|Front row of my spice cabinet: turmeric and curry powder|
Spending my early childhood in India, I developed a taste for spices like curry powder and turmeric (one of the main ingredients in curry powder). After three years in New Delhi, my family returned stateside with a taste for curry. So when I started reading about the amazing health benefits of turmeric and its main chemical constituent, curcumin, a few years ago, I was intrigued.
Turmeric grows wild in the forests of South and Southeast Asia. There turmeric and curcumin have long been used in traditional Indian Ayurvedic medicine and Siddha practices as attempted treatment for various diseases and internal disorders, including indigestion, throat infections, common colds, liver ailments. It is also used topically, to cleanse wounds or treat skin sores. It is worth noting the average lifespan in India during the time of native Ayurvedic medicine was abysmally short.
However, the big money-making movement for "all natural" foods, medicines and products has quickly embraced older ethnic practices of using herbs and oils to treat everything from warts to cancer. Indeed, my own mother was an early subscriber to "Prevention" magazine where she learned about home remedies to treat lesions on the leg and succumbed to melanoma cancer as a result.
Today turmeric and curcumin have been put forth and hailed as treatments for everything from inflammation to high blood pressure, from arthritis to Alzheimers.
Herbs, vegetables and fruits do provide necessary nutrients and have other benefits for the body, but there is little high-quality clinical evidence for use of turmeric or curcumin, as treatment for the wide array of ailments they are said to impact.
According to one curcumin study, curcuminoids have been the subject of over 120 clinical trials against several diseases, but "No double-blinded, placebo controlled clinical trial of curcumin has been successful." That study found curcumin to be "an unstable, reactive, nonbioavailable compound and, therefore, a highly improbable lead."
Another turmeric study looked at research on the spice for a variety of health conditions and found that, "Claims that curcuminoids found in turmeric help to reduce inflammation aren’t supported by strong studies."
Even studies where researches believe the turmeric has potential benefits are forced to acknowledge that while turmeric and curcumin, have been studied in numerous clinical trials for various human diseases and conditions, the conclusions have either been uncertain or negative. That points to the lack of systematic review conducted to evaluate the strength of the research.
An interesting study of turmeric's effects on skin indicates the spice "has been shown to exhibit anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antioxidant, and anti-neoplastic properties," but sums up by saying it "may provide therapeutic benefits for skin health" and that further studies are essential.
In conclusion, the many alleged reports of the numerous health benefits of turmeric and curcumin are mostly anecdotal at best. The majority of reported clinical trials and research studies are inconclusive. There is no clinical evidence that turmeric or its chemical component curcumin have any medicinal properties and no proof turmeric supplements have any benefits.
I still plan to cook with turmeric. I enjoy the flavor and would not be surprised if turmeric, like other vegetable, fruits, herbs and spices, might add a modicum of healthy benefit to my diet. However, I won't be wasting my money on turmeric supplements with no clinical evidence and no proven benefits. The powerful all-natural spin machine can get rich on someone else's dime.
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