Curcumin (Curcuma longa) is the source of the turmeric, a tangy spice used in South Asian dishes. It's what gives curry dishes their characteristic bright yellow color and spicy taste. Curcumin is one of the most potent members of the bioflavonoid family of antioxidant nutrients.
Like many herbal remedies, people first used curcumin as a food and later discovered the impressive curcumin benefits from its medicinal properties. Over the centuries, this spice has been used to relieve pain and inflammation, liver problems, menstrual difficulties, bleeding, colic and even flatulence!
Modern research has focused on curcumin's benefit as an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anticarcinogenic nutrient. Its volatile oils also have an external anti-bacterial action. As such, they may help prevent bacterial wound infections and accelerate wound healing. Johnson & Johnson even sells a curcumin-containing Band-Aid in India!
The reason people in India refer to turmeric as "holy powder" is because it has such a broad range of health effects. In fact, it has been shown to influence more than 700 genes, with benefits that include:
Curcumin Benefits: Antioxidant Activity. As an antioxidant, curcumin benefits include its function as an effective scavenger of free radicals. It may also function indirectly as an antioxidant by reducing the activity of inflammatory enzymes and by enhancing your body's production of glutathione, one of your most important intracellular antioxidants.
Curcumin Benefits: Prevents Heart Disease. Curcumin inhibits free radical damage of fats, including cholesterol. Research suggests that the ability of this spice to prevent the oxidation of cholesterol may be beneficial for your heart. It’s also rich in vitamin B6, high intakes of which are associated with a reduced risk of heart disease.
Curcumin Benefits: Protects Against Brain Diseases, including Alzheimer's. Curcumin appears to be highly protective against brain diseases. It has the ability to penetrate the blood-brain barrier and relieve Alzheimer's symptoms caused by inflammation and oxidation.
In India, where people consume a lot of turmeric, levels of neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s are very low. Studies have shown that this antioxidant can slow the progression of Alzheimer’s in mice.
Curcumin Benefits: Cancer-Fighting Properties. In India, where turmeric is widely used, the prevalence of four common U.S. cancers — colon, breast, prostate and lung — is 10 times lower. In fact, prostate cancer, which is the most frequently diagnosed cancer in U.S. men, is rare in India and this is attributed, in part, to the use of turmeric.
Curcumin Benefits: Improves Liver Function. Your liver’s primary role is to process and remove toxins carried in your bloodstream. When functioning at its peak, it can filter up to two liters of blood per minute. Your liver is also a crucial part of vitamin, mineral, protein, fat, carbohydrate and hormonal metabolism.
Poor diet, allergens, pollution and stress can cause your liver to become sluggish. Studies have shown that curcumin increases important detoxification enzymes in your liver. This antioxidant also promotes increased bile flow — this helps your liver break down toxins and helps you digest fats.
Numerous studies have looked into this potential cancer-fighting link, with promising results. For instance, this antioxidant has been found to:
Curcumin may also be useful in the treatment and prevention of the following diseases:
HOT TIP! Always Add Black Pepper When Using Turmeric. One of the problems with using turmeric/curcumin in your food is that it is not absorbed well when eaten on its own. But there's an easy solution — always add a little black pepper.
Studies conducted through St. John's Medical College in Bangalore, India, showed that adding just one percent black pepper to turmeric enhances the concentration, absorption and bioavailability of curcumin by a factor of 2000%!
Learn more about the health benefits of spices.
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