We’ve all heard that Turmeric can help with inflammation and you might think of it as a great herb for joint pain, but this bright orange root has a wealth of powerful medicinal benefits that go way beyond helping achy joints, trust me! After reading this, you’ll have a whole new appreciation for the power of this amazing root. Let's dive in.
1) Turmeric Has Antidepressant & Mood Lifting Properties
The bright color of this root isn't just pretty to look at! Research has shown that turmeric can be as effective as Prozac when it comes to relieving the symptoms of depression. Yup, you heard me right! According to Dr. Aviva Romm: “At least 4 high quality studies, plus a recent review of the literature on turmeric, demonstrate the effectiveness of curcumin, either alone or in combination with antidepressant medication or other botanicals, for the treatment of mild to moderate, atypical, and major depressive disorder.” (1)
I was a little shocked when I heard this too, but the mechanism behind it makes total sense. We’ve been taught to view depression as an issue with neurotransmitters such as serotonin and norepinephrine, but recent science is telling a different story. In fact, chronic inflammation and immune system activation is being found to play an important role in cognitive mood disorders.
Turmeric's potent anti-inflammatory effect not only makes it a choice herb for conditions like joint pain, but also shows promising potential at decreasing the role chronic inflammation can play in mental health issues like depression and anxiety.
2) A Powerful Liver Herb: Protects the Liver from Free Radical Damage
In herbal medicine, Turmeric is known to be hepatoprotective, which is a fancy way of saying it protects the liver from damage. Seeing as your liver is busy all day long filtering every single drop of blood in your body, including all of the toxins in it- things like pharmaceuticals, xenoestrogens (foreign endocrine disruptors from pesticides, fertilizers and synthetic hormones) and chemicals from our environment- let’s just say anything that protects it from all of those harmful substances is gold. As a potent antioxidant, turmeric will quench free radicals in the liver and neutralize them so they don’t damage this vital organ.
3) Supports the Digestive System
Turmeric not only helps your liver out, but also helps keep your whole digestive system on track too! It stimulates your gallbladder to produce more bile and release it more effectively, and stimulates healthy appetite and digestion of nutrients. Turmeric is a fantastic herb to decrease gas, bloating, heartburn, nausea, vomiting, can heal ulcers and promotes circulation to invigorate the whole digestive system. As a member of the Zingiberaceae (Ginger) family, it definitely lives up to its other famous family member, Ginger, in it’s powerful healing properties related to the digestive system!
4) Promotes Heart Health: Minimizes Blood Clotting & Decreases Cholesterol
Turmeric a powerhouse herb when it comes to supporting cardiovascular health. As most of us know, blood clot formation is a process that can lead to serious health events like stroke and heart attack. Not something to mess around with! Herbs and agents that inhibit platelet aggregation (blood clotting), can prevent these events from occurring and support a healthy cardiovascular system overall. Mounting research is showing that turmeric acts to minimize the formation of clots in the bloodstream. In one study, curcumin- one of the many plant constituents found in turmeric- has been found to inhibit specific types of platelet aggregation with about the same activity as aspirin. (2)
On top of it’s anti-inflammatory and blood-thinning properties, turmeric has been shown to reduce harmful cholesterol and triglycerides, which makes it an excellent herb to promote heart health, across the board. In a recent meta-analysis, the researchers analyzed 7 clinical trials with a total of 649 participants and concluded that “subjects who received turmeric and curcumin experienced a natural cardioprotective effect, with lowering of serum LDL (harmful cholesterol) and triglyceride levels, as compared to subjects who did not.” (3) Interestingly enough, they found turmeric and curcumin to be most effective in people who have metabolic syndrome or are at greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
5) Inhibits Cancer Cells & Tumor Growth
As if Turmeric couldn’t get any more powerful, it also has anticancer properties! Multiple studies have demonstrated curcumin’s antitumor activity on breast cancer, lung cancer, head and neck squamous cell carcinoma, prostate cancer, and brain tumors, showing its capability to target multiple cancer cell varieties. (5) How does it actually get rid of cancer cells and reduce tumor growth? Well, when it comes to cancer, cells that should have died and been removed by the immune system have gone under the radar and start to grow. This process of helpful programmed cell death to remove harmful or abnormal cells is called apoptosis. Here’s the amazing part- Curcumin induces apoptosis and inhibits the proliferation and invasion of tumors by suppressing a variety of cellular signaling pathways, keeping cancer cells in check (3). Likely it’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties add to its ability to keep maintain healthy cells, overall, as well (2).
Like all herbal medicines, I always recommend consulting a registered herbalist before introducing herbs to make sure they’re well suited to you and are safe to take alongside any medications you may be on. Because of its potent effect on the liver and gallbladder, you may want to avoid taking turmeric if you have gallstones, biliary obstruction, acute jaundice or hepatitis. Due to its blood thinning properties, if you’re on anticoagulant medication, only take it if you’re working with a knowledgeable herbal practitioner as it may potentiate the effects of your medication. Do not take turmeric or curcumin if you are pregnant. Safe for breastfeeding. Photosensitivity has been reported with topical (external) applications, so if using on your skin, avoid direct sun exposure just to be safe.
Dose: 500-1000mg daily of curcumin extract is very safe (1). A whole root extract of turmeric (not just curcumin) can offer a wide range of medicinal benefits as well. You can also use a couple teaspoons per day in your cooking, smoothies or beverages (Golden mylk or turmeric latte, anyone?)
Bioavailability: Some research suggests that turmeric and curcumin aren’t absorbed very well in water, as it’s hydrophobic (meaning it’s best absorbed with fat and other constituents) (3). Black pepper is something you can take at the same time to increase absorption and it might be worth getting a supplement that includes black pepper or bioperine to increase absorption.
So if you weren’t already in love with this amazing herb, you now have 5 more reasons to get on board with turmeric’s healing properties!
With wild herbal love,
1) Dr. Aviva Romm: Better Than Prozac? Women, Depression and Turmeric
2) Mills, S. & Bone, K. (2000). Principles and Practices of Phytotherapy
3) Qin, S., Huang, L., Gong, J., Shen, S., Huang, J., Ren, H., & Hu, H. (2017). Efficacy and safety of turmeric and curcumin in lowering blood lipid levels in patients with cardiovascular risk factors: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Nutrition journal, 16(1), 68. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12937-017-0293-y