One of the most common spices on the Indian table is turmeric, which has been used for over 5,000 years. It is well known for its rich deep yellow-gold color. The source of turmeric’s color is also its active component, curcumin, which has been shown to reverse age-related cerebrovascular dysfunction (commonly manifesting as dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease (AD)(1)).
As a staple in the Indian diet, turmeric’s protective properties have contributed to a very low incidence of Alzheimer’s and dementia in India and parts of south Asia. How? Research has shown turmeric and curcumin combat the negative effects of β-amyloid protein and also mitigate other factors contributing to AD in the following ways:
Helps protect against inflammation caused by β-amyloid protein
Appears to reduce cell damage associated with β-amyloid protein
Prevents the formation of β-amyloid protein in the first place, which means it may address the root pathology of Alzheimer’s disease (active compounds in this action include curcumin, tetrahydrocurcumin, demethoxycurcumin and bisdemethoxycurcumin)
Restores distorted nerve tissue (neurites) and thus rescues long-term potentiation (an indication of functional memory) impaired by amyloid peptide and may even reverse physiological damage by disrupting existing plaques.
Binds strongly to iron and copper, which may reduce iron-mediated damage believed to play a pathological role in Alzheimer’s Disease.
Reduces antioxidant damage.
In addition to these benefits for cognitive health, turmeric/curcumin has many other benefits: It is antibacterial, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and excellent for reducing pain. Medicinal uses include treating respiratory ailments, various cancers, arthritis, heartburn, stomach problems, headaches, bronchitis, skin conditions, and liver toxicity.(2) Turmeric has been used in everyday Indian and other south Asian households for its antiseptic and anti-inflammatory qualities as well as its medicinal benefits for thousands of years.
Integrating turmeric into our diets is quite simple since it has a relatively neutral taste (when cooked) so it can be added to most savory dishes without significantly altering the taste. You can also eat a lot of it. It is considered safe not only by the FDA but also by the more strict standards of the European Food Safety Commission.
Turmeric can be used fresh or in powdered form stored in an airtight jar. The fresh root, which is fairly similar to ginger but smaller, can be peeled, grated, and added to foods. It is commonly mixed into soups and stews or rubbed on vegetables and meats and fish before roasting to create colorful savory dishes. Putting a heaping teaspoon into a smoothie that has strong flavors is an easy way to get plenty of it.
One of my favorite ways to use this wonder rhizome is make a detox morning tea. Simply grate a fresh root and simmer it in hot water or brew it in regular tea with or without lemon. You can also use dried ground turmeric. See our Recipes section for more recipes using turmeric.
Rinku Bhattacharya is a Gourmand Award-winning author and “Spice Chronicles” blogger (spicechronicles.com) who offers time-strapped home cooks practical ways to cook healthfully and sustainably
Lisa Feiner is a certified health and wellness coach and a board member of Sharp Again Naturally.