Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is gaining in popularity because of its multiple health benefits. It strengthens your immunity by attacking bacteria and increasing the production of an immune molecule called CAMP. But at the same time, it also controls the resulting inflammation by inhibiting the function of certain enzymes and signaling molecules. Turmeric curcuminoids fight free radicals that attack nerve cells and keep the levels of the happy hormones up.
The turmeric root has around 235 identified compounds capable of working in harmony in your body and improving your health. The most noteworthy are curcuminoids, responsible for turmeric’s trademark orange-yellow color, and volatile oils.
While recent research is biased toward curcumin as turmeric’s most potent compound, there are studies that suggest other components contribute to our health as well.
Why It’s So Great
1. Strengthens Immunity
The immune system is constantly at war with invaders like bacteria, viruses, parasites, fungi, and anything that doesn’t match the body’s own sensibilities – say, the normal wear and tear of joints with age.
The weapons your body uses are often made with the help of the foods and herbs you eat. Turmeric is one such potent source. It can support your immunity by killing invaders. Here’s how.
- Curcuminoids destabilize bacterial membranes: Curcuminoids don’t mix well with water. Neither do the external membranes of certain bacteria. Being similar in nature, curcuminoids form connections with the bacterial membrane. These are strong enough to undo original connections in the bacterial membranes. It’s like destroying the enemy’s boundary wall, exposing the enemy to be killed.
- Curcuminoids inactivate bacterial enzymes: Curcuminoids also inactivate key enzymes that bacteria use to spread their infection – practically destroying the enemy’s weapons.
Turmeric can also help your immune cells work better:
- Curcumin increases the production of CAMP: Cathelicidin antimicrobial peptide (CAMP) is a host defense molecule shot at microbes by your skin and your innate immune cells. This “bullet” destabilizes the membranes of microbes, while also calling other immune cells to fight at the site of infection.
Besides curcuminoids, other compounds in turmeric like polysaccharides are also capable of helping charge up your immunity. They make sure that front-line troopers called macrophages are alert and chemical alarms are raised when something doesn’t feel right.
2. Limits Inflammation
Inflammation (involving pain, swelling, redness, and heat) is one way the immune system deals with infection, injury, or stress. It does, however, need to be down-regulated at times to allow for complete healing and recovery. If not, it can become self-destructive and cause trouble for your own cells.
Turmeric can help your body with maintaining this balance. Even though it helps boost your immunity, it also can intervene at the right moment and put the brakes on the inflammatory response.
It does this by reducing inflammation-promoting gene regulators (NF-kB, PPAR-γ), chemicals called cytokines (IL-12, IL-6, IL-8, TNF-α), enzymes (COX-2, i-NOS), and other mediators (PGE2). Here again, it’s more than just the curcuminoids at work.
3. Helps Improve Skin Health
When you’re out in the sun, your skin is at the mercy of UV rays. Among these, UV-B rays break down collagen, the elastic in your skin, giving you wrinkles. They also cause your skin to thicken and overproduce the skin pigment melanin. All of this speeds up the aging process of your skin.
The antioxidants in your skin are constantly at work, trying to prevent and repair the damage. Turmeric can blend in with them and share the workload.
- It helps reduce skin thickening and melanin production while ensuring there is less collagen-degrading enzyme MMP-2.
- It also increases blood flow to the skin by dilating and lengthening skin blood vessels, which means more nutrients can now reach the skin.
4. Encourages Mental Well-being
Your brain is a mass of nerve cells, which are extremely vulnerable to highly reactive molecules called free radicals. Free radicals can be knocked off by antioxidants. Unfortunately, nerve cells are naturally low in them and may not be able to deal with a sudden upsurge as seen when disease strikes or as you age.
Luckily, certain foods you eat can provide these essential antioxidants to the nerve cells. Turmeric is among them.
- Curcuminoids in turmeric are antioxidants that can combat free radicals and decelerate oxidative harm to the brain. This is important for the longevity of your memory and focus.
- Curcumin inhibits enzymes (monoamine oxidase A and B) that reduce the “happy” hormones, dopamine and serotonin. In effect, turmeric can help you maintain your happy state.
- Turmeric also helps transform α-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid found in plant foods, into docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 fatty acid mostly found in fish and meat. DHA can protect your brain keep your stress from spiraling into anxiety. So if you are a vegetarian or vegan, turmeric promises exclusive benefits.
When curcumin is given directly to the body, in the form of a curcumin supplement, the body is incapable of using it well – absorbing it poorly, breaking it down promptly, and removing it from the system quickly. In other words, curcumin has poor bioavailability and doesn’t reach target cells to bring about health benefits.
There are a bunch of techniques being used to skirt around this problem (like nanoparticles, adjuvants, liposomes, and structural analogs), but there is a more practical and safer approach.
Simply opt for whole turmeric instead of isolated compounds and have it with freshly ground black pepper and/or oil whenever you can. The tumerones in turmeric oil, piperine in black pepper, and the high intestinal absorption of oils help your body make better use of turmeric’s beneficial components.
Fresh turmeric root or turmeric dried root powder is the best way to go. Have about 1–3 gm a day, roughly up to a teaspoon. Add it to your curries, lattes, cooking oil, or tea. Get creative and healthy!