A Brief Background on the History of Turmeric
Turmeric was first used almost 4000 years ago in India, but reached other countries in Asia and Africa. It was used as a culinary spice and for various religious ceremonies. The spice was used in traditional Indian and folk medicine to help with many health ailments. Some of these ailments includes things like inflammation, infectious diseases, skin conditions, gastric disorders and blood disorders.
Today, turmeric is cultivated in tropical climates and is used all over the world. It comes from the roots of plant. While the spice is used widely in cooking and baking (stay tuned for recipes coming soon!), it also has many medicinal uses. Many different bioactive components have been found in turmeric. These bioactive components are what exert the health benefit when we consume turmeric!
What are the bioactive components in turmeric?
First, let us explain what exactly bioactive components are. Plants are made up of different compounds and molecules. Some of these compounds and molecules can exert an effect on the body. These are called bioactive components.
Bioactive components can have good and bad effects on the body. However, typically to have a negative effect, a person must consume very large quantities of said bioactive. In turmeric, the bioactive components that have positive and health-promoting effects on the body are found in the roots of the plant. It actually contains a lot of different bioactive components, and of course all of these bioactives have incredibly complicated names.
Some of the bioactive components found in turmeric include curcumin, dimethoxy-curcumin, and bisdemethoxy-curcumin. See, we told you they had complicated names! Curcumin is the most commonly researched bioactive found in turmeric and it is well known for its health benefits.
How does turmeric exert its health benefits?Studies have shown that turmeric can exert a great deal of benefits on our bodies. Research has found that turmeric and its bioactive components can have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and anti-tumor effects. It may also have protective effects on our hearts and cardiovascular systems, brain and liver.
1. AntioxidantAs mentioned previously, many different biologically active molecules have been isolated in turmeric. One of these molecules is called curcumin. Curcumin has been found to have strong antioxidant activity. It does this by looking for reactive oxygen species (also referred to as ROS). ROS are molecules in the body that can cause damage. Curcumin is able to inhibit “bad” molecules that promote ROS activity. It also increases the activity of various other molecules that help fight against ROS.
2. Anti-inflammatoryVarious components in turmeric can help fight against inflammation in the body. This occurs because turmeric is able to inhibit or reduce the production of molecules that promote inflammation. Turmeric does this by blocking various steps in the production of these molecules, or by decreasing the activity of certain enzymes in the body responsible for creating these pro-inflammatory molecules.
3. Anti-microbialStudies have shown that turmeric can have anti-microbial effects in vitro (read: outside of the body, in a lab using lab ware). These effects are small, but turmeric can inhibit the growth of certain bacteria, including some food-borne bacteria.
4. Anti-tumourWhile there have been few studies conducted on the effect of turmeric on cancer or non-cancerous tumours in humans, extensive research has been done cancer cells in vitro. Remember, in vitro means that these studies have been done in isolate cells in a lab, not in humans! Turmeric can slow the growth and progression of cancer by suppressing cancer cell growth and inducing the death of cancer cells.
What health concerns can turmeric help with?
Arthritis, and more specifically osteoarthritis, is a condition in which inflammation affects the body. Since turmeric can help with inflammation, it should come as no surprise that the spice could help with arthritis. In fact, various studies have been conducted.
One study in particular was a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. This study included 40 people with knee osteoarthritis. The participants received either a turmeric supplement or a placebo. After 6 weeks, the researchers found that those taking the turmeric supplement had improved their symptoms of osteoarthritis including decreased pain and improved mobility compared to those taking the placebo.
2. Metabolic SyndromeEver heard of metabolic syndrome? It is a term for a variety of illnesses that often occur together and put you at a higher risk of heart disease, stroke and type II diabetes. This includes high blood pressure, high blood sugar, carrying excess body fat, high cholesterol or triglyceride (also known as fat or lipids) levels in the blood stream. However, turmeric is able to help reduce blood lipid levels and cholesterol levels, suppress the production of fat cells, reduce blood pressure and increase insulin sensitivity. All of these findings suggest that turmeric can be used to help mitigate some of the risks associated with metabolic syndrome.
3. Gastrointestinal Disorders
It is likely that you’ve heard of inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. All three of these diseases are characterized by chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. Because turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties, researchers have suggested that turmeric may be beneficial for people struggling with these diseases.
A pilot study was done in patients (teenagers) with Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis. The patients were given various amounts of turmeric over the span of the study. It was concluded that turmeric, given in conjunction with various medications, actually helped to relieve and improve some of the symptoms they were experiencing.
4. Cardiovascular DiseaseA significant characteristic of cardiovascular disease is inflammation in the body. As we’ve learned, turmeric has the ability to fight against inflammation through various mechanisms. Because of this, turmeric might be able to help decrease risk of cardiovascular disease.
5. Neurodegenerative Disorders
This is an interesting one! Neurodegenerative disorders are brain disorders that affect the health and function of the brain. An example of a neurogenerative disease is Alzheimer’s. Did you know that people with Alzheimer’s often have inflammation and high levels of reactive oxygen species (the bad guys that can cause damage to our cells!)? This is where turmeric’s ability to have both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties come in handy.
Who knew turmeric was so great? Turmeric has incredible abilities and effects on human health. Scientists continue to research and gain a better understanding about everything that this food can provide us! If you were on the fence about trying our newest product, hopefully we've convinced you to give it a try!
Shop our Super Turmeric Latte now and stay tuned for recipes coming soon!
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- Panahi, Y., Rahimnia, A.-R., Sharafi, M., Alishiri, G., Saburi, A., & Sahebkar, A. (2014). Curcuminoid Treatment for Knee Osteoarthritis: A Randomized Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Trial. Phytotherapy Research, 28(11), 1625–1631.
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Sproos Marketing SpecialistAllison recently graduated with a Masters of Science in Human Health and Nutritional Sciences from the University of Guelph. She is passionate about all things health and wellness, and enjoys teaching others about impact that food and nutrition have on day to day life. In her free time she loves going on long runs, grabbing coffee with friends and spending time on the beach (when it isn't freezing outside!).