An oriental spice with many benefits
Turmeric is a powdered spice much used in cooking, which can give an exotic accent to everyday recipes. This natural substance is also rich in beneficial properties. Let’s find out what they are.
What is turmeric?
Turmeric is a spice of plant origin, an integral ingredient in Asian cuisine and culture. It is made from the root of a plant whose scientific name is Curcuma longa. Because of its characteristic yellow color, turmeric is also known as the “yellow root”, “golden spice” or “Indian saffron”.
Its intense and aromatic flavor and its bitter taste make it an excellent base ingredient for a vast array of dishes, with meat and fish: after all, turmeric is the main ingredient in curry, and is found more and more often in dishes served all over the world.
The underground rhizome of turmeric is dense and pulpy; the orange pulp inside the rhizome is the source of the medicinal powdered turmeric. It is boiled, dried and then ground.
Thanks to its potential for increasing wellbeing, turmeric is used in numerous foods (for example, tea, beverages and sauces) and in dietary supplements.
When applied to the skin, turmeric appears to improve its color and inhibit the growth of facial hair, as well as working against acne.
Despite the many benefits of turmeric, the quantity of active principle (curcumin) present in the body after consumption and the rapidity with which it is absorbed (technically known as “bioavailability”) is limited, probably due to scarce absorption, raid metabolism and equally rapid elimination. Consuming turmeric with piperine, an active compound present in another common spice, black pepper (Piper nigrum Linn), increases the bioavailability of curcumin by 2000% (as shown by a study conducted on healthy volunteers).
The benefits of turmeric
In Asia, turmeric has been used for centuries as part of traditional medicine. Turmeric-based remedies have been used since ancient times in India and China, where this spice is considered an important ingredient in traditional medicine, thanks to its many beneficial properties, and in particular in ayurvedic medicine, to contrast a series of symptoms associated with health problems.
This spice can be taken orally or applied on the skin, in powder form (for example, in caps, or dissolved in liquid), as an extract (in ethanol or water), or in a cream, paste or unguent.
Its well-known nutritional and medicinal properties have attracted the attention not only of gourmands, but of modern western medicine, and it has been the object of numerous scientific and medical studies.
Turmeric contains an active substance known as “curcumin”, which is its principal component. Curcumin is a natural pigment and is responsible for turmeric’s characteristic yellow color. It belongs to the family of curcuminoids (powerful antioxidants and colorants).
Curcumin’s efficacy has been recognized globally thanks to its powerful anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial action, and it is used in the treatment of various conditions, like diabetes and arthritis.
Moreover, like Vitamin E, curcumin is also a potent antioxidant, able to effectively block free radicals.
It has been shown to have anti-tumoral properties, due to its capacity to inhibit the activation of a protein found on the surface of some cells, known as EGFR (epidermal growth factor receptor), which, when present at excessively high levels, sets off cellular over-proliferation by blocking the reception of signals governing cellular proliferation.
Researchers are also increasingly interested in turmeric’s capacity to prevent or slow the development of some neurodegenerative illnesses, like Alzheimer’s. Its action is also considered in the treatment of traumatic brain lesions.
Adverse and side effects of turmeric
Turmeric is generally well tolerated and was listed by the FDA among the “Substances Generally Recognized as Safe” (GRAS).
Nevertheless, it is important not to go overboard: in fact, excessive consumption of turmeric can cause irritation and upset stomach, nausea, diarrhea and allergic reactions.
In this respect, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recommends a daily dosage of turmeric for a normal diet of 7% less than the acceptable daily dose of 3 mg/kg/die, equal to about one teaspoon.
In an animal study, dosages of turmeric of 0.3 and 1.0% found no effect on growth, and total serum protein, albumin, globulin and cholesterol. Levels of turmeric equal to 10% instead resulted in a decrease in the amount of food consumed.
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