With a pungent, slightly bitter flavor, turmeric - also known as Curcuma longa - is the main ingredient in Indian curries as well as a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory herb. Related to ginger, turmeric is a perennial shrub native to Southern Asia that has been used for food and medicine for at least 4,000 years. The plant produces rhizomes with deep orange flesh which are dried and ground to make the familiar vibrant yellow powder.
Turmeric has been used in the Ayurvedic tradition to treat a number of ailments including digestive disorders, infections, parasitic skin conditions, congestion and wounds. Modern science has isolated the major active component in turmeric - curcumin - and there is a growing body of research to suggest that this active constituent may treat many forms of cancer, arthritis, gastrointestinal diseases such as ulcerative colitis, diabetes and neurodegenerative disorders, as well as having anti-clotting and cardiovascular-protective effects.
Turmeric is a known anti-inflammatory, which may be as effective as pharmaceuticals in treating many inflammatory disorders. It is also a powerful antioxidant which protects the cells and tissues of the body from harmful oxidative toxins - known as free-radicals - which damage cell membranes and negatively affect the DNA. Free radicals are linked to cardiovascular disease and cancer - which is why the use of curcumin is thought to shrink tumors, support cancer recovery and protect the cardiovascular system from oxidative damage. Research published in the вЂњJournal of the American Chemical SocietyвЂќ in 2009 showed that curcumin actually fuses to the lipid layer of the body's cells - which explains why it has such powerful anticarcinogenic and antimutagenic properties. Turmeric also stimulates the liver and gallbladder to produce bile, which makes it helpful for digestive disturbances - increased bile production supports the digestion of fats and protein.
How to Take It
You can cook fresh turmeric rhizomes - similar to ginger - or use the powder in curry dishes. The fresh rhizomes can also be juiced, providing a therapeutic dose of curcumin - according to the University of Maryland Medical Center, adults can take 1.5 to 3 grams of the cut root per day. The powder can be taken in capsules or stirred into food or smoothies at a dose of 1 to 3 grams per day. A standardized extract of curcumin can be taken in capsule or tablet form - the UMMC recommends 400 to 600 milligrams up to three times a day. You can take a tincture - or alcohol extract - in a dose of 15 to 30 drops three to four times daily.
Due to its circulation-stimulating properties, turmeric should not be taken by pregnant women as a supplement - small doses, such as those used to season food, are considered safe. It should also be avoided in the case of gallstones or biliary obstruction. There is some preclinical research to suggest that while curcumin has anti-cancer properties for a number of cancers including colorectal cancer, breast cancer and childhood leukemia, it may actually promote certain types of lung cancers, particularly in smokers. When taken in high doses it can also cause gastrointestinal distress and may make stomach ulcers worse. Due to turmeric's blood-thinning properties it should not be mixed with pharmaceutical blood-thinners like warfarin. Diabetics taking turmeric should be monitored if also taking blood sugar-reducing medications, as the necessary dose may go down.