Turning on to turmeric

By: Tania Adams

It’s the latest trend in so-called ‘super foods’ with claims that it can treat arthritis, heart disease and even help people with diabetes.

At the extreme end of things, people are hoarding bags of the yellow stuff, the internet is full of dogs with yellow faces as owners try alternative remedies on their pets, and Nadia Lim has created a turmeric latte recipe.

So is turmeric really everything that it is claimed to be?

Curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric. An informative and well researched study by Daily, Yang and Park in 2016 (see below) indicates that curcumin may possess powerful anti-inflammatory properties and as such may be helpful for conditions such as arthritis and heart disease, amongst others.

Curcumin is thought to work by blocking NF-kB, a molecule found in your body that travels into the nuclei of cells and turns on genes related to inflammation. As such, curcumin fights inflammation at a molecular level.

But don’t reach for that spice jar in the pantry just yet. Unfortunately, turmeric powder not only contains a minimal amount of the active ingredient, but our bodies also have difficulty absorbing curcumin. Plus, when curcumin is absorbed it is so rapidly metabolised and eliminated by our bodies that it doesn’t have time to reach adequate levels to produce any anti-inflammatory effect.

All this means that in order to take advantage of any possible benefits of turmeric, you need to consume it in the form of a supplement – where the curcumin has been manufactured to ensure that it is well absorbed and able to reach a sufficient level in your body. Black pepper does not help with the absorption of curcumin but is thought to help the levels stay higher once absorbed and is also included in some supplements.

Curcumin makes up only about 2-6 percent of turmeric so you will need to check for the amount of curcumin (rather than turmeric) on the label. The dosage you require will depend on what condition you are trying to treat.

Studies vary widely in the recommended dose – from 200mg to 1000mg daily for osteoarthritis with the dose required highly dependent on the bioavailability of the preparation. In any case, before you add any supplements such as this to your diet on a long-term basis, it is advisable to check with a health professional first. Check in the first instance whether turmeric is suitable for you – certain conditions and medications are not compatible with turmeric, which might mean that taking it could cause serious health problems.

You can also ask your pharmacist about the appropriate dose for you.

So whilst the turmeric latte might not provide you with instant relief, other turmeric preparations may be worth considering.

Having said that, turmeric lattes will always be delicious on a cold day!

Reference: Daily, J.W.; Yang, M.; Park, S. Efficacy of turmeric extracts and curcumin for alleviating the symptoms of joint arthritis: A Systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. J. Med. Food 2016, 19, 717–729.


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