Recently I wrote about the medicinal uses of the common culinary spice ginger. This month Turmeric (Curcuma longa), a member of the same family as ginger (Zingiberaceae) is the focus. Turmeric is a native to India and has also been known as Indian saffron or poor man’s saffron because of its ability to substitute as a colouring agent to the unrelated and much more expensive spice saffron. Similarly to ginger, it is the underground rhizome of turmeric which is mainly used in both cooking and medicine. Dried and ground into a powder, turmeric is bright yellow, warm and bitter to taste and is a key ingredient of curry powders, as well as finding use in mustards, butters and cheeses. When used as a food additive its code is 100 so remember not all numbers on food packets refer to artificial colours and flavours.
In Chinese medicine the Turmeric rhizome is called Jiang Huang which means “yellow ginger” and is traditionally seen to move stagnant Blood and Qi and relieve pain. It is traditionally indicated for a range of conditions including period pain, stomach upsets, abdominal pain and shoulder pain. Indian medicine has also found turmeric useful for stomach and liver problems, as well as skin conditions, wound healing and aches and pains. Modern research has renewed interest in turmeric, particularly for one of its active ingredients known as curcumin. Curcumin is being investigated for a range of conditions, one being it’s powerful anti-inflammatory effect. In one study it was on par with the pharmaceutical drug Ibuprofen. This is good news for people experiencing pain and inflammation including osteoarthritis who may find anti-inflammatory drugs unsuitable. Turmeric is a natural substance and cannot be patented – so it will continue to be inexpensively available. Some companies have patented turmeric extracts however which are better absorbed, so you will see some patented turmeric extracts in nutritional products for pain and inflammation.
Turmeric is not safe in pregnancy and must be avoided as there is a risk of losing a pregnancy when taking turmeric in medicinal doses. Because Turmeric may reduce blood clotting, it should be taken cautiously with medical supervision if a person is currently taking anti-coagulant medication. For the same reason it should be stopped completely two weeks before any planned surgery. We use a high quality tableted form of Turmeric in the clinic which offers another alternative for those who require an anti-inflammatory agent without the risks associated with pharmaceutical anti-inflammatory medications.