Very few herbs have impacted a society’s health and culture, as turmeric has for India. Turmeric has made its way into their food, cosmetics, preservatives, therapeutics, and spiritual totem. This has created a ripple effect, now influencing mainstream culture into studying the many health benefits that it could have for digestion. So let’s explore how it all began…
So what is turmeric?
Turmeric originated in the northern India/Tibet, and scientifically it is referred to as Curcuma longa, a rhizomatous herbaceous perennial plant belonging to the ginger family Zingiberaceae. Modern medicine has only recently turned its gaze to dissecting the therapeutic potential of this herb. Meanwhile, the ancient medical system of Ayurveda has experimented and characterized turmeric for over 3,000 years.
The word ‘Ayurveda’ has been thrown around a lot within the holistic world. Is it relevant to us?
Ayurveda means “life science” and it’s a holistic medical system developed in ancient India that still exist to this day. The focus of Ayurveda is on holistic healing. It believes that there are five basic elements in our universe:
These elements combine into three life forces of dosha’s (Pitta, Kapha and Vata) in all living organisms. Illness and personal character arise from a balance or imbalance of these life forces (these forces are dynamic).
So what does Ayurveda have to do with Turmeric?
Turmeric acts to restore balance to all of these life forces however the form in which turmeric is applied can impact one dosha over another. For instance, an imbalance of Vata energy gives rise to skin problems in which an ointment or cream of turmeric, in combination with many other herbs, would be applied to the site of injury.
Meanwhile, tinctures containing turmeric are used for a wide variety of conditions such as digestive disorders, cancer, and auto-immune disorders and cardiovascular disease.
Now some of you may be thinking how can one herb do all that?
And the secret is it’s not just one chemical! Turmeric is a complex mixture of a variety of molecules. Are you ready for a mouthful of smart words?
The raw form is ‘70% carbohydrates/fiber, 7% protein, 4% mineral and 4% essential oils and 1% resin (Majeed et al). The phytochemical composition contains 0.45 % saponin, 1.08 % tannin, 0.40 % flavonoid, 0.08 % phenol and 0.03 % sterol.’
There are hundreds of distinct molecules within turmeric each with a variety of biological effects. The most interesting component is the class of compounds and it’s called curcuminoids. These are polyphenolic that act as potent anti-oxidants.
All these molecules give turmeric 3 significant effects:
- Anti-oxidative and
Tannins and curcuminoids give turmeric its anti-microbial activity. These molecules essentially “poke holes” in the walls of bacteria, preventing bacteria from spreading, infecting and forming resilient structures called biofilms.
When ingested the anti-microbial effects of turmeric can be seen as a microbiome modulator. Therein the chronic consumption of turmeric would stabilize a microbiome that garnered particular health outcomes. This however, needs more studies.
Turmeric is also a carminative, in that it reduces the gas generated by microbes in the stomach and intestines relieving symptoms of distension.
The pathways of oxidative stress and inflammation are deeply intertwined. In healthy tissue, radical oxygen species (ROS) are generated to signal to the cell that something is wrong, be it energy depletion, infection or abnormal growth.
Endogenous anti-oxidants can then stop that signal after initiating the pathways needed to deal with the generation of ROS. In the case where endogenous anti-oxidants are no longer able to stop that signal, the feedback loop is broken leading to chronic inflammation.
Here again, curcuminoids have been the best characterized in having anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory properties.
So where’s the evidence that turmeric could actually help digestive inflammation?
The best clinical studies were conducted with patients who have Ulcerative Colitis. Ulcerative Colitis (UC) is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease characterized by inflammation throughout the digestive tract.
Study one: It was random who got the drug and who gave the drug (double-blind), and was carried out at multiple centers. They evaluated the maintenance of remission (no symptoms) in 89 patients.
45 patients received 1 gram of curcumin along with two standard drugs (sulfasalazine or mesalamine) after breakfast and another dose after their evening meal.
The other 44 patients received placebo with sulfasalazine or mesalamine along with the same regiment.
What was the result?
Six months later only after 4.65% in the curcumin-treated group vs. 20.51% in the placebo group had relapsed and symptoms of UC.
Study two: Nine years later, found in a similarly designed study of 50 patients, they were able to induce remission in 53.8% of patients treated with curcumin after four weeks.
What these two studies suggest is the ability of curcumin to both treat and prevent chronic inflammation in individuals who have a chronic illness.
Now there are many more pre-clinical and clinical studies assessing the effects and properties of turmeric, its components and particularly curcumin, we hope by reading this article you’ve become interested in experimenting with turmeric yourself.