Today we are going to cover some useful information on a spice and supplement that has been getting quite a bit of media attention over the past year. As we’ve discussed in previous posts, chronic inflammation is the building block of many chronic diseases, including cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
There are many things we can do in terms of diet to help decrease the inflammation in our body, including a high intake of omega-3 fats and a reduced intake of omega-6 fats, sugar and trans fats. Lifestyle factors also play a role in keeping inflammation at bay, including adequate sleep and stress management.
What Is Turmeric and Why Should We Care?
Curcumin is the main active ingredient and powerful antioxidant found in turmeric. You are likely familiar with turmeric, as it is responsible for giving curry its yellow color. Turmeric has been used traditionally for its medicinal properties for thousands of years.
Unfortunately, sprinkling turmeric on your food may not give you the potent anti-inflammatory benefits you’re looking for, as pure turmeric powder averages only 3.14% curcumin by weight (1).
Tip: If you’re using turmeric for its anti-inflammatory health benefits, I recommend pairing turmeric with black pepper. A component of black pepper called piperine enhances the absorption of curcumin by 2000%. However, if you’re using turmeric to help reduce inflammation in the intestines, you should AVOID consuming pepper with turmeric to enhance absorption. When using turmeric for combatting intestinal inflammation, it is not necessary that the turmeric is absorbed into the bloodstream and instead you want it to reach your intestines.
Research on the long-term benefits of turmeric use are limited, however there are consistent results suggesting that curcumin can be beneficial for many different conditions. Let’s review some recent findings:
- Studies have shown that higher doses (400 mg) of curcumin decreases pain associated arthritis. Pain reduction is comparable to 1000 mg of acetaminophen (2).
- In a study published in the August 2009 issue of the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, turmeric extract worked as well as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for the treatment of osteoarthritis of the knee.
- May lower levels of C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation in the body – you can have this tested when you get your blood work done) if they are elevated.
- Significant reduction of symptoms (41% reduction) of osteoarthritis after 8 months of supplementation.
- Supplementation of 150 mg of enhanced absorption curcumin was associated with dilation in the blood vessels (which increases blood flow) comparable to the impact of working out three times per week (3).
Research is also emerging in the area of curcumin and Alzheimer’s disease. In one particular 6-month trial, curcumin was provided at 1 or 4 grams per day in a population of individuals 50 years and older who were experiencing a cognitive decline for at least 6 months prior to the beginning of the trial. The MMSE (a rating scale used for Alzheimer’s) was then tested and scores increased in the placebo group but were mostly halted in the group supplementing with curcumin (a higher score indicates increased cognitive decline). More research must be conducted in this are due to the small sample size (27 subjects) and other confounding factors that must be controlled but it is very promising to see these results, even from a small sample (4).
Why Isn’t Everyone Taking A Turmeric Supplement?
As we’ve just covered, there is a significant amount of research indicating that supplementing with turmeric is very promising at reducing pain and inflammation, so why isn’t everyone supplementing? Inflammation is the building block of many chronic diseases so wouldn’t everyone benefit from taking a turmeric supplement?
Right now there is no consensus on what dosage is appropriate and recommended dosage varies from person to person. More research is needed before this supplement becomes more mainstream but it is showing a lot of promise and could be beneficial for you (be sure to talk to your personal health practitioner before beginning any supplement regimen).
What To Look For In A Turmeric Supplement?
In order to increase absorption of curcumin, the turmeric supplement must contain black pepper extract or piperine.
If you’re not supplementing and simply adding more turmeric to your meals, always add black pepper to the dish.
As with many supplements, patience is key. If you decide to supplement with turmeric, please be sure to be consistent with intake over at least eight weeks, as it may take this long for benefits to become apparent. Many of the research studies conducted using turmeric/curcumin supplements lasted 6 months, so be prepared to be patient as it may take this amount of time to achieve maximum benefits.
If you cannot find a turmeric supplement at your local health food store that meets the above standards, here is a link to a good quality supplement available on Amazon.
Who Should NOT Supplement with Turmeric
According to Dr. Andrew Weil, you should not supplement with turmeric if…
- You have gallstones or bile duct dysfunction.
- You are pregnant (without physicians’ approval)
- You are undergoing chemotherapy
Important to note:
- In rare cases, prolonged use of turmeric supplement can cause stomach upset or heartburn
- Piperine (added to turmeric supplements to enhance absorption can slow the elimination of some prescription drugs including Dilantin, propranolol, and theophylline
Want to try a tasty anti-inflammatory soup?
Creamy Curried Cauliflower Soup (Recipe from The Kitchn)
Serves 6 to 8
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to serve
2 medium white onions, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to season
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 large head of cauliflower (about 2 pounds), trimmed and cut into florets
4 1/2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth or water
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cumin
1 cup coconut milk
Freshly ground black pepper, to season
1/4 cup roasted cashew halves, for garnish (optional)
1/4 cup finely chopped Italian parsley, for garnish (optional)
Red pepper flakes, for garnish (optional)
Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat until shimmering. Cook the onions and 1/4 teaspoon salt until onions are soft and translucent, 8 to 9 minutes.
Reduce heat to low, add garlic, and cook for 2 additional minutes.
Add cauliflower, broth or water, coriander, turmeric, cumin, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to low. Simmer until cauliflower is fork-tender, about 15 minutes.
Working in batches, purée the soup in a blender until smooth and then return the soup to the soup pot. (Alternatively, use an immersion blender to purée the soup right in the pot.)
Stir in the coconut milk and warm the soup. Taste and add more salt, pepper, or spices if you’d like.
To serve, ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with a handful of toasted cashews, a few springs of parsley, sprinkle of red pepper flakes, and a dash of olive oil to top.
Do you think supplementing with turmeric is right for you? Do you currently supplement with it? What have been your experiences? Please share in the comments below!
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Yours in Health,