Curcumin, the yellow pigment in turmeric is widely recognized for its potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antiviral properties. However, curcumin is also very poorly absorbed and used by the body, so there’s a good chance you might be missing out on powerful health benefits even though it’s already a mainstay in your diet. In this article, I highlight the less talked about healing effects of turmeric - especially as related to digestive health – your armor for chronic disease prevention and management. I’ll also teach you how to eat turmeric to maximize absorption because curcumin is difficult for the body to absorb.
1. Turmeric may heal *leaky gut syndrome and maintain healthy gut flora (1, 2, 3). With autoimmune diseases, gastrointestinal issues, food allergies/sensitivities and related symptoms on the rise – all conditions associated with a leaky gut - it might be prudent to add turmeric to your daily diet to prevent and maintain the delicate lining of the digestive tract.
2. Turmeric also helps digestion by stimulating the gallbladder to release more bile (4). As we age, our ability to digest food weakens, lowering nutrient absorption and causing a myriad of other digestive concerns. Using turmeric can be a great natural way to aid digestion and quell stomach discomfort like gas, bloating, nausea, heartburn and appetite loss.
3. **Studies also show therapeutic benefits of turmeric for numerous conditions associated with leaky gut - including obesity (5), depression (6, 7), psoriasis (8), IBS (9) Ulcerative Colitis (4), Crohn's disease (10) arthritis (11) and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis (4).
4. **There is overwhelming evidence for the use of turmeric in the prevention and treatment of other chronic diseases and conditions like diabetes (12), cancer (13, 14), heart disease (15, 16) and high cholesterol (17, 18).
*Leaky gut syndrome, also known as intestinal permeability, is a condition in which the tight junctions between cells in the delicate lining of the digestive tract open up wider than they should, causing undigested food particles, toxins, and microbes to pass into your bloodstream.
**Studies used high doses of curcumin extract for reversing chronic conditions, so if you want to use a turmeric supplement for disease treatment talk to your doctor about brand, dosage and safety. Contraindications have been found with other common medications.
HOW TO USE TURMERIC IN FOOD FOR BENEFITS
Modern research coincided with ancient wisdom on the medicinal value of this super spice and prompted many of us to subsequently add more turmeric to our diet - but did you know that in order to benefit you actually have to help the body absorb it? I didn't and so knew it was important to spread the word.
1. Turmeric powder is fat soluble (19), so it’s important to include a healthy fat with consumption, otherwise it won’t make it from your digestive tract to the bloodstream for utilization. I like to add turmeric powder to warm ghee or coconut oil when I’m making a curry. Fresh root turmeric contains its own oil (turmerone) which has also been shown to increase absorption of curcumin (22), so you may want to take advantage of this natural delivery system and include the fresh root in your diet as well. I find it's delicious in juices or as a condiment.
2. It’s also important to eat some pepper with turmeric because curcumin is poorly absorbed by the body but piperine (an active ingredient in pepper) increases the bioavailability (and thus absorption) of curcumin by a whopping 2000% (20). I now diligently add some pepper, along with my turmeric powder to every meal. It’s another easy spice to incorporate into meals and a little goes a long way.
3. Also, since curcumin only comprises about 3% of whole turmeric by weight (21), it’s probably wise to enjoy it everyday, in many different recipes so you get enough.
4. Curcumin isn’t the only component of turmeric that offers healing benefits (23), so eat it whole (powder or raw) for complete goodness.
5. When purchasing turmeric powder, buy organic and without added fillers and coloring. In India, I suggest making your own unless you can find a reliable source with guaranteed purity. Turmeric grown in southern India is valued for it’s higher curcumin content.
Here’s a favorite family recipe, "Fresh Turmeric Preserved in Lemon Juice", a lovely condiment to accompany any meal. I also use it to flavor porridges, soups and salad dressings. Be creative with including this medicinal spice in your kitchen!