by Dr. Will Cole
You would have to be living under a rock to miss all the buzz about the superfood turmeric. And from all the attention it gets in the blogosphere you would think if you’ve got 99 problems – turmeric could solve about 86 of them. So what’s the deal? Beyond the hype, is turmeric as amazing as everyone says it is, or just another pill to add to your supplement regime?
Well, my friends, here is your definitive guide on all things turmeric and curcumin.
What exactly is turmeric?
Turmeric is produced from the underground stems of the plant Curcuma longa, which is related to ginger. Turmeric has been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine and is what makes the beautiful yellow color of curry and mustard. What’s the difference between turmeric and curcumin? The supplement that you’ll find in the health food store is usually curcumin, one of the major compounds in turmeric. Curcumin is a powerful antioxidant within turmeric and the center of most of the research about turmeric. Because of the evidence of curcumin’s powerful anti-inflammatory benefits, it’s extracted and standardized in higher doses to be put into supplements.
What’s the science on curcumin?
The commonality between just about all research done on turmeric and curcumin boils down to one thing: inflammation. Inflammation is a buzzword of late and something we have talked about in functional medicine for years. Inflammation is not inherently bad; it’s actually an important part of our immune system that fights off viruses, bacteria, and keeps you alive and well. Chronic inflammation occurs when inflammation goes unchecked, and this hyper-inflammation is like a forest fire burning in perpetuity – no bueno. And it’s this imbalanced inflammation that is linked to a ton of the health problems we see today. If you want to know how to determine your inflammation levels, check out my inflammation-fighting guide!
Curcumin and turmeric are known for their ability to tame chronic inflammation; here’s a roundup of health problems for which they seem to be beneficial:
- Autoimmune inflammation
- Brain inflammation (brain fog and memory loss)
- Erectile dysfunction
- Gallbladder problems
- Heavy metal toxicity
- Inflammatory bowel disorders
- Insulin resistance
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Viral infections
- Weight-loss resistance
Whoa, curcumin seems to do it all. So are there any doubts about its awesomeness? Well, an article in the scientific journal Nature recently pointed out a few pitfalls in curcumin research:
- Larger scale studies that more clearly show its efficacy are needed.
- While curcumin research certainly seems promising, we don’t exactly understand how it works.
- Normally research focuses on and isolates one promising aspect of a food, but turmeric contains dozens of compounds (in addition to curcumin) that work synergistically. This makes it difficult to study.
Are there any side effects to curcumin?
One study suggested that at higher doses, curcumin was not protective and may contribute to cellular damage. It’s important to remember that even with natural options, what works for one person may not be right for you. So working with a qualified functional medicine doctor can help determine what dose – if any – is right for you!
How can I get a daily boost of turmeric?
If you want to go the supplement route, a good general maintenance dose of curcumin that has been shown to be safe and effective is 10 grams each day – which is a lot! Want to super boost your curcumin? Adding piperine from black pepper increases the bioavailability of curcumin by 2,000 percent.
If you want to keep it simple you can add turmeric powder to soups, smoothies, and just about any dish that needs a little extra taste. Another one of my favorite ways to get my turmeric is to mix it in elixirs! Want to know how? Well, I’m glad you asked. Here are two elixirs to bring more turmeric into your life:
Adaptogenic Mushroom Anti-Inflammatory Elixir
Combine turmeric with some hormone-balancing adaptogenic mushrooms!
- 1 1/2 cups plain full-fat organic coconut milk
- 1/2 teaspoon each of organic powdered of chaga, reishi, lion’s mane, turkey tail, cordyceps, shiitake, and himematsutake
- 1 teaspoon chia seed
- 1 tablespoon raw organic honey
- 2 pitted medjool dates (more if you want it sweeter!)
- 2 tablespoons raw cacao powder
- 1 teaspoon maca powder
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
- Himalayan sea salt to taste
Blend all ingredients in a blender. Serve cold or, if it’s chilly where you are, warm it up in a pot and enjoy!
Turmeric Bone Broth Coconut Milk
Bone broth combined with turmeric creates an inflammation-fighting dynamic duo.
- 1 cup full-fat coconut milk
- 1 cup bone broth
- 2 teaspoons turmeric
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- A pinch of black pepper
- 1 teaspoon raw honey
- 1/4 teaspoon ginger powder
Blend ingredients well in a blender. Pour into saucepan and heat for 3 to 5 minutes over medium heat until warm.
I originally wrote this article for mindbodygreen.