A relative of ginger, turmeric is the spice that gives curries their vivid golden hue, and familiar yellow mustard its bright color. For thousands of years, people in India have considered turmeric a healing herb, which is one reason so many turmeric recipes come from that part of the world. And in fact there’s a lot of research that shows that turmeric does in fact have many beneficial effects on the body.
Adding some turmeric recipes to your repertoire can help your health in many different ways. By stimulating production of bile, turmeric helps the body digest fats. The spice, which is actually a rhizome that’s ground into a deep yellow-orange powder, also has liver-protective properties. Studies show that turmeric protects the stomach, as well, helping to prevent ulcers. Multiple studies show that curcumin—the compound in turmeric that gives the spice its flavor and intense hue—works as an anti-inflammatory agent, with the ability to help ease symptoms of arthritis.
And several studies now indicate that by lowering cholesterol and preventing blood clots, turmeric may also help prevent heart disease. These studies were done on lab animals, so further research will be needed to determine whether the same effects can be seen in humans. Animal lab studies also found that curcumin has anticancer activity, possibly due to its antioxidant power. Researchers at the University of Illinois found that turmeric reduces the inflammation caused by H. pylori, the ulcer-inducing bacterium that's also linked to colon and gastric cancers. That’s important because the inflammation is what’s thought to actually lead to the development of cancer.
The spice may also fight Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers have found that elderly villagers in India appear to have the world’s lowest rate of the disease, and the speculation is that curcumin might play a role. When UCLA researchers gave curcumin to mice prone to accumulating Alzheimer’s signature amyloid plaques in their brains, the compound not only blocked the accumulation of plaques but also reduced inflammation, an effect of Alzheimer's disease on brain tissue. The curcumin-fed mice also performed better at memory tests than mice who didn't eat the substance.
Published on: April 26, 2010