Superfood Spotlight: Turmeric

turmeric root

A few years ago, most of us had never heard of turmeric. Now this odd shaped root from the ginger family has become the darling of the health food industry, popping up in all sorts of products and concoctions touting its miraculous medicinal marvels. Sometimes it’s difficult to separate hype from fact, especially in the health and nutrition space, but turmeric has undergone a lot of research and study. It really does seem to have some impressive properties and perks that can be particularly beneficial for aging adults.

What exactly is turmeric?

The rhizome root of the turmeric plant (Curcuma longa Linn) has long been used as a popular culinary spice in India and other parts of South East Asia. It is a major ingredient in curry powder and helps give it that pungent, earthy-sweet, musky, peppery flavor plus its distinctive golden-yellow hue. It has been used in Ayurveda and other traditional Indian medical systems for centuries.

The active ingredient in turmeric root that is causing all this buzz is curcumin. It’s this biologically active polyphenolic compound that delivers a host of health benefits that can help a wide variety of typical senior ailments.

What health issues can turmeric help seniors with?

Arthritis
Thanks to its powerful anti-inflammatory properties, curcumin may be a safe and effective long-term treatment option for people with both rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. It helps improve stiffness, pain and physical function of the joints. Topical turmeric treatments can provide arthritis pain relief, and oral curcumin can help slow the progression of these degenerative diseases.

Diabetes
Curcumin’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties may help prevent or manage diabetes. It can improve many factors that contribute to this disease, such as insulin resistance, high blood sugar and hyperlipidemia (such as high cholesterol or triglycerides).

Memory loss
Taking a daily dose of curcumin may prevent memory problems from accelerating over time. Some studies show turmeric can improve cognitive capacities and positively impact brain cells themselves. Clinical trials involving turmeric and Alzheimer’s disease are ongoing. Anecdotally, people in India have lower incidence of Alzheimer’s disease, which may be due to the higher consumption of turmeric-rich curries.

Cancer
Promising lab and animal studies have shown that turmeric can stop growth of tumor cells and help detoxifying enzymes work better. Human studies are not conclusive, however, and some believe turmeric can interfere with certain chemotherapy drugs. Please consult with your doctor if you want to take curcumin supplements when fighting cancer.

Depression and mood
Turmeric’s ability to reduce brain inflammation may be linked to its impact on depression and mood. Brain scans from subjects in turmeric/curcumin studies have revealed less amyloid and tau accumulation in two brain regions of the participants – the amygdala and hypothalamus – which control anxiety, emotion, decision-making and memory.

Heart disease
Studies shows that curcumin may improve endothelial function. This is the thin membrane that covers the inside of the heart and blood vessels, and helps regulate blood pressure. More research is needed to determine if turmeric is a safe and effective for people with heart disease, but it looks promising.

Headaches
Ginger is often recommended to quell headaches, so it’s no surprise that it’s cousin turmeric can offer some relief as well. Turmeric’s anti-inflammatory properties make it useful in treating headaches, including migraines. Some studies have shown that, in the right dose, curcumin may be a more effective anti-inflammatory treatment than medications like ibuprofen or aspirin. It’s not a definitive preventative or cure, but it can be part of your arsenal in combating this kind of pain.

How to boost curcumin absorption

Note, curcumin has limited bioavailability, which is the ease in which a nutrient can be absorbed. There are some things you can do to help with this absorption so the body can use it and benefit from it.

Mix it with fat
Curcumin has low solubility in water, so mixing it with good quality, healthy fats can help with its bioavailability. The curcumin binds to fat and is more easily absorbed by the gut. Cooking with coconut oil, for example, can help optimize the curcumin’s absorption and efficacy. Add it to smoothies or golden lattes made with full fat dairy, coconut or almond milk to help the body use it’s goodness.

Add a dash of black pepper
Black pepper also helps improve curcumin’s bioavaiablity. When you ingest curcumin, much of it gets metabolised before it can be absorbed due to the digestive enzymes in the liver, stomach and intestines. Piperine, a compound in black pepper, helps protect the curcumin from digestive enzymes that try to remove it from the bloodstream. A study showed that piperine increases curcumin’s bioavailability by 2000 per cent!

Heat it up
If you enjoy cooking, you know that many spices are transformed by heat. Flavor is often enhanced, and so is its ability to be absorbed and used by the body. Heat increases curcumin’s solubility in water, and also enhances its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Tumeric can be a bit sensitive to heat, so you don’t want to blast it at high temperatures for long. Try to keep cooking times under 15 minutes, and don’t boil it for long.

Combining heat, fat and black pepper along with your tumeric is the trifecta of improving curcumin absorption, but even one or two of these tips can help you get beneficial uses out of this super spice. Sprinkle it on scrambled eggs cooked in coconut oil with a dash of black pepper. Enjoy it in curries. Sip in in golden lattes or golden milk beverages. Add a touch of coconut oil to your turmeric tea. It can be an acquired taste, but its worth incorporating a touch of turmeric into your daily diet.

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