Curcumin is the compound which makes turmeric yellow. It is the most researched constituent of the herb, and is mainly responsible for turmeric’s anti- inflammatory properties. It is unlikely, however, that curcumin accounts for the totality of the broad spectrum action of the herb. Subjectively, herbalists say that for many conditions, they have seen better results with the whole herb than with curcumin alone.
Curcumin is one of the diaryl heptanoids known collectively as curcuminoids that comprise about 5 % of turmeric. A polyphenol, curcumin (chemically termed ‘diferuloyl methane”), has actions similar to other polyphenols.
Curcumin has no known toxicity. Extremely high doses of turmeric, its alcohol extract, and pure curcumin do not produce undesired effects in any animal studied.
The mechanism of action is not well understood in curcumin’s case. Some evidence suggests that it acts to promote steroid secretion in the adrenal glands, while other evidence contradicts this theory. We do know that two primary actions are inhibition of lipoxygenase, and antioxidant effects, similar to other polyphenols.
One study demonstrated that curcumin has a novel mechanism of action, distinct from the main categories of anti-inflammatory drugs, such as salicylates (like aspirin) and glucocorticoids (like prednisone). Finding an anti-inflammatory different from these typical categories is truly a breakthrough.
Curcumin is known as a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, and is classified as and NSAID when used in medicine.
First and foremost, turmeric curbs inflammation. One of the active ingredients, curcumin, the pigment that give turmeric its distinctive yellow color, has anti-inflammatory effects comparable to cortisone and phenylbutazone, the standard in drugs for inflammation. Curcumin is nonsteroidal, so it has none of the ravaging side effects of steroid anti-inflammatories. One of the most famous uses for turmeric is the treatment of inflammatory skin disease. These anti-inflammatory qualities make turmeric suitable for the treatment of conditions as diverse as gum disease and carpal tunnel syndrome.
Curcumin also treats pain directly. Like another medicinal spice, cayenne, it depletes nerve endings of substance P, the pain receptor neurotransmitter. Research shows that curcumin and related compounds suppress pain through a mechanism similar to many drugs (COX-I and COX-II enzymes). Recently, turmeric has been shown to enhance wound healing. Recently, a study looked at a combination of exceptional herbs, including turmeric. Forty-two patients with osteoarthritis were randomly assigned to receive an Ayurvedic preparation, containing (per capsule) 450 mg of ashwaganda, 100 mg of Boswellia, 50 mg of turmeric, and 50 mg of a zinc complex, or a placebo, for three months. The dosage was two capsules three times per day, after meals. The treatments were then crossed over. Compared with placebo, the herb combination significantly reduced the severity of pain and the disability score. No side effects required discontinuation of treatment.
An animal study from England, published in 2003, found that turmeric improved osteoarthritis.
Turmeric has historically been used as an external poultice for sprains and sore joints.
Turmeric has a wealth of benefits for the digestive system. Historically, this medicine has been used to reduce gas (a carminative) , a function that is now getting increasing scientific support. Another compound in this herb, p-tolymethylcarbinol, increases the production of several important secretions in the digestive tract.
Turmeric is widely use for indigestion, and there is some scientific evidence that curcumin treats dyspepsia. A double-blind placebo-controlled study with 106 patients measured the effects of 500 mg curcumin 4 times daily against placebo. Seven days into the study, 87% percent of the curcumin group experienced full or partial dyspepsia symptom relief, compared to 53% of the placebo group.
With its ability to suppress inflammation, increase mucin content of the stomach, and stop bleeding, turmeric prevents and treats ulcerations of all types, including gastritis, peptic ulcer, and irritable bowel syndrome/ colitis.
Turmeric is a wonder for colitis, with its pain, inflammation, mucous membrane damage, and diarrhea. Use two heaping Tablespoons of turmeric powder, and two heaping tablespoons of slippery elm bark powder, mixed into a paste with water or maple syrup, per day.
Hemorrhoids respond particularly well to turmeric, which, in addition to oral use, can be applied topically as a paste. Turmeric based hemorrhoids creams are widely available in Asia. This paste is bright yellow, however, so remember, you may end up being yellow where you won’t want to be yellow! (Only temporarily, though.)
One of the most famous uses for turmeric is the treatment of inflammatory skin disease. In Asia, a myriad of turmeric ointments is available for acne, dermatitis, and psoriasis. Of course, they turn your skin yellow for a while…
In fact, turmeric is a good general treatment for all connective tissue. Being a polyphenol, curcumin has the property of stabilizing collagen. It is used to enhance healing after surgery, reducing adhesions and scarring.
Turmeric is particularly appropriate in treating inflammatory skin diseases, such as psoriasis and eczema, as it reduces heat and cleanses the liver. These qualities make it perfect to consider for all herpes diseases (oral, genital, shingles). It is also touted in Ayurveda for urticaria.
Since turmeric both kills insects, and heals skin lesions, it’s not surprising that a combination of turmeric and neem, another Ayurvedic insecticidal herb, applied topically, eradicated scabies in 97 % of the people treated, within 3 to 15 days. This formula is also traditional for ringworm.
Turmeric is also used internally in Asian medicine for skin disease. Use up to 15 grams per day in capsules.
Turmeric is a significant antioxidant. Again, curcumin is the main recognized constituent, but other ingredients are also active. This herb works about as well as vitamin C or E.
Turmeric has been shown, at least in rats, to prevent cataract formation. This remedy is a classic Ayurvedic treatment for all “leaky” conditions. An astringent, it helps curb bleeding or other fluid excesses, and pulls in tissue that’s prolapsed, so it’s appropriate for “wet” macular degeneration. It’s also a very effective anti-inflammatory, and works well for inflammatory conditions in the eye. A typical dose of turmeric to control active inflammation would be about ½ ounce of the powder per day, and for prevention, a teaspoon, or 2 capsules, would do. Applied as a wash, it can used for inflamed eye conditions (conjunctivitis, opthalmia).
Since macular degeneration is strongly associated with atherosclerosis, any treatment that remediates that condition could be beneficial.
Modern research suggests that turmeric has broad anticancer effects. It affects cancer during initiation, promotion, and progression of the tumors. Several studies suggest that turmeric can also cause cancer to regress.
Turmeric and curcumin have action against several potent carcinogens, including cigarette smoke. In smokers, turmeric given at 1.5 grams per day for 30 days substantially reduced the formation of mutagenic (cancer causing) chemicals. It is estimated that 500mg (less than 1/2 a teaspoon) of turmeric per day in the diet could eliminate DNA damage characteristic of the development of cancer.
Another recent study reported a 68 % reduction of cancer in animals following treatment with curcurnin.
Turmeric is also used in the treatment of benign tumors. Ayurveda recommends it specifically in the treatment of breast or uterine cysts and tumors.
Bitter herbs are generally known to promote bile flow. Curcumin has been shown to increase bile acid output by over 100%, and to increase the solubility of the bile, all qualities that lend turmeric to the treatment of gallstones. Classically, it is used mixed with barberry.
Antioxidant curcumin protects the liver about as well as licorice root and milk thistle, well known herbs for that use, which supports the historical high regard in Asia for turmeric as a liver herb. It also reduces liver enzymes, clinical signs of inflammatory liver disease. These same qualities indicate the use of turmeric for the treatment of alcohol abuse.
Turmeric is called a blood purifier, and has been compared to the herb chaparral in its action. It should be noted that the molecular structure of curcumin is very similar to that of NDGA, the active constituent of chaparral.
Turmeric normalizes cholesterol. One constituent, dimethylbenzyl alcohol, reduces serum cholesterol (in the blood), while curcumin removes accumulation of cholesterol in the liver. The anticholesterol action includes reducing intestinal cholesterol uptake, increasing the conversion of cholesterol into bile acids, and increasing the excretion of bile acids.
As a hemostatic, turmeric is effective at reducing bleeding. One herbalist reports seeing an emergency oral dose of two heaping Tablespoons of turmeric powder control the crisis in a case of bright red blood pumping from the rectum.
Turmeric reduces arterial plaque. Since it inhibits platelet aggregation, it can benefit circulation in many ways, including reducing the accumulation of deposits on arterial walls. A recent study showed that it reduced smooth muscle damage in the artery, the beginning step in atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). Turmeric would wisely be used in artery disease or in recovery from bypass surgery or angioplasty.
Anemia benefits from turmeric, as it facilitates the production of new blood cells. Its unique combination of characteristics make it suitable in the treatment of varicose veins.
Long used as a respiratory herb, turmeric excels in reducing cough, for which it is often mixed as a household remedy with coriander and cumin.
As an astringent and anti-inflammatory herb, turmeric is effective as a gargle for sore throat. Bitter herbs, generally, are known to be cooling. Turmeric can be used for severe sore throat with fever. In Ayurveda it is often administered in combination with ghee (clarified butter) for this condition.
Clearly, its anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties make turmeric ideal for treating bronchitis. Asian herbalists use it for asthma.
Turmeric has a long history as an antimicrobial, which is now being supported by modern research. The herb inhibits a wide variety of microbes, including staph, strep, amoebas, and several disease-causing fungi. Curcumin evens inhibits HIV.
Ayurveda recommends it as an antibacterial for those chronically weak or ill. Turmeric is used historically in Ayurveda, both internally and externally, for the treatment of boils. It is also antifungal and anthelmintic, acting especially against Entamoeba histolytica.
This herb is antidiabetic in its action, and will help normalize blood sugar. Its action on the liver, cholesterol levels, and lipids generally assist in diabetes. It treats diabetic ulcer, whether used orally or applied to the wound.
Turmeric is an emmenagogue, and is used in Ayurveda as a mild menstrual regulator. As such, it is considered to be the best general spice for women to move stagnant blood.
Conditions which are treated with nervine and anti-spasmodic herbs can respond to turmeric, for which it is often used with bayberry.
Body weight and appetite will respond to turmeric. It is used in Asia to reduce obesity and in the treatment of anorexia.
Being anti-inflammatory and astringent, it is a superb medicine for oral care. Many Asian tooth and gum preparations are made with turmeric. As well, it can be used for toothache.
Though supported by scant scientific literature, turmeric is widely used in Ayurvedic asthma regimes, with the same use being clinically supported by several American herbalists.
With its noted anti-inflammatory and skin healing properties, turmeric is applied as a cream or pack for connective tissue conditions. In Asia, it is mixed with honey and rubbed on the body for strains, sprains, bruises, and itching.
As a paste it is a first aid treatment for wounds. When prepared as an eye wash, it shows effectiveness in conjunctivitis and opthalmia.
Remember that turmeric is bright yellow, and stains the skin (and everything else it touches, like your toothbrush and your pajamas)! American patients may have difficulty with compliance, as bright yellow skin has not yet become fashionable here.
Turmeric is a mild herb. For acute inflammation, like a sore knee from a long bike ride, the dose might be as high as one ounce (4 Tbs.) per day. Stir the powder into water and swallow, or make it into a paste with honey or a bite of oatmeal. For smaller doses, less serious conditions or ongoing health benefit, use 1 gram per day in capsules. If using standardized extract, containing a high proportion of curcumin, the dose is 1500 mg of total curcumin content per day.
Getting the Turmeric Down
1) Golden Milk: increase turmeric proportion if desired. Prepare in two parts:
a) Prepare a golden yellow turmeric paste by mixing a 1/4 cup of turmeric powder to 1/2 cup of pure water and boiling in a saucepan until a thick paste is formed. This paste may be stored in the refrigerator.
b) After the paste is made, for each cup of golden milk, blend together 1 cup of milk, I teaspoon almond oil or any vegetable oil, 1/4 teaspoon of turmeric paste prepared above (or more if necessary), and honey to taste. While stiffing on a low heat, bring the milk just to the boiling point. The mixture may then be blended in an electric blender to make a beautiful foamy drink. Fruit may be added before blending. Serve with a little cinnamon sprinkled on top.
2) Stir in water/milk/juice/tea. Swallow quickly.
3) Stir into sweetener (honey, maple syrup) to make a paste, swallow from spoon. .
4) Mix with thick, strong tasting food (i.e. peanut butter), swallow.
5) Mix with water to form soft paste. Spoon to the back of throat. Swallow. Follow with water/juice/tea.
6) Mix: 1/2 pint sesame tahini
2 Tbs. sesame oil (or other)
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 to 1/2 cup turmeric powder
7) Sandwich: Make turmeric paste as in golden milk recipe. Spread paste 1/4’ thick on both slices of broad. Add condiments: lettuce, parsley, etc. Include cucumber slices. Close and eat.