Turmeric has had its share of attention and by now you are probably familiar with its anti inflammatory, anti sceptic, antioxidant and anti fungal potency. It has broad spectrum anti microbial activity, helps with weight loss by controlling blood sugar spikes and thus can help with diabetic control. Most popularized in ayurvedic cooking, it is a rhizome native to the tropics of South East Asia, where its medicinal use dates back thousands of years. Turmeric is botanically related to ginger, it is most noted for its brilliant yellow colouring and for treating inflammation.
Curcumin is the yellow pigment associated with the curry spice, the prototypical curcuminoid molecule is responsible for its potent anti inflammatory qualities especially in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, and other inflammatory conditions. In addition to its anti-inflammatory effects it also seems quite protective against some form of cancer progression but also has additional anti-cancer effects that are independent of its anti-inflammatory effects.
Thus, curcumin is a heavily researched molecule both for its anti-inflammation and cancer prevention treatment. Non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) have been widely prescribed for the treatment of all inflammatory conditions but it is widely known that long term use can cause serious side effects, including gastric distress. Turmeric powder, for example, can have anywhere from 2%-10% curcumin depending on how its grows, stored and processed. Raw turmeric has a higher percentage of curcumin than the powdered spice. In unadulterated turmeric, the darker the colour, the higher the curcumin percentage.
I first came across it as a chai alternative at a cafe on Main Street in Vancouver in the fall of last year. I enjoyed its unique flavouring so much that I decided to look up some recipes. I took to researching the benefits of turmeric after a chronic hamstring injury kept leading me to consider the use of anti inflammation medication to treat the issue. But wary of conventional medicine and its side effects, I started to delve deeper into the popularized root. There are many recipes on the web using turmeric but it was a particular lead that explained the importance of pepper or piperine in optimizing turmeric’s anti inflammatory properties that I found most intriguing.
Curcumin is a polyphenol. Over the past decade researchers and food manufacturers have been interested in polyphenols for their antioxidant properties as well as their abundance in our diets and for the role they may play in preventing cancer, cardiovascular disease and neurodegenerative diseases. The health effects of polyphenols depend on the amount consumed and on their bioavailabilty. Bioavailibility is a key term because a food can have a significant amount of nutrients and medicinal uses but be rendered ineffective systemically in the body unless it is prepared a certain way (for example, soaking legumes before cooking makes them easier to digest due to the breakdown of phytate which inhibits iron and zinc absorption in the gut). Pairing pepper (piperine) with turmeric increases curcumin’s oral bioavailibilty-some claims up to 1000%!? How is this possible? Bioavailability in nutritional sciences-in food, is different than in medications because there are too many variables to accurately measure the rate at which the chemical makes it to the treatable site. More importantly, utilization and absorption is dependant on an individual’s physiological as well as nutritional status resulting in huge variances from individual to individual. Nonetheless, it is possible to benefit from turmeric.
Turmeric ingested alone gets metabolized before it can get absorbed. What does this mean? Because it has low oral bioavailability, if you are preparing a turmeric tea for medicinal purposes make sure you add pepper (black peppercorns will do) in order to maximize the effectiveness of your concoction. In a study done on the effects of piperine, researches found that it triggered pain reducing receptors in the brain and some studies have also found it to treat neuropathic pain or chronic pain which is very difficult to treat. Together, turmeric and pepper make a potent combination.
One last thing: turmeric is fat soluble. In order for curcumin to make it past the stomach and into the small intestine, and into the blood where it can have the most effect, it needs a carrier-fat. In order to optimize the effects of turmeric, your concoction must include fat. Fat sources can be fish oil (DHA which has been linked to breast cancer prevention), coconut oil, butter or ghee as well as whole milk or cream.
Turmeric Tea Recipe:
3 cups of water
1.5 tsp of fresh dried peppercorns
1 inch fresh ginger root grated
1 cinnamon stick
1.5 inch fresh turmeric root cut in thin slices
1.5 cups coconut cream (or whole milk)
*optional raw organic honey or maple syrup to taste
Bring 3 cups water to a boil, add peppercorns, ginger, and cinnamon stick and reduce temperature to low. Turmeric is extremely sensitive to high temperatures so do not boil. Add the turmeric root and cook, covered, for up to 20 minutes. Then add the cream and simmer for another 10 minutes.
To serve: strain into warmed cups and sprinkle with cinnamon or nutmeg powder. Add honey to taste, if necessary. Consume as quickly as possible to enjoy its medicinal properties. Enjoy!
Warning: Do not use turmeric tinctures if you are pregnant, trying to conceive or taking prescription blood thinner medications, prone to gall stones or kidney stones. Those who have congestive heart failure should discuss with their doctor before taking turmeric in therapeutic doses. Do not use if you are allergic to turmeric or other plants in the ginger family.