Exotic superfoods don’t just sit on the shelves of vitamin stores any more: they’re being incorporated into everyday foods and winning over taste buds everywhere. Take maca cookies and matcha ice cream for example, or goji berry trail mix and chia beverages. While these superfoods seem to be products of the latest health trends, they’ve actually been around for hundreds to thousands of years in different parts of the world. We’ll focus on turmeric, the “golden spice,” in this blog post.

Even if you’ve never tried turmeric as an herb, you may have had it as part of curries and yellow mustard. Turmeric is an orange-yellow rhizome related to ginger and originated in South Asia. As part of Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine, turmeric has been used for inflammatory conditions of the respiratory tract, digestive system and joints, as well as sprains and skin sores.

Over the past two decades, turmeric ingredients have been intensively studied as natural agents against a range of diseases. The active compounds of turmeric are polyphenols called curcuminoids, with curcumin being the most important. Curcumin is best understood as a strong antioxidant with powerful anti-inflammatory effects. Inflammation is a key factor in many chronic and degenerative health conditions, which helps explain curcumin’s benefits for arthritis, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and cancer. Here’s just a sampling of recent clinical findings:

  • Joint health: In a 2017 investigation at research institutions in India and the US, 12 patients with rheumatoid arthritis who supplemented with curcumin for three months reported reduced symptoms and lowered their levels of inflammation markers.
  • Cardiovascular function: A 2016 study with 59 young adult subjects by US and New Zealand researchers showed that taking a curcumin supplement for eight weeks enhanced endothelial (blood vessel lining) function, an aspect of cardiovascular health.
  • Brain support: In a 2018 trial at the University of California at Los Angeles with 40 older adults, supplementing with curcumin for 18 months decreased the accumulation of Alzheimer’s-related brain proteins and improved memory and attention.
  • Cancer therapy side effects: A 2013 study at the University of Rochester Medical Center showed that among 30 breast cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy, those who took curcumin daily had milder radiation dermatitis than the placebo group.

How do you get the most benefit out of turmeric? There are a couple of things to keep in mind. One is that curcumin is soluble in fats and oils but not in water-based liquids, so including turmeric as part of fat-containing foods or meals makes curcumin more absorbable. And this can be accomplished in an endless variety of ways: through vegetarian and meat dishes, dips, shakes or baked goods. Also, the absorption and metabolism of curcumin are such that only a small fraction of what’s eaten is available for use by the body. That’s why turmeric or curcumin supplements formulated for enhanced bioavailability can be especially effective. For example, when the black pepper ingredient piperine is included in the formula, the bioavailability of curcumin increases 20-fold.

Go ahead and spice up your life with turmeric !