The Tale of Turmeric

By Abinaya Senthil


We have all heard the great tales about turmeric and how it has served huge medicinal value to the public. We have blindly believed the tale as we now desperately scramble to drink turmeric tea, add it to every single dish, and in general, just try to get the yellow spice in our food intake to keep our immune system intact. However, is this tale true? What makes this spice medicinally valuable?



History of Turmeric

Turmeric has been used medicinally for over 4,500 years. As early as 2500 BCE, pots with residue from turmeric were discovered in New Delhi. Ar


ound 500 BCE, turmeric played an important role in Ayurvedic medicine. Ayurveda, the ancient Indian system of medicine, uses plant-based drugs to treat various medical conditions. It was said that inhaling fumes from burning turmeric would help with congestion. Turmeric juice was said to heal wounds and turmeric paste was applied to the skin to treat side effects from conditions such as chickenpox and smallpox. In the Hindu religion, turmeric is seen as sacred and auspicious. In Indian tradition, a string dyed yellow with turmeric is tied around the bride’s neck and is often said to ward off evil spirits. Additionally, turmeric powder has been used in Asian cooking, cosmetics, fabric, and medicine for more than 2000 years. Hence, it can be established that turmeric has played a huge role in people’s daily lives throughout the years, even before its medicinal properties were truly analyzed.


The Extent to Which Turmeric is Used in Medicine

In Ayurvedic practices, turmeric is thought to strengthen the energy of the body, relieve gas, improve digestion, regulate menstruation, and relieve arthritis. In South Asia and Pakistan, it is used as an antiseptic for bruises, cuts, and wounds. Furthermore, turmeric is a documented treatment for the respiratory conditions asthma and allergies, as well as liver disorder, anorexia, rheumatism, runny nose, and cough.

In both Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine, turmeric is used for digestion, expelling phlegm, and expanding blood vessels to improve blood circulation.

Today, turmeric is used as a treatment for a range of conditions: arthritis, conjunctivitis, skin cancer, smallpox, chickenpox, wound healing, and liver ailments. Additionally, it is used for various digestive disorders, jaundice, and abdominal pain. Turmeric mainly targets digestive organs and has been used for the treatment of diseases including familial adenomatous polyposis, inflammatory bowel disease, and colon cancer. Modern studies reveal turmeric as a potent antioxidant, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and anticancer agent. From the beginning of Ayurveda to today, turmeric has consistently been used as a healing agent of various degrees of conditions.


What is Curcumin?

The main active component of turmeric is curcumin. Curcumin gives turmeric its well-known yellow color. In fact, it is the compound responsible for many of the health benefits as it has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. One could think of it as curcumin being the component of turmeric responsible for many of the medicinal properties turmeric has.

Curcumin blocks the formation of reactive oxygen species by controlling these species levels through metabolic enzymes, thus preventing tumor growth. Additionally, curcumin has anti-inflammatory properties because it inhibits enzymes involved in inflammation and disrupts cell signal transduction. Cell signal transduction is the process of a cell responding to substances on the exterior. Specifically, in cancer, curcumin can inhibit tumor cell proliferation and has been able to suppress chemically induced tumor growth in animal models of cancer.


Future Research into Curcumin

Animal and laboratory research hints at the possibility of curcumin preventing cancer or at least, slowing the spread of cancer. While the research is ongoing, current tests suggest that curcumin can make chemotherapy more effective and protect healthy cells from being damaged by radiation therapy. Curcumin has been reported to regulate growth factors, transcription factors, enzymes, inflammatory cytokines, and proteins. This polyphenol compound by itself or in conjunction with other agents could be an effective drug for cancer therapy.

In the end, the tale remains quite truthful in that turmeric indeed has medicinal properties and has aided in the treatment of various ailments. Curcumin can be attributed to the majority of turmeric’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Although there are so many excellent benefits to turmeric and curcumin, one must be careful, as with any other food, because too much of a certain substance can be harmful.




References


Avey, Tori. “History of Turmeric | The History Kitchen.” PBS Food, 9 Mar. 2015, www.pbs.org/food/the-history-kitchen/turmeric-history.

Cancer Research UK. “Turmeric | Complementary and Alternative Therapy.” Cancer Research UK, 24 Oct. 2018, www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/cancer-in-general/treatment/complementary-alternative-therapies/individual-therapies/turmeric.

Hatcher, H et al. “Curcumin: from ancient medicine to current clinical trials.” Cellular and molecular life sciences : CMLS vol. 65,11 (2008): 1631-52. doi:10.1007/s00018-008-7452-4

Hewlings, Susan J, and Douglas S Kalman. “Curcumin: A Review of Its Effects on Human Health.” Foods (Basel, Switzerland) vol. 6,10 92. 22 Oct. 2017, doi:10.3390/foods6100092

Prasad S, Aggarwal BB. Turmeric, the Golden Spice: From Traditional Medicine to Modern Medicine. In: Benzie IFF, Wachtel-Galor S, editors. Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd edition. Boca Raton (FL): CRC Press/Taylor & Francis; 2011. Chapter 13. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92752/

Zingaretti, Amy. “Immune Health Benefits of Curcumin (Turmeric Extract).” Nordic Naturals - Healthy Science, 18 Apr. 2020, www.nordicnaturals.com/healthy-science/the-immune-benefits-of-curcumin.