Turmeric - An Anti-Inflammatory Miracle For Autoimmune Disease?
Updated: Dec 27, 2021
You might have heard that turmeric can help with inflammation ... the redness, swelling, pain, warmth and digestive upset that can come along with rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and Crohn's Colitis , but how and why?
Is this root really a miracle spice?
Let's break down the pros and cons of using turmeric in food and as a supplement in your overall natural health plan to support your autoimmune and inflammatory condition.
What is turmeric?
Turmeric is a rhizome like ginger. A rhizome is a plant that grows underground, producing shoots from its root. It has a rich, bright orange colour and is used in many foods.
Originally used in Southeast Asia, turmeric is a prominent and vital ingredient in traditional curries.
Today, you can find dried powdered turmeric in the spice aisle of just about any grocery store. Sometimes, the produce section also carries this fresh rhizome (it looks like ginger root, but smaller and golden colour).
Turmeric contains an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant compound called "curcumin.” Curcumin is the focus of the research studies you hear about. The amount of this bioactive compound is around 3 - 7% by weight of turmeric, so while present in food form, the amount of curcumin is relatively small in what you consume.
In fact, many of research studies that hail the healing benefits of curcumin test it up to 100x more than a traditional diet that simply includes turmeric.
It's a wonderful addition to soups, stews, smoothies, teas and other meals to enhance the nutritional value of what you're eating, such as this AIP butternut squash soup recipe I often make for myself.
Health benefits of curcumin for autoimmune disease and inflammation
There are dozens of clinical studies using curcumin extract (which is way more concentrated than ground turmeric as you just learned). But what exactly does curcumin do?
Curcumin is an anti-inflammatory compound. It fights inflammation at the molecular level. Some studies even show it can work as well as certain anti-inflammatory medications, but without the side effects. It neutralizes free radicals before they wreak havoc on our biomolecules.
Curcumin also boosts our natural antioxidant enzymes.
These two functions of reducing inflammation and oxidation have amazing health benefits. Remember, chronic inflammation plays a major role in so many conditions, including heart disease, cancer, metabolic syndrome, dementia, mood disorders, arthritis pain, etc.
Curcumin also has other amazing functions:
Boosts your levels of "Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor" (like a natural growth hormone for your brain) which is great for brain health.
Improves “endothelial” function” (the inner lining of your blood vessels) which is great for heart health.
Reduces growth of cancer cells by reducing angiogenesis (growth of new blood vessels in tumors), metastasis (the spread of cancer), and even contributes to the death of cancer cells.
Supports inflammatory and degenerative eye disorders
How to get the most out of your turmeric at meal time
Unfortunately, curcumin is not easily absorbed by your gut.
First, it’s fat soluble. This means, it needs to be combined with fat-soluble nutrients (like vitamins A, D, E, and K) to help increase absorption. You can’t just sprinkle some on some vegetables and expect impact. You need to combine it with some healthy fats like coconut milk/oil, ghee, grass-fed butter or legumes.
When you think about it, this is what certain cultures have done for centuries. Many curry-based meals (vegetarian and meat) include all of the above. Makes sense, doesn’t it? And how amazing is that? They were onto something so many years ago!
The second trick to get the most out of your turmeric is to eat it with black pepper.
A compound in black pepper (piperine) enhances absorption of curcumin by a whopping 2,000%! Let’s look at the curry example again. Turmeric is blended with other spices to create “curry powder” and pepper is one key ingredient of that mix.
However, if you want the maximum health benefits of curcumin, you need to get a larger dose of than just eating turmeric at mealtimes. This is where supplements are helpful.
But they are not for everyone.
Health risks of curcumin supplements
While turmeric in food form is generally safe, not all supplements are created equal. It's always a good idea to read the fine print before you purchase.
Many supplements contain food colouring and fillers ... whether that be a grain-free tubular like cassava or a gluten-based filler like wheat. For this reason, it can contribute to rheumatic and arthritic-like flares.
Consumed in high doses, curcumin can contribute to gas/bloating which may be something you're looking to decrease.
With my autoimmune clients, I use curcumin very cautiously and it's never a must-have supplement I include in my list of initial recommendations to help reduce inflammation. Food first is my approach.
Curcumin in supplement form is also contraindicated with:
Anti-platelet medications or blood thinners
Gallstones or a bile duct obstruction
Stomach ulcers or excess stomach acid
Always read the label before taking a new supplement and check with your doctor and/or someone trained in supplementation, like myself. If you decide to give curcumin a try, remember to take your supplement (herbal tincture or pill) at mealtimes with a dose of healthy fats and sprinkle of pepper!
Turmeric is a delicious spice, and it’s “active ingredient” curcumin has many health benefits. In food, form it is typically safe to add to food to enhance not only it's flavour, but nutritional density for autoimmune symptoms of inflammation.
Curcumin has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties which help reduce chronic inflammation. It also has other amazing health benefits, like brain- and heart-boosting properties, and even cancer-fighting properties.
Curcumin supplements can be great for your health, but they're not for everyone. Check the label or speak with me before taking it.