Perhaps you’ve sprinkled this bright yellow-orange spice on foods simply because you like its warm, bitter taste, or maybe you swear by its therapeutic effects. Turmeric powder has been used in East India and the Middle East for thousands of years, not only as a flavor enhancer but for its purported medicinal properties. In the Western world, turmeric has grown in popularity – some people enjoy shots of turmeric mixed with juice, honey, and other ingredients, while others prefer to take supplements.
A recommended dose of turmeric delivers a 26% daily value of manganese, 16% iron and is also an excellent source of fiber, vitamin B6, potassium, vitamin C, and magnesium. Curcumin, the primary pharmacological agent in the spice, is believed to be the source of its therapeutic benefits. It is non-toxic and a highly promising natural antioxidant compound with a wide spectrum of biological functions. Some experts say the anti-inflammatory effects of curcumin are comparable to over-the- counter agents as well as some prescription medications.
Reported health benefits of turmeric include decreased joint pain, reduced swelling, and a greater range of motion when used regularly for arthritis. Research also suggests turmeric may be helpful in treating inflammatory bowel disease, lowering bad cholesterol, protecting the heart, relieving indigestion, improving liver function, and even preventing Alzheimer's disease.
Turmeric and Cancer
Several animal studies suggest turmeric has therapeutic properties for different types of cancer including breast, colon, stomach, prostate, and lung. Curcumin is believed to be associated with reducing the incidence of breast cancer in Asian countries.
Numerous studies have shown curcumin has multiple effects on the suppression of human breast cancer cells in vitro, leading to ongoing clinical trials. It is known curcumin exerts its anti-breast cancer effects through a complicated molecular signaling network involving proliferation, estrogen receptor (ER), and human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) pathways. Curcumin also trigger apoptosis (programmed cell death), the body’s natural method for ridding itself of damaged cells. Researchers think the multiple molecular pathways modulated by curcumin have potential therapeutic value in the treatment and prevention of breast cancer.
Currently, the clinical use of curcumin is limited by its poor bioavailability, however, some promising new derivatives have already been synthesized. The use of novel chemical analogs and nanotechnology-based formulations of curcumin may offer a potential alternative strategy for overcoming the principal factors limiting curcumin’s therapeutic effects when taken orally.
An additional problem is turmeric has been shown to inhibit the action of the chemotherapy drugs camptothecin, mechlorethamine, doxorubicin, and cyclophosphamide against breast cancer cells.
More research is needed to establish whether breast cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy should limit their intake of curcumin or completely avoid curcumin supplementation.
In March 2017, a 30-year- old San Diego woman died of cardiopulmonary arrest after receiving an intravenous injection of turmeric for eczema from a naturopathic doctor. An investigation showed naturopathic doctors frequently offer treatments not fully tested for safety or effectiveness, and many of these therapies have already been disproved by rigorous trials. Furthermore, experts interviewed about this case said turmeric has not been tested for dermatological use and injecting it for the skin condition eczema was irresponsible and dangerous.
It is already well established curcumin is not easily absorbed by the body. A retrospective review of curcumin studies published in January 2017 imply the key ingredient in turmeric does not live up to its medicinal hype. Despite thousands of research papers analyzing its medicinal benefits, reviewers were unable to find any double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials (the gold-standard of medical research) to support its myriad health claims. While curcumin may not be a miracle ingredient, cooking with herbs and spices is a great way to make healthy food taste better, without excess salt, sugar, or fat.
Many experts still stand by the benefits of curcumin and suggest pairing it with black pepper to boost its absorption. While the San Diego case was extreme, experts warn high turmeric intake can cause acid reflux, low blood sugar, and other unwanted side effects.
You should not use turmeric if you have bile duct obstruction, gallstones, predisposition to kidney stones, or gastrointestinal disorders such as stomach ulcers and hyperacidity disorders. Turmeric may lessen the effects of many drugs including chemotherapy drugs used for breast cancer. It also may increase the risk of bleeding when taken with warfarin and other blood thinners. Bottom line … enjoy turmeric in recipes and take it judiciously as an adjuvant therapy for medical conditions, but check with your physician if you are undergoing chemo or take any prescription medications due to its many possible interactions.