Turmeric: Is Curcumin Magic?

When I was a kid, my older sister was obsessed with the TV Show Dr. Quinn: Medicine Women in which a Bostonian, female doctor came out west to practice medicine in the frontier. In addition to dealing with widespread sexism, lack of medical supplies and technology, and budding romance, Dr. Quinn was forced to recognize the validity in some of the Native American herbal remedies that were used in the frontier, contrary to what she’d been taught in medical school.


I remember watching one particular episode where Sully, the hot frontiersman who liked Dr. Quinn, saved her from influenza using a tea made out of flowers that he got from the tribal medicine man. Wow, I thought, he’s fixing her using flowers! That’s so cool!!! I want to learn how to do that!


(I also thought wow, I hope if I get married someday it’s to somebody like Sully who can throw a tomahawk and has an awesome wolf-dog. Not all dreams come true, clearly).


Whole turmeric
Now I’ll admit that this was a fictional TV show and I was about about six years old at the time, so whatever I thought was automatically invalid. But nevertheless, the show has a grain of truth - remedies predating the advent of modern medicine often worked. In fact, many established prescriptions that we take today are derived from plant compounds.


Ground turmeric
One such compound that has been in the mainstream media is curcumin, the compound found in turmeric, a spice that is commonly used in Indian and Middle Eastern cooking. It’s also used heavily in pickles and as a food coloring (it has a distinct yellow color).


There’s been all sorts of talk about how great curcumin is for you, how it’s an antioxidant, prevents cancer, acts as an antidepressant, etc, etc. Health food stores sell curcumin supplements and people are starting to look into it as a drug.


To all of this, I have three questions:
  1. Is curcumin really that good for you?
  2. Is it worth taking as a supplement?
  3. ...Can you just eat more turmeric and get the same benefits?


Is It Good For You:
Um. Yes. Here’s a list of medical uses for the compound that studies support:
  • Antidepressant
  • Anti-cancer (lowers cancer-causing stuff in the body)
  • Antioxidant (protects against inflammation, cancer, brain issues)
  • Maybe help arthritis?
  • Alzheimer's prevention?
  • & More - if you google search curcumin you’ll find a million different possible uses.

Research is currently being done to see if curcumin can be used in various medications.


Is It Worth Taking As a Supplement?
….maybe. Probably not.


So the biggest issue with curcumin is the way it’s metabolized in the body. When you take it orally (whether by pill or by eating turmeric), your intestine and liver break it down into various metabolites (aka other random chemicals) so you’re not actually getting much turmeric delivered to the brain/joints/etc. A lot of studies have found that the amount of curcumin that gets out of the GI tract is fairly low.


That being said, it’s great within your GI tract! One study with 12 colorectal cancer patients showed that taking  3600mg of curcumin shows a significant accumulation of curcumin within the colon (where the cancer was hanging out). In th


So I can tentatively conclude that unless you are looking to treat GI issues, taking curcumin probably isn’t the worth how much the supplements cost. That being said, it could have benefits for GI issues, and won't hurt you so if you suffer from something GI related......?


They’re going to have to do a lot more research and experimentation to see a) what doses are required to treat specific things and b) where it can realistically have effects.


However….


Is It Worth Eating?
YES. YES, YES, YES, YES.


Not because it’s magic, and will somehow make you healthy, but because it is a potent antioxidant. At some point, I will do a detailed description of what antioxidants are and why they’re important but for now, just accept that they are important - they lower inflammation and do good thingys! Moreover, expanding your palate to include turmeric will, by association, expose you to other Eastern spices, such as ginger, cumin, cardamom, and other healthful, beneficial compounds. Having variety in your diet is a great idea when you’re eating for health, not to mention a great way to keep from getting bored.


Below is a chart that I found comparing the antioxidant qualities of some common spices and you can see that turmeric ranks pretty highly:
orac spcies.png

Below is another chart showing common fruits and vegetables...you should be able to easily see why spices and herbs are so great!
orac-fruit-chart.png


Now admittedly, you don’t eat very much of any given spice at a time...but spices are very potent antioxidants! And in general, people in America are currently experiencing very widespread inflammation (too much vegetable oil, too much sugar, not enough exercise, and many other factors are contributing to this problem!), so adding strong antioxidants to your diet is probably a good idea.


Furthermore - and this is just conjecture on my part - if turmeric/curcumin hangs out to anti-oxidize your GI tract, perhaps other antioxidants won’t be used in the GI tract...and will be better able to travel around to the rest of your body. Now, I’m not going to go out and buy supplements based on conjecture, but I’ll certainly experiment with some different spices!

Sources/Further Reading:


AWESOME Article: http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/dietary-factors/phytochemicals/curcumin Describes the problem with just cramming circumin pills down your throat thinking you’re going to treat your problems.



Image Sources:
Ground turmeric: https://www.drweil.com/diet-nutrition/nutrition/3-reasons-to-eat-turmeric/
Whole turmeric: https://authoritynutrition.com/top-10-evidence-based-health-benefits-of-turmeric/
Fruit/Veggie Chart: http://www.immunehealthscience.com/foods-that-boost-immune-system.html

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