Health & wellness | Why turmeric is being touted as natures wonder drug

I have a 62-year-old client who swears that turmeric is her secret weapon for relieving the pain and swelling in her arthritis-riddled knees.

Every day she drinks four ounces of a tea she makes by simmering turmeric, cinnamon and ginger root in almond milk. Without it, she says her knees swell so much that she needs a cane to walk. With it, and specifically because of the turmeric, she says her knees feel young and she is able to work as a nurse.

People in India and China have been using turmeric for thousands of years, not only to flavor their food but also for its wonderful medicinal properties. And now, with some studies purportedly backing these claims, and the media reporting on it (London’s Daily Mail called it “nature’s wonder drug” in a recent headline), turmeric is creating quite a buzz.

In addition to relieving chronic pain and arthritis symptoms, turmeric reportedly is also a champion at: preventing wrinkles, improving cardiac health, bolstering brain activity and preventing Alzheimer’s. It’s little wonder that the world is beginning to recognize turmeric as a leading anti-aging super food.

A yellowish-brown powder ground from the root of a plant in the ginger family, turmeric is known in the United States mostly for giving American-style mustards their bright yellow coloring.

But what makes it so holistically powerful?  

The principal element in turmeric’s healing power is curcumin, a chemical compound that is gaining popularity (especially in dietary supplements and cosmetics) for its reported antioxidant and antiseptic qualities. People feel that it is an invaluable tool for staving off the signs and symptoms of aging.

Curcumin also has great anti-inflammation properties and has been found to be highly effective in helping people manage pain and swelling. It’s used by those suffering from arthritis and joint pain, with some saying it’s even more powerful and effective than over-the-counter pain medications.

Root and powder forms of turmeric, a relative of ginger

Curcumin also has been found to protect the brain against diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, and assist the body in managing heart disease. Even more, preliminary studies have found that curcumin can inhibit cancer and tumor cell growth.

Beyond all that, turmeric is also one of the best sources of beta-carotene, an antioxidant that wards off free radical damage. A diet rich in antioxidants is highly recommended by dermatologists as an aid to keeping skin looking more youthful by preventing wrinkles and age spots.  

Cooking with turmeric is a great way to take advantage of its “powers.” As a relative of the ginger plant, it blends well into curries, soups, stews and tea, and adds a wonderful peppery flavor when added to rice or even sprinkled on toast.

But just a dash goes a long way: It has a bitterness that can quickly overtake a dish when too much is used.

If cooking with turmeric seems too daunting, you can supplement your diet by taking a daily dose of curcumin in capsule form.

One note: As with all natural remedies, it may take a week or so of ingesting the item daily before results are felt. For the tea recipe alongside this column, two ounces twice a day is recommended.

And a word of caution: Contact your physician before you begin daily use of any new spice for medicinal purposes. Curcumin, and therefore turmeric, can act as a blood thinner and should be avoided if you already take prescription blood thinners.

 

Roasted Turmeric Cauliflower

1 medium head of cauliflower (3 cups florets)

1 tsp. turmeric

2 Tbs. olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Pull off florets from cauliflower. Combine florets with the turmeric, olive oil and salt. Spread out cauliflower into a baking dish or cookie sheet. Bake for 25 minutes, until the cauliflower is tender and beginning to brown.

 

Turmeric Tea

2 cups almond milk (or milk of choice)

1 tsp. turmeric

1/4  tsp. black pepper

1/2 tsp. ground ginger (or 1-inch piece of fresh ginger root, sliced)

Cinnamon and/or honey, to taste

Leave out black pepper (which enhances the absorption of turmeric) if it hurts your stomach. In a saucepan, add all desired ingredients (except honey) and whisk to combine. Heat on medium until it starts to bubble. Turn heat to low and simmer for about 5 minutes. If using ginger root, remove from liquid. If desired, add honey. Stir and drink warm.

Jeannie Solomon is a nutrition and wellness coach at the PJCC in Foster City (www.pjcc.org).