One of my favorite traditions in a Hindu wedding is when we get to smear our betrothed family member with this yellow paste “haldi (turmeric)”. During a recent wedding, it was fun and lighthearted, and one of the few times my older male cousins and brother couldn’t retaliate. Now, as a physician I have learned to appreciate Turmeric for the wonderful health benefits it affords to people. Side note – there’s a lot of bad information out there! Do not start taking turmeric unless you are absolutely sure it is safe for you. Let’s review some of the facts.
Turmeric’s main ingredient is curcumin. It comes from the same family as ginger. Its anti-inflammatory properties are the primary beneficial feature. One of the little caveats to curcumin is that it does not get absorbed very well in the body on its own. Black pepper taken in addition to turmeric have shown to increase the absorption to adequate amounts.
Inflammation is a normal response to injury in the body. When you cut yourself, it gets red and puffy because the body is rushing its defense mechanism to repair the injury. Uncontrolled and chronic inflammation, however is a problem. Arthritis, cancer, irritable bowel syndrome, Parkinsons, even some eye diseases can be slowed down when taking turmeric, or curcumin. It has also shown to be beneficial in cardiac (read: heart attack), diabetic, and Alzeihmers patients.
So why isn’t everybody taking this and why didn’t I invest in the Turmeric stock? Like any herbal medication, the benefits have not been studied by the FDA. The FDA is the major governing body to tell us what is safe for consumption. They do not endorse or promote herbal or plant based products. Also, like anything with medicinal properties, there are people that should avoid turmeric (now this doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the occasional curry here or there, or you have to avoid all foods that look yellow, but it means you shouldn’t ingest this in large quantities as a vitamin or supplement.)
Very important for all my preggos (pregnant ladies) reading this: There is an association with turmeric and uterine irritability or contractions, so it should definitely be avoided. Also turmeric can accentuate the effect of blood thinners. If you are taking aspirin, Coumadin, Heparin, Lovenox, Xarelto, Plavix- anything to thin your blood, you should NOT take turmeric. Also, patients that have any gallbladder dysfunction should avoid taking this.
To bring us back full circle, bride and bridegrooms have this lovely magical golden paste spread on them before their wedding day for all of these reasons: It makes their skin glow by reducing irritation and inflammation as well as by working as a natural exfoliator. As a bonus, it wards the evil eye (Indians are all about the spirits, fyi). Remember, talk to your physician before starting any herbs or supplements. When looking for a turmeric product, it’s important to find one that is
not only a good quality of turmeric, but also has the active ingredient curcuminoids. As discussed above, the supplement should also have piperine (the ingredient in black pepper that helps increase turmeric absorption) included in the composition.
“Each spice has a special day to it. For turmeric it is Sunday, when light drips fat and butter-colored into the bins to be soaked up glowing, when you pray to the nine planets for love and luck.” ― Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni,
I don’t know what that means, but Turmeric is something to know about and love. It is definitely more than just a spice.