Years ago, health care giant Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) sold Band-Aid bandages containing the spice turmeric.Turmeric bandages might seem odd, but the spice has a long history of medicinal use in India. JNJ sold them to the Indian market, where many creams and salves included the spice. The company stopped selling these bandages about a decade ago.
But more and more research is pointing to the health benefits of turmeric.Turmeric is a spice derived from a root similar to ginger. It appears in food from many cultures, especially curry.
Turmeric gets its healing reputation from one chemical, curcumin. Curcumin has powerful anti-oxidant and anti-bacterial properties.
It turns out, a brand-new study linked turmeric with improved memory. That follows on other research into how it may fight cancer. So we wanted to take a closer look today…
Turmeric preserves memory. A new study published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry shows how turmeric – specifically the curcumin – improves memory.
Researchers split participants into two groups: One group received a pill with curcumin. The other group got a placebo. They continued taking their pills every day for 18 months. Researchers ran brain scans of the participants’ brains at the beginning and end. In addition, participants took memory tests every six months. Those who took the curcumin supplements had a 28% improvement on the memory tests than those on placebo. And their brain scans showed fewer markers of the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
Researchers believe this boost comes from the strong inflammation-fighting properties of curcumin. This follows other research looking at how curcumin interacts with the body. It appears to interfere with specific molecules that control the inflammation process.
Turmeric and cancer. Turmeric also contains powerful antioxidants. Several studies have shown that these antioxidants help detox our bodies. They also protect our DNA directly.And it can boost traditional chemotherapy treatments. One small study focused on folks with pancreatic cancer. The patients who took curcumin saw improvements with their regular medications. The chemotherapy worked better with the spice.
Pancreatic cancer, one of the deadliest cancers, is especially resistant to chemotherapy. But researchers found a specific pathway in some pancreatic cancers that keeps the cells resistant to drugs. It turns out that curcumin directly interferes with that pathway. The spice effectively shuts off the cancer cells’ resistance.
How to Increase Your Turmeric Intake
Now that we know the benefits of curcumin in turmeric, what’s the best way to take it?
Many of these tests use concentrated amounts of curcumin in their studies. However, one of the problems with supplements is bioavailability.
Bioavailability refers to how much of a chemical your body absorbs. For every pill you take, you only get a percentage of the main ingredient that’s “available” for use in your body.
Research has found two natural ways to increase the amount of curcumin we can absorb. The first is to combine it with piperine. If this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the chemical that gives black pepper its kick. Piperine prevents your body from breaking down curcumin as waste. In fact, one study from India showed that taking curcumin with a quarter teaspoon of black pepper increased levels of curcumin in the blood by 2,000%.
The second is to combine it with oils. The structure of curcumin makes it attracted to lipids, meaning fats like oils.
Another point to remember – curcumin isn’t the only active ingredient. A group from the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas found this out in its study. They looked at curcumin alone and turmeric with different types of cancer cells. Turmeric killed far more cancer cells in each of the seven types tested. That included cells of breast cancer, colorectal cancer, and multiple myeloma.
It turns out, studies done on turmeric with the curcumin removed still had positive results. The spice still packed plenty of antioxidants. So if you want to benefit from all of turmeric’s power, we suggest adding it to your diet as a whole food.
You don’t just have to stick to curry, though. You can use it as a spice on salads, in soups, and on rice.
- More on the science behind turmeric and memory.
- Something different: Be careful how much Imodium you take.
Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth BulletinResearch Team February 1, 2018