Photo by Shutterstock/Manfred Ruckszio
This beautiful tropical plant, holy and auspicious in India, has been used for thousands of years from kitchen to clinic. Best known as a major ingredient of curry, it improves mood and has multiple other health benefits, many scientifically verified.
About the plant: A perennial from South Asia that likes humid conditions and well-drained soil, it has long, blade-like, bunched, sweet-smelling leaves and star-like yellow and pink flower heads. A member of the ginger family growing to 39 inches (1 m), its rhizome (harvested in winter) looks similar to ginger but beneath the skin its flesh is bright yellow/orange with a peppery aroma and mild, sweet flavor. In temperate zones it grows well in pots indoors.
History and folklore: Listed in Assyrian herbals from 600 BC and used by Dioscorides in the first century AD, its name comes from tarmaret (Latin terra merita, merit of the earth). Hindu monks’ robes are dyed in turmeric to reflect the “sun solar plexus chakra.” Traditionally used in Asia (it’s a major ingredient in the medicine Xio yao-san) and in Europe for stress, depression, as an anti-inflammatory and anticoagulant. Today, research into turmeric is expanding as the interest in food as medicine is reawakened in the West.
What scientists say
In humans: The plant extract or its ingredient curcumin improve mood in major depression in several controlled trials. It is a powerful anti-inflammatory (tested stronger than hydrocortisone), reduces inflammation (C-reactive protein) in some controlled studies, and alleviates pain. It also improves memory in pilot controlled trials, quality of life in cancer patients due to suppressing tumor-related inflammation, and is clinically antioxidant. Over 100 clinical trials show its efficacy in chronic disease from cancers, diabetes, and obesity to cardiovascular, pulmonary, autoimmune, and neurological conditions. It’s bioavailability (being insoluble in water) may have limited some clinical trial outcomes.
The first clinical study to show curcumin effective for depression was in Gujarat, India. There, curcumin was given for six weeks to 60 people with major depression. It was found to be as effective, in two assessment measures, as the conventional (SSRI) antidepressant fluoxetine.
In the lab: Numerous preclinical studies show a potential role for curcumin in bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. It alters neuronal growth in models of stress and is antidepressant and neuroprotective in several models. Like rosemary, curcumin boosts the memory signal (acetylcholine) and brain dopamine and interacts with stimulatory (glutamate) and mood-boosting serotonin. Essential oil constituent bisabolene is anticonvulsant, and turmeric improves memory in lab models.
Key ingredients: The bioactive yellow curcumin (60 percent of its polyphenol content) has been extensively investigated and affects various molecules and systems. The essential oil contains bisabolene, limonene, and curcumene (also in lemon verbena). Its unusual aroma is due to turmerone, arturmerone, and zingiberene.
How to take it: Root freshly grated or dried can be taken as a tea up to 1 g daily or tincture (150 g fresh per 500 ml) 1 teaspoon 3 times daily. Adds distinctive flavor freshly grated in salads. Used in cooking, in almost any dish, fat is added to help absorption. Taken dried as powder (4 g) in food or mixed with water or milk (2 times daily; adding 1 teaspoon lecithin may help absorption). Tablets or capsules (some commercial preparations claim better bioavailability) or essential oil.
Safety: No adverse effects at recommended dose. Higher doses may cause gastrointestinal effects. Contraindicated in biliary obstruction. May interact with anticoagulants, antidepressants, antibiotics, chemotherapeutic agents, antihistamines, and other anti-inflammatory drugs where doses greater than 15 g per day should not be used. Avoid sun with topical application as is found phototoxic in the lab. Can be adulterated with lead oxide or an illegal yellow dye. Caution when handling as removing yellow stains is challenging.
More from Your Brain on Plants:
Cover courtesy of The Experiment Publishing
Excerpted from Your Brain on Plants: Improve the Way You Think and Feel with Safe—and Proven—Medicinal Plants and Herbs © Nicolette Perry and Elaine Perry, 2018. Reprinted by permission of the publisher, The Experiment. Available wherever books are sold. theexperimentpublishing.com