In Sanskrit, the language of ancient India, turmeric is known as Haridra or Kanchani – the Golden Goddess, as is revered for its ability to bring health and well being. The peoples of ancient India believed that turmeric contained the energy of the Divine Mother, brought prosperity, and cleansed and purified the channels of the subtle body. Even today, Hindus consider turmeric to have auspicious qualities, and use it in many sacred ceremonies.
Today we know that from the myriad medicinal plants, turmeric has one of the greatest range of qualities and medicinal actions known to man. It is a member of the Zingiberaceae family of plants just like ginger and its Latin name is Curcuma longa. It is widely used in Indian cuisine for it’s flavour and to impart its vibrant yellow colour.
Turmeric has hundreds of molecular constituents, each with a variety of biological activities. There are at least 20 molecules that are anti-biotic, 14 that are known cancer preventatives, 12 that are anti-tumour, 12 are anti-inflammatory and there are at least 10 different anti-oxidants. One database presented over 326 known biological activities of turmeric. This rhizome or root is 70% carbohydrates, 7% protein, 4% minerals, and at least 4% essential oils. It also has vitamins, other alkaloids, and is about 1% resin. The active ingredient in turmeric is called “curcumin”, although in its raw state turmeric only contains 2-5% curcumin. Curcumin is the substance that is responsible for the biological activity of turmeric. Combined with black pepper, curcumin becomes 2000 times more potent. Curcumin is now extracted from turmeric, sold as supplements, and is the basis of most of the scientific research into turmeric.
Both India and Pakistan , where turmeric is a dietary staple, boast much lower incidence of cancer than in other countries where turmeric is not regularly consumed. Turmeric is considered to fight Cancer in three ways: It neutralizes those substances and conditions which can cause cancer; It directly helps a cell retain its integrity if threatened by carcinogens (a substance showing significant evidence of causing cancer or growth of cancer cells); And if a tumour does grow the curcumins can often destroy it. Turmeric is also rich in antioxidants, which are important disease fighting substances that help to clean up unstable oxygen molecules (free radicals) that can damage cells and cause diseases such as Cancer. Research is showing that curcumin may be a more effective treatment for cancer in the beginning phases of the disease, as well as a preventative treatment throughout life before cancer even emerges. But there is also research suggesting that taking curcumin may counteract the effectiveness of chemotherapy. So, some cancer treatment programs are developing a periodic schedule of use to avoid any issues.
Turmeric is also a powerful anti-inflammatory herb. It has been shown to be helpful in the treatment of Arthritis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Osteoarthritis, injuries, trauma, and stiffness from both under activity and over activity. It is also helpful after surgery to decrease pain, inflammation and accelerate healing. In India , turmeric is considered the standard anti-inflammatory, and yogis use it to help keep their tendons and ligaments free from injury and to assist in their yoga practice. In the same way, it minimizes pain and inflammation related to any kind of exercise or strenuous activity.
Turmeric also protects the liver from toxins and pathogens. It is known to both destroy toxins in the liver, and to rebuild the liver after a toxic attack or illness. Turmeric increases the secretion and movement of bile, and is useful in preventing all forms of liver disease. Excessive use of drugs, smoking and/or alcohol can tax the liver and lead to liver diseases. But turmeric helps keep the liver healthy so it can do its job of keeping the body detoxified.
Ayurveda uses turmeric to purify the blood. It can help improve circulation by moving stagnant blood while at the same time stimulating the formation of new blood tissue. Turmeric regulates menses, and decreases the intensity and pain of menstrual periods, and of uterine tumours. Turmeric is a mild and supportive uterine stimulant and its many actions on the liver suggest that it may assist in balancing hormone levels as well. Turmeric also plays a role in pregnancy and birthing in India . Traditionally, it is said that taking turmeric when pregnant will ensure that the child will always have beautiful skin. However, turmeric is a mild uterine stimulant, so there is a chance of over stimulation. (It is essential to consult a healthcare practitioner before taking any herbs during pregnancy.)
External application stops pain and swelling, heals wounds rapidly, and treats many skin diseases ranging from acne to bites and stings. The classic way to apply turmeric on the skin is as a face-mask: a blend of turmeric, chick-pea flour, sesame or almond oil, a little fresh cream and honey. This will clear up skin blemishes, and increase the natural glow and radiance of the skin.
Turmeric greatly benefits the entire digestive system by supporting diversity of intestinal flora. It is traditionally used for weak stomachs, poor digestion, low stomach acid, parasites, abdominal cramps, to normalize metabolism, to help digest protein and breakdown of fats, to increase absorption, to improve the ability of the stomach to withstand digestive acids and is also helpful in treating food poisoning. Turmeric is a carminative as it helps to decrease gas and distention. According to Ayurveda, plants that treat digestion are often the most important herbs of all since digestion is the basis of mental and physical health.
Another major use of turmeric is support of the respiratory system. As an anti-oxidant it protects the lungs from pollution and toxins. It also helps the oxygen transfer from the lungs to the blood. Turmeric with ghee is traditionally used to get rid of cough and to treat asthma.
It also supports the heart in many ways. A study conducted in 1992 shows that turmeric may assist in lowering cholesterol and prevent Atherosclerosis (blockage of arteries that can cause heart attack and/or stroke). Animal studies have shown that turmeric lowers cholesterol levels and inhibits the oxidation of LDL (“bad cholesterol”, responsible for clogging of arteries). It may also prevent platelet build up along the walls of injured blood vessels, another common cause of blood clots and artery blockage that can result in heart attacks and strokes.
Studies are also underway regarding turmeric’s believed effects in treating and preventing neurological diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis and Alzheimer’s Disease. This belief generates from the realization that elderly Indian people who eat turmeric on a regular basis are far less likely to develop these ailments than those who do not eat turmeric. In fact, Alzheimer’s Disease is 4.4 times less common among older adults in India than in the United States. It has been noted that people taking anti-inflammatory medication for Arthritis are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s Disease. Since turmeric possesses such a powerful anti-inflammatory action, scientists speculate that it most likely will have a preventative effect on such disorders. More research is needed in this area to prove such theories.
Turmeric has stood the test of time. It has been worshipped and revered by people for centuries, and still today it is one of the most significant players in the prevention of serious disease. Much more research is underway to prove scientifically what the people of India have known for centuries: that turmeric is one of the most powerful plants on the planet. In the words of David Frawley: “If I had only a single herb to depend upon for all possible health and dietary needs, I would without much hesitation choose the Indian spice turmeric.