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Turmeric - An Amazing Healer

by Anne McIntyre(more info)

listed in ayurveda, originally published in issue 73 - February 2002

Introduction

Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is much more than the familiar spice that gives curry blends their yellow colour and imparts to them a slightly bitter or astringent taste. It is an amazing healing plant that has not only been valued for its therapeutic properties in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine for thousands of years but also has a significant role to play here in the West in the prevention and treatment of a wide range of modern day problems. It is an excellent natural antibiotic, and one of the best detoxifying herbs by virtue of its beneficial effect on the liver, a powerful antioxidant with health-promoting effects on the cardiovascular, skeletal and digestive systems. Through its beneficial effect on the ligaments, it is highly valued by those who practise Hatha Yoga.

The medicinal part of turmeric comes from the fleshy underground rhizomes of a perennial plant from the same family as ginger with large lily-like leaves that can grow to about 3 feet high. The rhizomes are harvested in winter, boiled or steamed, and then dried. Most turmeric is available as a powder.

Beneficial Properties

Turmeric not only enhances the flavour of food but also aids digestion, particularly of protein, promotes absorption and regulates metabolism. It is an excellent spice to add to cooking if concerned about weight. Turmeric helps to regulate intestinal flora and is well worth taking during and after a course of antibiotics and by those suffering from Candida or thrush. It has a long history of use for eradicating worms. I have frequently prescribed turmeric for digestive problems such as indigestion, heartburn, wind, bloating, colic and diarrhoea. It has a soothing and bolstering effect on the mucosa of the gut and boosts stomach defences against excess acid, drugs and other irritating substances ingested and from the effects of stress, thereby reducing the risk of gastritis and ulcers. It is said to lower blood sugar in diabetics.

Turmeric has beneficial effects in the liver, which include stimulating the flow of bile, protecting against damage from toxins[1] and improving the metabolism of fats. By enhancing liver function, turmeric helps to cleanse the blood of toxins and impurities. It has been shown to lower harmful cholesterol levels, to inhibit blood clotting by blocking prostaglandin production[2] and to help prevent as well as remedy atherosclerosis, thus playing a significant role in the prevention of heart and arterial disease.

Turmeric contains constituents including curcumin, tumerone and zingiberone as well as high amounts of a carotene, equivalent to 50 IU of vitamin A per 100 grams.[3] Probably the most important component is curcumin which gives turmeric its intense yellow colour.

Curcumin is a powerful, yet safe anti-inflammatory agent, excellent for treating inflammatory problem such as arthritis, liver and gall bladder problems. It has been found to block the production of certain prostaglandins and to have effects on a par with cortisone and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs but without the side effects.[4],[5] I have observed that taking turmeric daily has an excellent anti-inflammatory effect, improving morning stiffness, joint swelling and pain with movement experienced by rheumatoid arthritis sufferers.

Turmeric has powerful antioxidant properties, is reported to protect against the development of cancer, and has a long history of use in the treatment of various cancers; enhancing the production of cancer-fighting cells,[6],[7] protecting against environmental toxins, with an immune-enhancing effect and powerful antibacterial properties. In China it is used to treat the early stages of cervical cancer. An alcohol extract of turmeric applied externally in skin cancer has been shown to reduce itching, relieve pain and promote healing. In fact turmeric has been found to be highly effective at inhibiting recurring melanoma in people at high risk.[8] Research has also demonstrated its protective effects against colon and breast cancer.

Turmeric has long been popular as a remedy for treating respiratory infections such as colds, sore throats, coughs and fevers, skin problems such as acne and psoriasis, and kidney and bladder problems. It can successfully inhibit infection whether bacterial, viral or fungal.

Dietary Inclusion and Applications

Turmeric can be eaten regularly and liberally as a culinary spice. To treat infections and digestive problems the powder can be added to herbal teas, stirred into honey or hot water. The usual daily dose of turmeric is ¼-½ (one quarter to one half) a teaspoon of the powder two to three times daily between meals. Alternatively you can take two or three cupfuls of the tea between meals. To make the tea, place ½ (one half) a teaspoon of powder in a small pot, pour over a cup of boiling water, leave to infuse for five minutes, then strain.

You can add ginger or cardamom to add more flavour. Curcumin can be taken in capsules as a supplement, at a dose of 250-500 mg three times daily. Combining curcumin with bromelain may enhance its absorption and activity.

Powdered turmeric mixed with water or Aloe vera gel can be made into a paste and applied to insect bites, spots and pimples, inflamed and infected skin problems including scabies and fungal infestation, and infected wounds. I have found it very successful when treating acne, eczema and psoriasis although care has to be taken with the amount of turmeric used because it can colour the skin yellow. Mixed with honey or Aloe vera gel, it has been used traditionally to treat sprains, strains and bruises. A little powder stirred into warm water makes an excellent mouthwash to treat inflamed gums and relieve toothache.

Cautionary Note

There are no strong contraindications for turmeric during pregnancy; it is probably safer to avoid therapeutic doses during this time although it is safe to use in cooking. Regular use of turmeric is not advisable for those with obstruction of the biliary tract or gallstones. Overuse can cause gastrointestinal disturbances is some susceptible people. It is best to avoid high doses of turmeric when taking blood-thinning drugs.

References

1. Kiso Y et al. Antihepatotoxic principles of Curcuma longa rhizomes. Planta Medica. 49: 185-7. 1983.
2. Srivastava R et al. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 52: 223-7. 1995.
3. Chopra D and Simon D. The Chopra Centre Handbook. p112. 2000.
4. Srimal R and Dhawan B. Pharmacology of diferuloyl methane (curcumin), a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agent. J Pharm Pharmacol. 25: 447-52. 1973.
5. Ghatak N and Basu N. Sodium curcuminate as an effective anti-inflammatory agent. Indian J Exp Bio. 10: 235-6. 1972.
6. Kuttan R et al. Potential anticancer activity of turmeric (Curcuma longa). Cancer Lett. 29: 197-202. 1985.
7. Nagabhushan N and Bhide SV. Curcumin as an inhibitor of cancer. J Am Coll Nutr. 11: 192-8. 1992.
8. Kuttan R, Sudheeran PC and Joseph CD. Turmeric and curcumin as topical agents in cancer therapy. Tumori. 73: 29-31. 1987.

Comments:

  1. Hare Krishna said..

    Very good article. Thanks. I have been personally using turmeric for decades now for curing different problems and it has worked great.


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About Anne McIntyre

Anne McIntyre FNIMH MAPA is a fellow of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists and a member of the Ayurvedic Practitioners' Association. She has been practising as a herbalist for 30 years and has also trained in remedial massage, aromatherapy, counselling, homoeopathy and Ayurvedic medicine. She is the author of several books on herbal medicine, including The Complete Woman's Herbal (Gaia), The Complete Floral Healer (Gaia), The Herbal Treatment of Children (Elsevier), The Top 100 Remedies (Duncan Baird), The Complete Herbal Tutor (Gaia) and Healing Drinks (Gaia). Anne's latest book Dispensing with Tradition: A practitioner's Guide to using Indian and Western Herbs the Ayurvedic Way has recently been published. She teaches regularly in the UK and USA and spends as much time as she can in her herb garden which she opens to the public by appointment. She practises at Artemis House, Great Rissington, Gloucestershire, (Tel: 01451 810096) and in London and Wales once a month. She may be contacted on Tel: 01451 810096  www.annemcintyre.com

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