A surgeon was once so amazed by his patient’s experience with turmeric—the Indian curry spice—that he wrote about it for Time magazine. The patient, whose hips had degenerated to the worst possible condition, suffered no pain after taking turmeric, even though medications previously brought no relief.
The patient received two hip replacement surgeries to resolve his stiffness. After the surgeries, he took only turmeric—no painkillers—and was up and about within days.
Initially, the doctor was skeptical about the healing properties of plants, but this experience prompted him to study the scientific literature. What impressed him were studies showing pain relief among rats—since rats don’t respond to placebos.
The Secret Behind the Spice
A relative of ginger, turmeric (Curcuma longa) has a bulbous root that has proven to be quite versatile. In addition to spicing up food and dying cloth, it has long been used in both India’s Ayurvedic system and traditional Chinese medicine to treat everything from arthritis pain and indigestion to skin diseases and wounds. Its yellow color comes from curcuminoids, active ingredients that are collectively known as curcumin.
Curcumin is believed to be the key to turmeric’s healing properties. In nature, curcumin makes up approximately 4 percent of turmeric, but in supplements, it’s more concentrated. Some products contain more than 90 percent curcumin. Others, however, are designed to contain a lower percentage in order to incorporate larger quantities of the plant’s other beneficial components, such as turmerone oil, into their formulas.
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Unbeatable Health Benefits
There have been more than 1,300 studies on the health benefits of turmeric or curcumin. One of the most striking findings has been turmeric’s potential to prevent the build-up of plaques in the brain that are the hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease, which is rare in India. Among people over age 65, the incidence of Alzheimer’s in the United States ranges between 5 and 17 percent, depending on the state. In the same age group in India, incidence of the disease ranges from 1 to 2.4 percent. This near-absence of Alzheimer’s has been attributed to the amount of turmeric found in traditional Indian diets.
A combination of lab, animal, and human studies shows that turmeric is a strong anti-inflammatory that relieves pain; decreases blood clotting that leads to heart attacks and strokes; protects against premature aging; helps the body eliminate cancer-causing toxins; and stops the growth of blood vessels that feed tumors.
Studies have also indicated that curcumin relieves osteoarthritis pain; improves digestion; reduces symptoms of ulcerative colitis and irritable bowel syndrome; and may help prevent multiple sclerosis, fungal infections, and uveitis, an inflammatory condition in the iris of the eye.
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How to Take Turmeric
Curcumin Supplements: Can be taken on an ongoing basis to relieve symptoms such as arthritis pain, or to support overall health. Dosages of 300-600 mg of curcumin (or curcuminoids), once to three times daily, are usually recommended. Check curcumin content on product labels. To enhance absorption, some supplement formulas also contain bromelain, an enzyme from pineapples, and/or piperine, a black-pepper extract that can interact with medications.
Turmeric Supplements: Follow product directions. Turmeric is naturally found in mustard as well as in curry spice, but the quantities in Western dishes are generally too low to deliver any significant health benefits.