Turmeric has been purported as something of a miracle plant for centuries and is starting to gain scientific backing as researchers continue to explore its benefits and applications. The plant itself is gorgeous with vibrant green leaves and dense flowers in the center and plump rhizomes at the base of the stem that multiply over time. If I lived in a more humid climate, I would grow this tropical beauty in a heartbeat. The rhizomes are a lot like ginger and can be dug up, cut up and consumed on the spot – though it’s traditionally used for dyes and ground up as a spice.
The powerhouse of turmeric is a bioactive compound called curcumin. Curcumin has a complex molecular structure that makes it really good at fighting free radicals in the bloodstream and activates the body’s own antioxidizing enzymes. It also improves the lining of the blood vessels (the endothelium), which regulates blood pressure and prevents clotting – factors that are associated with heart disease. Curcumin has also been associated with neurological benefits since it is unique in its ability to cross the blood-brain barrier; it increases the levels of Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor, which helps neurons multiply in certain areas of the brain and is even thought to clear up Amyloid plaques (stubborn protein build-ups unique to Alzheimer’s Disease). There are reported and ongoing studies to explore the potential of curcumin in neurology and the link to Alzheimer’s is incredibly exciting, considering that there is no cure yet.
The problem with turmeric – other than yellow-stained cutting boards that will never be the same again – is that your body cannot absorb it very easily. Although curcumin is safe at high doses, its efficacy is limited by the body’s fast metabolism and efficient waste elimination system. There are numerous studies to improve the bioavailability of curcumin. The most promising that I have heard about is combining curcumin with piperine, which is found in black pepper, which can increase bioavailability by 2000%.
Because of the inefficiency of the spice itself, it would seem that the best way to take advantage of turmeric’s myriad of benefits is in a concentrated dose of curcumin in combination with piperine.
I honestly don’t know much about supplements, other than that they are unregulated mystery pills that can come from anywhere and contain anything. Since I’m really interested in curcumin and other beneficial compounds that are best taken in a concentrated form, I plan on doing some digging to learn how to go about this in the best way. Until then, any tips will help!