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Three Reasons to Include Turmeric in your Diet

Nov 29, 2015 09:07PM
by Gary Kaplan, D.O.
 Turmeric has been used as a culinary herb for thousands of years, and is found in abundance in many Indian dishes, especially curries. But it is its role as a healing herb that has caused scientists to take a closer look at this “miracle spice.”

The magic of turmeric resides in the roots, specifically in the chemical compound called curcumin. Curcumin is a polyphenol—a chemical compound found in plants with antioxidant properties and myriad therapeutic attributes. In 2007, a study in  Advances in Experimental Medicies and Biology stated “Curcumin has been shown to exhibit antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal and anticancer activities and thus has a potential against various malignant diseases, diabetes, allergies, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease and other chronic illnesses.”

Defense against cognitive decline

A 2008 study in the Annals of Indian Academy of Neurology explored curcumin’s potential for use in the treatment for Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Key points included:
  • Curcumin may help the macrophages, which play an important role in our immune system, to clear the amyloid plaques found in Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Curcumin has anti-proliferative actions on microglia. Microglia are immune cells of the central nervous system that become active in response to any number of stressors on the body.
  • Curcumin has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. “Overall, curcumin decreases the main chemical for inflammation and the transcription of inflammatory cytokines… The exposure to curcumin also impaired the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines (IL-1, IL-6 and TNF-).”
As chronic neuro-inflammation is considered one of the major factors in the development of Alzheimer’s, it’s possible too that curcumin may also help in the treatment of other inflammatory disorders. 

Defense against cancer

According to the American Cancer Society, tests have shown that curcumin can kill cancer cells in laboratory dishes, and also slow the growth of the surviving cells. Another study on the role of curcumin in cancer therapy found that, “Research over the last few decades has shown that curcumin is a potent anti-inflammatory agent with strong therapeutic potential against a variety of cancers. Curcumin has been shown to suppress transformation, proliferation and metastasis of tumors,” and called for additional and larger controlled studies to determine its full potential.

 Treatment of Osteoarthritis

Curcumin’s anti-inflammatory properties also make it a strong candidate for treating inflammatory diseases such as osteoarthritis. A 2014 study in the Clinical Interventions in Aging found that curcumin extracts “were as effective as ibuprofen for the treatment of knee osteoarthritis.”

How should you add curcumin to your diet?

There are a number of easy ways to add curcumin to your diet. The first is supplementation. Curcumin is not a major component of American diets, so supplementation could be considered. Remember,supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so make sure to purchase your supplement from a trusted source. And, speak to your physician before you begin taking any supplement to rule out any possible interactions with other medications.

The second is to eat more curry. Eating more curried dishes that are rich in turmeric spice as well as black pepper regularly can be a good source of curcumin. Finally, enjoy a cup of turmeric tea. End your day with a cup of turmeric tea with milk. Curcumin is fat-soluble, therefore combining it with milk will help to make the curcumin more readily absorbed into the body.

Although studies on curcumin are still in their early stages, the research looks quite promising, and additional studies to establish its efficacy in humans are ongoing. What we do know is that, with very few side effects, powerful anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer and antioxidant properties, and a long history of medicinal use, curcumin can play an important role in maintaining the body’s normal inflammatory response, while also supporting healing and relieving pain.

Dr. Gary Kaplan is the founder and medical director of the Kaplan Center for Integrative Medicine. The Kaplan Center offers patients suffering with chronic pain and illness an effective model of medical care, incorporating elements of conventional and alternative medicine. If you are interested in more information, Maria Hepler, RDN, CLT, of The Kaplan Center specializes in gastrointestinal health and anti-inflammatory diets, and offers several classes. 703-532-4892 or


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