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Restorative Turmeric

Incorporate the mood-boosting, memory-improving, and anti-inflammatory benefits of turmeric into your lifestyle.

| April 2019

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.

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