Is Raw Turmeric Better Than Powdered?

Junk Journalism: Turmeric and Co.

Turmeric Golden Milk – A Life Changing Nourishing Drink

Inflammation & Turmeric: Just Symptomatic Relief?

Turmeric, Curcumin – Aren’t They the Same?


Selected references:

  •  Influence of piperine on the pharmacokinetics of curcumin in animals and human volunteers. Shoba G1, Joy D, Joseph T, Majeed M, Rajendran R, Srinivas PS. Planta Med. 1998 May;64(4):353-6.
  • Oral supplementation of turmeric decreases proteinuria, hematuria, and systolic blood pressure in patients… Khajehdehi P, Zanjaninejad B, Aflaki E, Nazarinia M, Azad F, Malekmakan L, Dehghanzadeh GR.J Ren Nutr. 2012 Jan;22(1):50-7. doi: 10.1053/j.jrn.2011.03.002. Epub 2011 Jul 13.
  • Curcumin: an anti-inflammatory molecule from a curry spice on the path to cancer treatment. Basnet P, Skalko-Basnet N. Molecules. 2011 Jun 3;16(6):4567-98. doi: 10.3390/molecules16064567. Review. PMID:21642934[PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]
  • Multitargeting by turmeric, the golden spice: From kitchen to clinic.Gupta SC, Sung B, Kim JH, Prasad S, Li S, Aggarwal BB.Mol Nutr Food Res. 2013 Sep;57(9):1510-28. doi: 10.1002/mnfr.201100741. Epub 2012 Aug 13. PMID:22887802[PubMed – in process]
  • Anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties of Curcuma longa (turmeric) versus Zingiber officinale (ginger) rhizomes in rat adjuvant-induced arthritis.Ramadan G, Al-Kahtani MA, El-Sayed WM.Inflammation. 2011 Aug;34(4):291-301. doi: 10.1007/s10753-010-9278-0.PMID:21120596 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]


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