Turmeric: Ingredient of the Month

You may have seen little brown nubby roots with the bright orange flesh in the grocery store called turmeric. What can you do with the orange root? What are the health benefits of turmeric? Besides being a staple in Indian cookery, this plant is known for some remarkable health properties that reduce inflammation.

If you think it looks similar to ginger, you are correct. This perennial herb is in the same botanical family as ginger. It is grown primarily in India, Asia and tropical climates with warm humid weather.

Bowl of curcumin with fresh turmeric root

Turmeric is used in Asian foods for both flavor and color. One of its active compounds called curcumin has centuries of use in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, particularly as a way to reduce inflammation.

A recent study from the journal Trials, and reviewed in Natural Medicine Journal, by naturopathic doctor Princess Burnett, ND, compared the use of curcumin with acetaminophen for joint pain, function and stiffness in individuals with osteoarthritis (OA). Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease known for reducing quality of life because of pain, bone deterioration and crippling loss of movement.

“Treatment of OA should focus on alleviating pain, sustaining functional capacities, and improving quality of life for patients to help lessen the long-term effects this disorder will have on those who suffer from it. Due to inadequate treatment options and no current effective interventions to reduce the progression of OA except for joint replacement surgery, other alternative treatments show great benefit for the management of OA,” says Dr. Burnett.

WHAT THE STUDY FOUND: The 144 participants of the study, all with chronic OA flare ups, were divided into two cohorts: one group was given curcumin for six weeks, the other took acetaminophen for the same time period. The study results were promising for turmeric.

  • Patients reported that acetaminophen reduced pain, but turmeric extract was better at reducing overall scores for pain, function, and stiffness.
  • The tumeric group also reported fewer side effects.

Though the acetaminphen group also reported reduced pain, the medication did not reduce symptoms associated with tissue destruction and inflammation. A primary benefit of turmeric extracts is that they contain both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties from three active compounds, called curcuminoids (more specifically curcumin, dimethoxy-curcumin, and bis-demethoxy-curcumin). These three curcuminoids essentially reduce the level of chemicals that cause an internal flame in the body that damage healthy tissue.

Ways to Get More Turmeric in Your Diet

In the grocery, turmeric is sold in a whole root or as a ground spice, called curcumin, which as mentioned is one of the primary active ingredients in turmeric. So which is healthier, fresh turmeric or curcumin?

The whole root has some added health benefits not found in the ground culinary powder form. And, a standardized dietary supplement, meaning the formulation is made using the same formulation batch-after-batch, may also contain beneficial health properties over fresh turmeric. Some forms of curcumin pass through the body unused, so supplement makers have been working to increase bioavailability (more here).

For the study mentioned above, the dietary supplement contained a standardized dose of curcuminoids and turmeric essential oil. Check with your naturopathic doctor for advice on curcumin dietary supplement brands that are high quality and more bioavailable.

If using fresh, when peeled turmeric can be used as you would fresh ginger in sauces, dressings, smoothies and drinks. Just be careful because it stains everything in its path. Wear gloves and scrape off the skin with the side of a spoon.

Quick easy uses of fresh grated turmeric include:

turmeric tea
Turmeric tea with ginger, black pepper and rosemary
  1. Pot of Sunny Turmeric Tea: Place in a four cup tea pot, peeled and grated 3-inch piece of turmeric root, juice of one lemon, peeled and grated two inch piece of ginger, sprig of rosemary, hefty pinch of black pepper (a comounds called piperine in pepper helps the body absorb the active ingredients in turmeric). Pour boiled water over the mixture and let steep for 5 to 10 minutes. Strain, sweeten if you like and enjoy.
  2. Grate fresh turmeric with freshly ground pepper in salad dressings, marinades, dips and soups.
  3. Grains and rice dishes are meant for turmeric. Add turmeric to your overnight oats or chia puddings. Cook with rice, barley or cauliflower rice for added color and nutrition.
  4. Sip on a warm turmeric drink before bed. Steep a few teaspoons of grated fresh turmeric in a hot milk of your choice. Strain and sweeten for sweet dreams.
  5. See this list from Bon Appetit for 37 ways to use turmeric in recipes.

Store fresh tumeric wrapped in paper towel or wax paper in a closed glass container in the refrigerator for a few weeks. Can’t use it all? It freezes for up to six months in an air tight container.

For more on the science of turmeric and curcuminoids, please see this monograph, compliments of Thorne Research.

Source: Princess Burnett, ND. Can a Turmeric Extract Relieve Arthritic Pain as Well as Acetaminophen? Results from a noninferiority study. Natural Medicine Journal.

This article is provided by the Institute for Natural Medicine, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, partnered with the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. INM’s mission is to transform healthcare in America by increasing both public awareness of naturopathic medicine and access to naturopathic doctors for patients. INM believes that naturopathic medicine, with its unique principles and practices, has the potential to reverse the tide of chronic illness that overwhelms existing health care systems and to empower people to achieve and maintain their optimal lifelong health. INM strives to achieve this mission through the following  initiatives:

  • Education – Reveal the unique benefits and outcomes of naturopathic medicine
  • Access – Connect patients to licensed naturopathic doctors
  • Research – Expand quality research of this complex and comprehensive system of medicine

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