BY JENNIFER MOTL
Save money by adding the curry spice turmeric to your medicine cabinet. From arthritis aches and pains to upset stomach, turmeric has been shown to decrease inflammation in clinical studies.
There’s also preliminary evidence it may help prevent heart attacks, reduce blood sugar, and reduce the risk of a variety of cancers. It’s also being used in mouthwash.
Turmeric, which gives its golden color to curry powder and mustard, has been used in Indian cooking and traditional medicine for about 4,000 years.
Today, some folks take supplements of curcumin, a potent antioxidant found in turmeric. However, turmeric also contains more than 100 other natural compounds not found in supplements. So consider adding more turmeric to your food.
Of course it’s important, especially if you’re ill, to keep seeing your doctor and taking your regular medication. But spicing up your foods with turmeric may also help you along.
Turmeric is rated “generally recognized as safe” by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and it’s unlikely to cause side effects in the amounts normally used in food.
Some of the strongest evidence for turmeric involves its effects on joint and stomach pain. For knee pain, turmeric worked about as well as ibuprofen, according to the National Institutes of Health. You can read their full report on turmeric online at nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/662.html.
For arthritis, it may be helpful to take curcumin, 500 milligrams two to four times a day, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Turmeric also has been shown to kill viruses and a variety of germs, including H. pylori, the bacteria that causes painful stomach ulcers.
I’d still recommend that anyone who has H. pylori take the antibiotics that a doctor prescribes. After the antiobiotics are done, however, I would recommend spicing foods with turmeric in hopes of preventing a relapse. And of course continue to follow up with the physician.
Some studies show that taking turmeric before meals can help reduce indigestion as well as bloating, gas and irritable bowel syndrome.
For upset stomach, you can take 500 milligrams of turmeric up to four times daily, according to the National Institutes of Health. That translates to about 1/4 teaspoon of turmeric four times daily.
Turmeric might be useful for more serious digestive problems such as ulcerative colitis. One study showed that turmeric supplements helped people with ulcerative colitis stay in remission longer.
One digestive issue you might want to avoid turmeric for is gallbladder issues, according to the National Institutes of Health.
MANAGING BLOOD SUGAR
Turmeric has been used in Indian medicine to help lower blood sugar for people with diabetes. New research shows that curcumin, a turmeric extract, may help prevent diabetes, too.
A study by American and Thai scientists found that when volunteers with pre-diabetes received curcumin capsules for nine months, none developed diabetes. That compares to a 16 percent diabetes rate in volunteers who received a placebo, or blank pill, according to the journal Diabetes Care. A separate study suggested the spice may affect blood sugar by inhibiting pancreatic enzymes.
Diabetes is a serious illness, and turmeric is not a substitute for medicines and healthy eating. More research is needed before we know exactly how much turmeric can be useful for diabetes. It’s certainly fine to use the spice in food, however.
PROTECT THE HEART
One study of curcumin extracts found that the supplements lowered triglyceride levels in healthy middle-aged adults. Some studies suggest it may help prevent dangerous blood clots.
Taking curcumin after heart surgery, or coronary artery bypass grafting, reduced the risk of heart attacks by 35 percent in a small Thai study.
However, the National Institutes of Health recommends stopping turmeric supplements two weeks before any surgery because of potential for bleeding.
RESEARCH FOR CANCER
Studies too numerous to mention are looking at the possibility that turmeric may help prevent or reduce the spread of cancer. Some suggest that curcumin may make cancer cells more vulnerable to chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
And combining turmeric with ginger, another spice often found in curry powder, may make it even more effective. That’s according to research on prostate cancer cells.
As always, if you are being treated for cancer, talk with your physician before taking any supplements. It’s safe to use usual amounts of spices on foods.
Taking black pepper with turmeric makes it easier for the body to use turmeric, according to a Slovenian study.
Curcumin, one of the most powerful chemicals in turmeric, is hard for the body to absorb unless it’s consumed with fat. Heating turmeric may also make it slightly easier to absorb.
People in India and Pakistan liberally season foods with turmeric and curry powder, and it is still used medicinally in those countries. Often, it’s combined with other spices in warm milk. That makes sense, because the spices and the fat in the milk would make the turmeric easier to absorb.
Try this recipe for Turmeric Milk adapted from HimalaynInstitute.org. In a saucepan, simmer 2 cups low-fat milk, ½ teaspoon turmeric and a dash each of ginger, cinnamon and black pepper. Serve warm.
If you prefer a sweeter beverage, try combining the turmeric milk with a banana in the blender for a smoothie.
Jennifer Motl is a registered dietitian. Formerly of Fredericksburg, she now lives in Wisconsin. She welcomes reader questions via her website, brighteating.com, or by email at healthyliving@freelancestar .com.