Six health benefits of the ancient spice curcumin

How adding turmeric, which is loaded with curcumin, into meals can help you beat stress, sleep better and fight off infection.

Natasha Turner, ND 7
Curcumin/turmeric in a bowl

Add curcumin to your diet to improve your health (Photo by iStock).

If you’re comfortable in the kitchen and reach for your spice rack often then you’re on the right track. If the opposite is true, and you steer clear of any meal containing spice, you should still take advantage of curcumin (the substance that gives turmeric it’s bright yellow colour) because it can dramatically improve your health. The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant powers of curcumin prevent and fight a wide variety of conditions ranging from sleep deprivation to stress, and beyond. Lets learn more about these benefits of this ancient Ayurvedic remedy:

1. Improve your overall mood
Happiness is one thing you can never get enough of, and curcumin plays a powerful role in getting and keeping your mood high. It’s been shown to enhance brain chemicals such as noradrenalin and serotonin, and increase the production of dopamine, which dictates how we experience both pleasure and pain. That which lifts your mood also has a wide influence on everything from sleep and sexual behaviour to memory and learning.

In a 2006 study, the behavioural patterns and elevated cortisol levels in chronically stressed rats were reversed by chronic curcumin administration. It may even reverse or protect hippocampal neurons from further damage in response to chronic stress. Of course, that which lowers cortisol also helps to banish belly fat.

2. Protect against sleep deprivation
I’ve written in length on the importance of improving your sleep for hormonal health, not to mention body composition, appetite and aging. However in extenuating circumstances you may find yourself counting sheep well into the night. Scientists discovered that curcumin protected 72 hour sleep-deprived mice from the symptoms of sleep deprivation. Treatment with curcumin extract for five days significantly prevented impairment in locomotor activity, anxiety-like effects and oxidative damage.

3. Let it fight your (virus) battles
There are some viruses that can’t be swayed by an abundance of vitamin C and D (you don’t have to look farther than SARS to see this). However researchers have discovered that curcumin shows promise in fighting super-viruses.

Researchers from Virginia’s National Center for Biodefense and Infectious Diseases found curcumin stopped the potentially deadly Rift Valley Fever virus from multiplying in infected cells. Lead researcher Aarthi Narayanan found it, “may interfere with how the virus manipulates the human cell to stop the cell from responding to the infection.” They are taking their findings and applying them to work in AIDs research.

It’s no wonder that in India turmeric is revered as a holy powder. It’s believed the spice can insert itself into cell membranes and make them more stable in such a way that increases their resistance to infection. Even if you’re not a science buff, that’s pretty cool.

4. Ease the pain of tendinitis
If you’re plagued by the pain and stiffness of arthritis and tendinitis you’re going to love this news: preliminary research shows that curcumin can lift the veil on these inflammatory conditions and may just have you retiring your icepacks. The results showed that introducing curcumin in the culture system inhibits NF-kB, a gene that switches inflammation response ‘on’ and promotes it further.

Even more promising is that curcumin achieves this without the side effects associated with many non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and related medications (like Tylenol and Aspirin). Good news for anyone suffering from this painful joint condition.

5. Protect against cancer
It’s hard to find someone today who hasn’t been affected by cancer, whether through a friend, a family member or even a personal battle. Curcumin has been shown to reduce chemo side effects, and even take preventative measures against other cancers.

New evidence from the University of Leicester reveals that curcumin may significantly reduce the painful side effects of bowel cancer in patients undergoing chemotherapy. Other studies show that it suppresses a cell that drives the growth of head and neck cancer and even slows prostate tumour growth. If you have a family history of cancer, adding curcumin to your diet is a must.

6. From herpes to HPV
Curcumin’s virus-killing powers have been shown to extend to both herpes and HPV. In one study curcumin significantly inhibited the herpes simplex virus by interfering with the replication of the virus in laboratory settings. While dabbing this orange powder on your unsightly cold sore may not do the trick, consistent supplementation can shorten the duration and help prevent an outbreak – as a side note, resveratrol has shown promise as well, making this a power duo for sufferers.

Researchers in New Delhi also found curcumin prevented infection and inhibited the growth on the human papilloma virus (HPV), with the potential of preventing cervical cancer.

Bottom line: I recommend taking 400-800 mg of a curcumin supplement on an empty stomach (30 minutes before a meal or two hours after one). If you experience heartburn simply take it with food. If it tempts your tastebuds, add it to entrees as well. It’s important to note that turmeric can reduce fertility, so if you are pregnant or trying, we recommend you speak with your doctor first before starting any supplementation.

See more ways turmeric can improve your health here

Natasha Turner, N.D. is a naturopathic doctor, Chatelaine magazine columnist, and author of the bestselling books The Hormone Diet and The Supercharged Hormone Diet. Her newest release, The Carb Sensitivity Program, is now available across Canada. She’s also the founder of the Toronto-based Clear Medicine Wellness Boutique and a regular guest on The Dr. Oz Show. For more wellness advice from Natasha Turner, click here

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