What’s All the Fuss About Turmeric?
If you’ve been hearing a lot about turmeric lately, there’s good reason for that.
First, some basics. Turmeric is one of the most ancient of the documented spices, in use for possibly as much as four thousand years. Its value as a medicine was known across Asia from very early times. The medical system called Ayurveda made detailed descriptions of the use of hundreds of plants, and turmeric is one of the most frequently mentioned remedies.
Turmeric was recommended for all kinds of gastric upsets, to reduce flatulence (gas), for menstrual problems, for abdominal pain and bloating, and various diseases. It was used topically for wound healing and skin cancer as well, and as a poultice for bruises, sprains, insect bites and rashes.
Other popular uses include face mask preparations, combined with besan (chickpea flour), yogurt and sometimes honey.1) Turmeric was applied to the body of both bride and bridegroom in India, as a decoration and a cleanser. And, of course this golden amber root has been used as a dye for eons.
What Does Turmeric do, Exactly?
Though its mechanism isn’t well understood in every case, turmeric is an antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal. It restores normal cell apoptosis (programmed cell death) in cancer cells, and helps to reduce the amyloid plaques found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.
Turmeric is an antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal.
Editor’s Note: Turmeric is amongst the immune boosting herbs, and is one we like to include in our Fire Cider tonic. However after reading this article by Liz, now we know that to get the most benefit from the turmeric, we’ll need to prepare it with some oil or other fat. 2)
It has been effective against the virus that causes shingles, and the staph organism that causes MRSA.3) It’s probably best known as an anti-inflammatory, however, with hundreds of research trials to prove its worth against arthritis (both osteo and rheumatoid arthritis).4)
Turmeric has been shown to help reverse kidney damage caused by diabetes, and to slow the rate at which pre-diabetic people go on to full-blown diabetes.5) As a modest vasodilator, it may help with high blood pressure. And the list goes on.
Are Turmeric Supplements Good for You?
So everyone should be taking turmeric supplements, right?
Not quite so fast. When turmeric came to the attention of western medicine, its use underwent a sudden and mostly undesirable change. Indian medical trials had used whole turmeric for the most part. Researchers were familiar with the different varieties grown in India and how the subtle differences between them might affect trial outcomes. Western researchers working with botanicals have always isolated one or more of the primary active constituents and tested those as single components. There are good reasons for this, as the researchers can then say with greater precision how the outcome depended on the trial’s procedures and components. In the case of turmeric, however, there was the added factor of unfamiliarity with the original plant.
The most researched turmeric extract has been curcumin, one of the three curcuminoids in turmeric.
When consumed orally, curcumin is poorly absorbed, and is rapidly metabolized and eliminated from the body.
In fact, the phrase “poorly absorbed and rapidly metabolized” has become almost a mantra for the description of curcumin in research articles. Much of the research into curcumin has been devoted to finding methods to improve absorption and inhibit excretion. This is more than a little ironic, since the traditional manner of consuming turmeric avoids both problems, and we cover more on that farther down.
Supplement manufacturers keep a sharp eye on plant-based medical research, in the hopes of finding new botanical preparations of commercial value. So their attention was soon caught by the work with turmeric. Turmeric itself, however, was not particularly attractive as a supplement. To begin with, it’s a food, recognized as such by the FDA and other regulatory bodies around the world. Therefore, in its whole form, it cannot be patented, though some attempts have been made. Supplement manufacturers are not in the business of selling foods. In addition, it’s a very inexpensive food. There is little profit in putting turmeric in capsules and selling them as a supplement when whole turmeric powder can be purchased at a fraction of the cost. Curcumin, though, was a different story. As an extract, it can be modified in various unique ways that make a patented product not just possible, but profitable.
Companies working with curcumin extracts for medical research patented two curcumin extracts early on. BCM-95, produced by Arjuna Natural Extracts of India, and Meriva, produced by Indena of Italy, are used by medical researchers around the world. Meriva attempts to make curcumin more readily absorbed by combining it with soy lecithin, for a final curcumin percentage (per capsule) of about 20%. BCM-95 combines curcumin with one of turmeric’s essential oils (ar-turmerone), which is extracted separately from turmeric and then added to the curcumin extract, for a final curcumin percentage of about 45%.
Editor’s Note: Actually, soy is not a readily digestible protein, so even that claim in supplements should be carefully examined to get to the truth.6)
These two patented products have been heavily marketed to the companies producing consumer turmeric supplements, with competing claims of best absorption and bioavailability. The marketing has been so successful, in fact, that lay articles on turmeric have focused almost exclusively on which brand of curcumin extract was better, rather than on turmeric itself.
The supplement manufacturers have in turn added other ingredients (such as BioPerine, an extract of piperine from black pepper) and sometimes additional herbs or spices. They present these products with ever more sensational headlines and pop-medicine endorsements. The end result has been to give the impression that turmeric by itself is a poor source of curcumin, and that it’s necessary to purchase someone’s unique (and expensive) product in order to gain any of the loudly advertised benefits.
The Truth About Turmeric Supplements
Nothing could be farther from the truth.
What a consumer is paying for in these products is primarily the processing cost to make the curcumin extract in the first place, plus the fancy packaging, the expensive marketing, the cost of shelf space in the big box pharmacies and supermarket chains, the payouts to self-proclaimed medical experts online and in the media–and of course the overhead of running a large company with buildings and employees and well-compensated executives. The turmeric itself represents only pennies of the price of the finished product.
The Best Way to Consume Turmeric
So is there an economical and effective way of consuming turmeric? Certainly!
The traditional way is to have it in a cooked dish with some fat or oil and with freshly ground pepper. Turmeric is a prominent ingredient in all the regional cuisines of India (not just curries). A typical dish begins by “sputtering” whole spices in hot oil. Then the meat and/or vegetables and the ground spices, including turmeric, are added. After sufficient simmering to cook the raw portions of the dish, other herbs and spices may be sprinkled on top of the finished presentation, and diners may add freshly ground black pepper to their own portions.
Turmeric is not soluble in water, or in water-based fluids (even stomach acids). Thus it was traditionally consumed with an oil or a fat such as ghee.7) The oil or melted fat dissolves the curcumin and allows it to be absorbed into the intestinal lumen (walls). From there it goes into the lymph system and eventually ends up in the bloodstream. If consumed with coconut oil, turmeric goes directly to the bloodstream via the portal vein in the small intestine.
Consumed with coconut oil, turmeric directly enters the bloodstream.
Freshly ground black pepper contains an alkaloid called piperine. Among its many behaviors in the body, it inhibits the particular enzymatic pathway for the metabolism of curcumin. Thus it extends the time during which curcumin is active in the bloodstream. However, Piperine is oxidized rapidly on exposure to light and air. So that pepper shaker on the dining table is unlikely to contain more than a small fraction of the original percentage of piperine.
A Western Way to Consume Turmeric
Most westerners don’t want to convert to cooking Indian food regularly, delicious as it is. But there is a way to add turmeric to any diet: the convenient and effective combination known as Golden Paste.
Editor’s Note: Mmm… we love Indian cooking… and can smell it just thinking about it. But it’s not everyday cuisine, so it’s great to know an alternative.
Golden Paste Revealed
India has had many versions of cooked turmeric paste over the centuries. Some were regional favorites; others were passed down from one family member to another. Doug English, an Australian veterinarian, heard of someone using turmeric for a type of skin tumor on horses called a sarcoid. He became intrigued with it and began to investigate the traditional use of turmeric. Over about five years of research, he adapted different versions of the cooked turmeric paste into one that seemed to provide the most benefit. He tested it on himself, on his family and staff and friends, and on any patients of his veterinary clinic that might benefit from it. By then, he knew it was effective against a wide variety of inflammatory conditions, as well as the sarcoids that had prompted his original interest.
Several members of the clinic staff suggested that he start a group on Facebook to promote the use of the paste and to gather additional data on its use. One of the early admins in the group dubbed the mixture ‘Golden Paste,’ and the name stuck. Now it’s possible to find references to Golden Paste all over the internet, but Doug English’s Turmeric User Group on Facebook is where it originated.8)9)
Many other people have picked it up from there and reposted it as their own, often with changes or additions. To his credit, Doug has never claimed ownership of the paste, since he did not invent it himself, only adapted traditional recipes.
Turmeric Golden Paste Recipe
To make the turmeric Golden Paste, you need three things. Turmeric powder, available from any Indian/Asian market and from many supermarkets and health food stores (or online); black peppercorns; and either coconut oil, olive oil or flaxseed (linseed) oil.
½ cup turmeric powder (approx. 60-70g)
1 cup water, with another cup in reserve (250-500ml)
1/3 cup oil (approx 70ml, such as coconut, olive or flaxseed)
2-3 tsp freshly ground black pepper (5-7g)
- Combine the turmeric powder and one cup of the water in a small saucepan
- Bring to a boil, and then lower the heat just enough to keep the mixture at a simmer
- Stir enough to keep from sticking and burning
- Add additional water as needed to maintain a soft paste
- Simmer for 7-8 minutes
- Remove from heat and allow to cool partly
- Grind peppercorns while waiting for the mixture to cool.
- Add the oil and the pepper to the partially cooled turmeric-water and mix thoroughly
I’ve seen suggestions to use a whisk or even a stick blender, however neither is necessary if you wait until the turmeric/water mixture has cooled to where it is just warm to the touch. At that point, the oil and pepper can be stirred in easily with a spoon. When they are well mixed, transfer to a container and store in the refrigerator. It will keep for about two weeks.
Directions for Use and Dosage:
Most adults and older children, and most medium to large dogs, can start with ¼ tsp twice a day in food. Smaller dogs, such as puppies or toy breeds, should start with no more than 1/8 tsp. This is a good amount for cats as well. Please note that turmeric increases gut motility. Starting off with too much can result in a better acquaintance with the toilet than most people would like. You can increase the starting amount after a few days of getting used to it, but don’t exceed the recommended starting amount at the beginning.
Some websites advise “dosing” by weight, suggesting a certain amount for every ten pounds of weight. This is not a good idea, for several reasons. First, that will be far too much to start with for almost any person or animal, and second, golden paste is not a drug that is arbitrarily “dosed.” It’s a food, a combination of two spices and a healthy oil, that can be added to almost anyone’s diet. The final amount that’s used will depend on multiple factors—the symptoms that the person wants to address, other aspects of their diet, their own personal metabolism, and others.
When NOT to Use Golden Paste
Are there any reasons not to add Golden Paste to your diet? Yes, a few.
- If you are pregnant and have not had turmeric before conceiving, wait until after giving birth. This is true for females of any species, in fact, human or animal.
- If you have gallstones or kidney stones, don’t use the Golden Paste without first consulting your doctor.
- Turmeric can interfere with one class of antibiotics—the fluroquinolones. Cipro is probably the best known of these for human use, and Baytril the most common in veterinary use. If you or a pet is on either of these antibiotics, wait until you finish before starting Golden Paste.
- Turmeric can also interfere with some cancer medications, though it has been found in trials to enhance some others. Speak with your doctor if you’re on a chemo protocol before adding Golden Paste to your diet.
- Psychotropic drugs such as antidepressants and antipsychotics may interact in unpredictable ways with both turmeric and pepper. Again, speak with your doctor before combining these drugs with Golden Paste.
- If you are taking an anticoagulant, sometimes mistakenly called a ‘blood thinner’, you will probably not be able to have Golden Paste. The older anticoagulant, warfarin, can sometimes be combined with Golden Paste with the assistance of one’s doctor or INR nurse, since clotting times are regularly tested and dosages can be adjusted. But the newer so-called “novel” anticoagulants such as Plavix, Xarelto, Equilis and Pradaxa should not be combined with Golden Paste.
- There may be minor interactions with some other commonly prescribed drugs, but these can usually be managed by having the Golden Paste and the drug at different times.
- Some disease conditions also make the use of Golden Paste inadvisable. If you have any kind of platelet dysfunction, Addison’s Disease or are anemic, consult your doctor before using Golden Paste.
One final point: the number of companies selling and making claims about turmeric has skyrocketed just in the past year. In the Turmeric User Group, we’ve seen a major shift in the kinds of questions being asked. In the beginning, the most common question was “Turmeric? What’s that?” Now a more typical question is “I read that turmeric …. “ followed by a statement that is often erroneous, or at best a half-truth.
Many of the mis-statements online are simply a matter of poor research or misunderstanding. Others come from a desire to make sales, regardless of whether accurate information is presented. Read thoughtfully and ask yourself whether the writer is actually trying to help the reader with information, or is just selling a product. As with most other marketing, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. And if the site is loaded with ads, it’s probably one of those ‘click-bait’ pages where the owner is much more interested in getting paid for ad views than in presenting accurate information. In any case, if you have a question, ask in the Turmeric User Group.
Here’s hoping you’ll join the millions of people around the world who have added turmeric to their daily diets, and benefited from its use. Also, remember to visit the Turmeric User Group Facebook group for lots of great information and community sharing.
For much more information, and experienced people to answer questions, join the Turmeric User Group on Facebook. At this writing, it has over 206,000 members worldwide.10)
We’ve added a delicious mac and cheese recipe from a Gardens All Facebook community member at the end of this article, but first:
Research on the Benefits of Turmeric
Anti-inflammatory, for arthritis11)
Turmeric for cancer cell apoptosis12)13)
Turmeric for Alzheimers14)
Turmeric for Parkinsons15)
Turmeric for Pre-diabetes16)
Turmeric and herpes simplex (the virus that causes shingles)
Turmeric and MRSA18)
Editor’s Note: For turmeric related products, including your own kit for making golden paste, you may want to visit this site: NewNaturalsOnline.com or shop some of the selections we’ve culled through from Amazon in the ads below.
Liz Wallis is an admin in the Turmeric User Group, with a background in medicine, serving as an EMT both in rescue squads and in the ER. Organic chemistry was her second interest in college, and she’s stayed current in that field as much as possible. Liz blogs more about turmeric and life on her farm at DarwinHills.com.19)
Turmeric Mac and Cheese Recipe
By Frances Lindblad
- 2 Tbsp butter
- 2 Tbsp flour
- 1/2 a vegetable flavoured soup cube
- 1 tbsp freshly snipped chives