Want a sim­pler, more nat­u­ral so­lu­tion to some of your health prob­lems? Just reach into the back of your spice cab­i­net and dust off the turmeric!

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For cen­turies, turmeric has been used in In­dia for both culi­nary and heal­ing pur­poses. But al­though its ben­e­fits are well doc­u­mented in tra­di­tional medicine, it has only re­cently been taken more se­ri­ously by mod­ern med­i­cal prac­ti­tion­ers. Turmeric is de­rived from the aro­matic un­der­ground stem of a trop­i­cal Asian plant called Cur­cuma longa, which is a mem­ber of the gin­ger fam­ily. It’s made up of three main com­pounds – the cur­cum­i­noids – that are the se­cret to its heal­ing prop­er­ties. The most ac­tive of these com­pounds, cur­cumin, can be ac­cessed ei­ther by adding turmeric to your food or by tak­ing cur­cumin it­self in the form of a sup­ple­ment.

Which ben­e­fits are sci­en­tif­i­cally sound?

1 IT CAN RE­DUCE INFLAMMATION Re­search has shown that turmeric scav­enges the free rad­i­cals formed in the body and has sig­nif­i­cant anti-in­flam­ma­tory and pain-in­hibit­ing ef­fects. Sev­eral ran­domised clin­i­cal tri­als found ev­i­dence that tak­ing 1000mg of cur­cumin a day (in the form of a turmeric ex­tract) can help treat the symp­toms of arthri­tis. The spice has also been linked to an im­prove­ment in in­flam­ma­tory bowel dis­ease, pan­cre­ati­tis and chronic an­te­rior uveitis (long­stand­ing in­flam­ma­tory dis­ease of the an­te­rior part of the eye).

2 IT AP­PEARS TO BE ANTI-CARCINOGENIC Inflammation is a sig­nif­i­cant risk

fac­tor for can­cer, and in­flam­ma­tory states are linked to tu­mour pro­mo­tion. Since turmeric has anti-in­flam­ma­tory prop­er­ties, re­search has been done into the ef­fect of cur­cumin sup­ple­men­ta­tion on the pre­ven­tion and treat­ment of can­cer growth. Fur­ther test­ing on hu­mans is needed, but cur­rent re­sults show cur­cumin sup­ple­men­ta­tion can dis­cour­age can­cer growth, de­vel­op­ment and spread at a molec­u­lar level.

3 IT MAY BE EF­FEC­TIVE IN FIGHT­ING DE­PRES­SION & PREVENTING ALZHEIMER’S The cur­cumin com­pound has been shown to boost brain-de­rived neu­rotrophic fac­tor (BDNF), a pro­tein linked to the cir­cuits in the brain that reg­u­late emo­tion, mem­ory, learn­ing, sleep and ap­petite. Com­mon disor­ders con­nected to de­creased lev­els of BDNF in­clude de­pres­sion and Alzheimer’s. A key fea­ture of the lat­ter is the build-up of amy­loid plaques. Cur­cumin is be­lieved to pre­vent the de­vel­op­ment of this dis­ease through its abil­ity to cross the blood-brain bar­rier and clear away the buildup of path­o­genic amy­loid plaques. It also boosts BDNF lev­els, which re­duces de­pres­sive symp­toms by im­prov­ing dopamine and sero­tonin lev­els in the brain.

4 IT IS AN ANTIOXIDANT An­tiox­i­dants help pre­vent or stop cell dam­age caused by ox­i­dants – free rad­i­cals that oc­cur naturally in the body. When the num­ber of free rad­i­cals ex­ceeds the body’s antioxidant count, an ex­ter­nal source of an­tiox­i­dants may be needed. En­ter turmeric. The phe­no­lic na­ture of cur­cumin makes it highly ef­fec­tive in col­lect­ing free rad­i­cals and neu­tral­is­ing them. So boost­ing cur­cumin in­take can help pro­vide pro­tec­tion against heart prob­lems (by re­mov­ing ox­i­dised choles­terol from the body), eye ail­ments, mem­ory loss, mood disor­ders and im­mune sys­tem dys­func­tion.

5 IT CAN BE USED TO TREAT SKIN CON­DI­TIONS In ad­di­tion to its antioxidant prop­er­ties, turmeric is also an­tibac­te­rial and tra­di­tional heal­ers use the spice to make a paste to soothe and heal small cuts and burns. Since the spice has also been shown to help im­prove skin elas­tic­ity, lighten pig­men­ta­tion, con­trol oily skin and acne, and gen­er­ally re­ju­ve­nate the skin and hair, many nat­u­ral skin and hair­care prod­ucts use turmeric as their ac­tive in­gre­di­ent. But you can make your own skin­boost­ing paste at home: com­bine raw turmeric with a few drops of rose wa­ter or melted co­conut oil. Ap­ply it evenly to a prob­lem area. Leave on for 10 min­utes, then wash it off with warm wa­ter. Do this daily if you can – and you’ll soon no­tice that your skin is glow­ing! (It may also have a yel­low tinge to it…)

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