“I am married to an Indian lady and have learned about Indian culture. I looked into what they got and didn’t get. And one of the things they don’t get is Alzheimer’s.”
So said actor Michael Caine to talk show host Larry King after a fundraising event for Alzheimer’s research back in 2013.
“They eat a great deal of turmeric in their food. I have been taking turmeric tablets for 30 years and I have a memory like a computer. I remember everything.”
On top of helping prevent Alzheimer’s disease, turmeric is said to have many other health benefits…so should you be following Caine’s lead and add turmeric as part of your daily ritual?
That’s the question I’m going to look at today.
What exactly is turmeric?
Turmeric is a plant that is very well known in India. It’s a member of the ginger family. Once the root of the turmeric plant is harvested, cleaned, dried and powdered it is used as both a spice and a medicine.
If you’re familiar with your turmeric, you’re probably also familiar with the world “curcumin.” Curcumin is extracted from turmeric. Curcumin is what gives turmeric its health effects (whereas turmeric in its entirety can be used as a spice). A typical turmeric root contains 2% to 5% curcumin. Curcumin gives turmeric its yellowish color. For instance, the reason why Indian curry is yellow is due to turmeric.
While curcumin appears to have many medical benefits, it is poorly absorbed into the bloodstream. To increase absorption it’s highly recommended that you consume black pepper along with curcumin. Black pepper contains piperine which has been shown to increase the absorption of curcumin by up to 2,000%. Some curcumin/turmeric supplements come with piperine.
If you prefer natural to supplements, you can purchase turmeric root locally or online. You also may want to consider growing turmeric in your garden. YouTube has many turmeric-themed videos that tell you how to grow it, use it in food and increase its absorption in your bloodstream.
What are the medical benefits of curcumin?
Curcumin has powerful anti-inflammatory effects. First off, what exactly is inflammation? Inflammation is an incredibly important factor within our bodies. It is basically the body going into self-protection mode. If something harmful attacks your body, like a virus or a bacterium, inflammation is the body’s attempt to protect itself from it. Infections, wounds and damage to our skin would never heal without inflammation.
What your body needs protecting from is chronic low-level inflammation. This type of inflammation plays a role in diseases such as heart disease, cancer, metabolic syndrome, Alzheimer’s and other degenerative diseases. Chronic inflammation occurs when an inflammatory response is triggered even though there are no foreign invaders to fight off. What happens is your normal protective immune system actually causes damage to its own tissues. What occurs is what’s known as an “autoimmune disease.” Arthritis is the perfect example of this.
Studies have shown the curcumin blocks a molecule called NF-kB which is believed to play a role in many chronic diseases. NF-kB apparently travels into the nuclei of cells and turns on the genes related to inflammation.
Several studies posted on the U.S. National Library of Medicine compare curcumin favorably to anti-inflammatory drugs only without the side effects.
Curcumin may dramatically increase your body’s antioxidant capacity – Studies have shown that curcumin may neutralize free radicals in your body. A free radical is an atom or molecule that contains an unpaired electron. When they attempt to seek out another electron to pair their unpaired electron, damage to your body occurs. Free radical damage within cells has been linked to a range of disorders including diabetes, Alzheimer’s atherosclerosis, cancer and arthritis. Curcumin not only blocks free radicals directly, it stimulates your body’s antioxidant enzymes.
If you search online, you’ll find many positive things about curcumin. Here are some notable potential benefits of curcumin/turmeric that are listed on the WebMD website:
Some research shows that taking turmeric extracts, alone or in combination with other herbal ingredients, can reduce the pain caused by osteoarthritis. In one study, turmeric worked about as well as ibuprofen for reducing osteoarthritis pain.
- Early research suggests that taking curcumin, might improve symptoms of long-term inflammation in the middle layer of the eye.
- Early research suggests that taking turmeric might stabilize some measures for colon cancer. There is also early evidence that taking curcumin daily for 30 days can reduce the number of precancerous glands in the colon of people at high risk of cancer.
- Early research suggests that taking curcumin 3 days before surgery and continuing for 5 days after surgery can lower the risk of a heart attack following bypass surgery.
- Early research suggests that taking turmeric daily for 9 months can reduce the number of people with prediabetes who develop diabetes.
- Early research suggests that using a turmeric mouthwash is as effective as a drug-therapy mouthwash for reducing gum disease and bacteria levels in the mouth, but not for reducing plaque.
- Early research suggests that taking turmeric daily for 4 weeks does help heal stomach ulcers.
- Early research suggests that taking turmeric daily for 3 months can reduce blood pressure and improve kidney function in people with kidney inflammation.
- Early research suggests that taking curcumin daily for up to one week after surgery can reduce pain, fatigue, and the need for pain medications.
Curcumin seemingly has so many benefits, you almost start wondering what it can’t do. But one thing you have to remember is that many of the tests that are the basis for some of these claims are based on research done on mice. This is not necessarily a bad thing as researchers use mice due to their close genetic and physiological similarities to humans, but on the other hand, it is not definitive proof.
Here are a few key things to know about adding curcumin to your life. While it’s generally thought of as being safe, prolonged use could cause nausea or diarrhea. If you’re pregnant, you should not use curcumin supplements. If you have kidney disease, gall bladder disease, diabetes, bleeding disorders, immunity problems or if you take regular medication, you should not use curcumin. The bottom line: it’s a good idea to consult your doctor before you start using curcumin.
Lastly, should you take turmeric or curcumin? Because curcumin is actually an extract of turmeric, you would naturally think the answer would be curcumin. But in an article on his website renowned holistic doctor Andrew Weil, M.D. writes that…
“I frequently recommend turmeric supplements, and I believe whole turmeric is more effective than isolated curcumin for inflammatory disorders, including arthritis, tendonitis, and autoimmune conditions.”
A good strategy might be to try both and keep a journal documenting how you feel while taking each variation. Note: Many manufacturers cover both bases by listing both names on their label making it difficult to determine the curcumin and turmeric mix.
Having said that, it would appear that turmeric has done wonders for Michael Caine. He’s 82 years old now and he’s still actively making movies.