Updated: Jul 20
Food IS Medicine
I love talking about foods with medicinal properties because food is medicine!
Many of my patients are struggling with chronic diseases...of all sorts...and many of them result, at least in part, from chronic inflammation. Instead of anti-inflammatory medications, I suggest starting with anti-inflammatory foods.
We could probably geek out all day about all of the benefits of turmeric, but here are a few things I think you’ll find interesting and helpful.
Turmeric root’s best known and most studied active ingredient is curcumin, a powerful antioxidant. The curcumin content of turmeric is only around 3% by weight, and it is poorly absorbed into the bloodstream on its own.
In order to increase the healing benefits of the turmeric you eat, use a little black pepper and some healthy fat to activate the curcumin. Here’s my recipe for activated turmeric paste, which makes it easy to add more anti-inflammatory power to your diet.
Don't let that bioavailability thing keep you from eating fresh, organic turmeric root! The coolest thing about whole foods is they contain not only the active compounds we KNOW of but also lots of other compounds and cofactors [some of which we have yet to identify] designed to work together. This is called “nutrient synergy”. If you’re following me on social media, you may have heard me say this before!
Based upon research studies [I’ve added a few below for your geeking pleasure], it has been shown that curcumin does many amazing things for your health! The list is long, and here are nine of them.
9 Healing Benefits of Turmeric
1. Brain Health
Studies show that curcumin increases BDNF.
What does this mean and why should you care, you ask? BDNF is a nerve growth factor which essentially supports existing nerve cells and helps you grow more of them. Hello! Anyone want better memory and capacity for learning?
One day I’ll do another blog on BDNF...there's so much to say about it. Meanwhile, just know that curcumin, from turmeric, helps support this.
2. Vascular Health
Curcumin has been shown to decrease the risk of heart disease by several mechanisms. One of them is by improving the function of your endothelium, the cells lining your blood vessels.
Endothelial dysfunction results from smoking and various chronic conditions including diabetes or metabolic syndrome, hypertension, and physical inactivity.
One small study found that curcumin can help ward off heart attacks in people who have had bypass surgery.
Another study showed curcumin improved endothelial function by increasing the bioavailability of nitric oxide, which relaxes vessels, and also by reducing oxidative stress.
And men, while we’re thinking about vascular health, please remember that this directly affects ALL vessels in your body, including the ones affecting your sexual function.
3. Lowers LDL cholesterol
High LDL cholesterol is, sadly, a common condition. Some of it is genetically determined, and some is related to diet and inflammation.
There is no one simple answer to how to lower your LDL cholesterol, but a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials concluded that curcumin can be helpful. Clearly, this will also improve your overall cardiovascular health.
Just remember that your genes are not your destiny, and I have plenty of patients with a family history of cholesterol issues and heart disease who have turned their health around. This could be you too, and I’d love to chat with you about how!
4. Metabolic Syndrome
Metabolic syndrome is the name given to a cluster of conditions which increase your risk of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. The criteria for diagnosing this include measurements indicating high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol levels.
One way curcumin has been shown to be beneficial for metabolic syndrome is by increasing adiponectin [a fat-derived hormone that plays a role in protecting against insulin resistance, diabetes and atherosclerosis] and decreasing leptin, another hormone made by fat cells. These hormones and the leptin resistance that can accompany obesity are both complex topics for another discussion.
5. Pain relief
Curcumin affects multiple enzymes and molecular targets that lead to pain relief.
In a meta-analysis of six randomized controlled trials, there was no significant difference in pain reduction between curcumin and the studied anti-inflammatory pain medications. Pretty awesome, especially since anti-inflammatory drugs come with a long list of potential harms.
6. Boosts mood
We’ve learned that depression has an inflammatory component, so it stands to reason that a powerful anti-inflammatory phytochemical like curcumin may boost your mood.
Research shows that curcumin boosts serotonin and dopamine, and traditional Chinese medicine, which is thousands of years old, utilizes this compound for mood. I find it fascinating and fantastic that modern medicine is finally catching up to ancient wisdom.
7. Inflammatory Bowel Disease/Irritable Bowel Syndrome
I treat lots of bowel disease and dysfunction. Sadly, these conditions are increasingly common in our modern society. Studies show that curcumin may benefit those with irritable bowel syndrome and the autoimmune inflammatory bowel diseases, Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis. Of course, treating these conditions is never as simple as just eating more turmeric or taking a curcumin supplement. This is one tool in the toolbox.
8. Cancer Prevention
If you do a quick literature search, you’ll see lots of lab, animal, and human studies investigating the potential effects of curcumin on various cancer cells. That said, the treatment of specific cancers is complex, so if you are dealing with cancer, I highly recommend seeking out an integrative oncologist to guide you.
There are also plenty of studies on curcumin’s potential role for cancer prevention. This is more confirmation that food really is medicine, and a balanced anti-inflammatory diet is preventive for many ills!
9. Autoimmune Diseases
Autoimmune diseases [such as Hashimoto’s, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, Crohn’s, and others] are similar in that they all involve systemic inflammation and an out of control immune response.
Because turmeric contains potent anti-inflammatory compounds, it makes perfect sense that it helps those suffering with autoimmune diseases, which are inflammatory in nature.
Curcumin has been shown to regulate inflammatory cytokines and immune signalling pathways, thus decreasing the inflammatory response.
Is Curcumin Safe For Me?
This is an important question to ask, and there are some instances where I would advise my patients to avoid supplemental curcumin. You’ll want to ask your doctor to make sure you avoid any potential pitfalls.
If you are eating turmeric in culinary amounts, in most cases this is safe.
To Your Health
Just as a reminder, this information isn’t intended to diagnose or treat. It's general guidance to help you use food as medicine.
If you need anything beyond that, I recommend skipping the ultimately more expensive and time-consuming DIY approach and opting to work with a functional medicine doctor.
If you’re struggling with health issues, you are best served by guidance SPECIFIC TO YOU and your health. If you want to find out if my services would be a good fit, please complete the short health assessment form on my website and we’ll have a discovery call.