Turmeric, a rhizome related to ginger root, has been a staple of traditional Chinese and Indian medicine and cuisine for thousands of years. Commonly available dried and ground into a powder, turmeric is inexpensive and readily available in most grocery-store spice sections. You can also purchase capsules of turmeric or curcumin -- the biologically active component in turmeric – as a nutritional supplement. Turmeric has Food and Drug Administration "generally regarded as safe" status, and seems to be an effective remedy for several health conditions. Check with your health care provider before self-treating medical conditions with turmeric.
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Curcumin and Curcuminoids
Curcumin is one of several curcuminoids, which are polyphonic compounds, present in turmeric. Turmeric contains approximately 2 percent curcumin by weight, so a tablespoon of turmeric, which weighs 6.8 grams, contains about 0.136 gram curcumin, or 136 milligrams. In addition to curcumin, turmeric also contains smaller amounts of the curcuminoids demethoxycurcumin and bisdemethoxycurcumin. Researchers believe curcumin to be the most biologically active curcuminoid in turmeric.
Curcumin is an antioxidant, and it appears to work as an anti-inflammatory in the body. Thus, it may benefit inflammatory conditions such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and Alzheimer's disease. It shows promise as a compound to prevent and treat cancer, and ongoing clinical trials continue to investigate this possibility as of September 2011. Curcumin stimulates bile production in the digestive tract, and thus helps to relieve indigestion and other digestive complaints. In animal studies, turmeric lowered levels of blood cholesterol and prevented blood clots; further research may reveal if turmeric conveys cardiovascular benefits to humans as well.
To gain health benefits from turmeric, the University of Maryland Medical Center recommends taking 1 to 3 grams of dried, powdered turmeric root per day, about 1/2 to 1.5 teaspoons. The recommended dosage for standardized curcumin powder is 400 to 600 milligrams, three times per day. Curcumin and turmeric are safe when eaten in foods and at recommended dosages, but larger doses may cause stomach upset. Exercise caution and check with your doctor before taking curcumin or turmeric supplements if you are diabetic, pregnant or breast-feeding or if you take medications that thin the blood, reduce stomach acid or lower blood sugar.
Uses of Turmeric
Turmeric is a classic ingredient in Indian cuisine, and curry powders invariably contain turmeric. Turmeric has a bitter, earthy taste on its own, but it combines beautifully with other Indian flavors such as fresh ginger root, cumin, garam masala, coriander and coconut milk. It lends a striking deep yellow color to dishes. For a quick curry salad, dress shredded chicken or chopped tofu with a mixture of turmeric, curry powder, cumin, mayonnaise, salt and pepper. Add chopped celery or red pepper, raisins, chopped walnuts, minced garlic and a pinch of cayenne pepper to taste. Drizzle with a bit of lemon or lime juice, and serve over salad greens or as a sandwich filling.