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Turmeric, rather a lot more than curcumin

  • Diet Lifestyle
  • 7:14 reading time (ish)
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Written by Sebastian Pole

Curcumin is undoubtedly a key active medicinal constituent found in turmeric; but there is so much more to this vibrant root. In this article, Sebastian Pole will be looking at some of the other amazing and powerful constituents present in this plant’s essential oils.

Having been trained in traditional herbal medicine and the use of whole plants I am intrigued and concerned by the accelerated pharmaceuticalisation of natural health products. As the insights of traditional herbal medicine reaches greater awareness so our tendency to cherry pick certain herbs and isolate their ‘active’ compounds increases. In this process we miss an essential part of traditional healing that is wrapped up in the synergistic effect of the multi-component and multi-herb formulas used by natural doctors for centuries.

The rapid growth in curcumin’s reputation is a case in point and I want to use this as an example of how using isolated compounds misses the best of natural medicine. With over 6000 citations on curcumin it dominates the research field into this valuable spice, but is it just better to use higher amounts of isolated curcumin (the so-called 95% curcumin) or is there something better available from all the compounds that make up the wonder that is turmeric?

Turmeric: The golden goddess

Turmeric (Curcuma longa) has a long tradition of use in Indian Ayurvedic medicine over at least the last 4,000 years. Having a sweet, bitter and astringent flavour with the ability to drive out toxins turmeric balances the fundamental principles of health bringing equilibrium to all three constitutional dosha. Modern medical descriptions include diverse biological activity including antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anticancer, antigrowth, anti-arthritic, anti-atherosclerotic, antidepressant, anti-aging, antidiabetic, antimicrobial, wound healing, hepatoprotective and memory-enhancing activities.It has many names in India (over 45!) including ‘Haridra’ (The Yellow One) and my preferred, ‘Kanchani’ (The Golden Goddess). The word ‘turmeric’ comes from medieval Latin ‘terra merita’, meaning ‘blessing of the earth’.

Turmeric has over 300 compounds including volatile oils (e.g. tumerone and zingiberone), sugars, proteins and resins and owes its bright yellow colour to polyphenolic pigments also known as curcuminoids, including demethoxycurcumin and bisdemethoxycurcumin. It is believed that turmeric’s effectiveness may, at least partially, be attributed to its immunomodulatory properties and the ability to affect multiple signalling pathways initiating inflammatory and neurological modulation via multiple pathways including COX-2, LOX-5, Nrf2, NF-KB etc. Turmeric has compared positively when compared with statins, corticosteroids and aspirin revealing it as nature’s answer to the side-effect free treatment of inflammation.

When you consider that whole turmeric contains at least 20 phytochemicals that are anti-biotic, 14 that are known cancer preventatives, 12 that are anti-tumour, 12 are anti-inflammatory and there are at least 10 different anti-oxidants it makes you realize that turmeric is rather a lot more than curcumin. It makes me think that I want to use a whole turmeric formula that brings out the best of the curcumin as well as the volatile tumerone, the resins and other yellow pigments.

Sebastian is a registered member of the Ayurvedic Practitioners Association, Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine and the Unified Register of Herbal Practitioners. He qualified as a herbalist with the aim of using the principles of Ayurveda (the ancient art of living wisely) to help transform health. He holds a Licentiate in Herbal Medicine, a Diploma in Oriental Herbal Medicine and is an Ayurvedic Health Counsellor.

Sebastian Pole runs his own herbal practice in Bath and has been in clinical practice since 1998. He is also an organic herb expert and is passionate about supporting the sustainable supply of organic herbs. Fluent in Hindi, a registered Yoga therapist and passionate about running a business that brings benefit to everyone it connects with, Sebastian is on a mission to bring the incredible power of plants into people’s life.

Sebastian lives on an amazing two acre forest garden farm in Somerset with his family, where he grows over 100 species of medicinal plants and trees. His favourites are licorice, chamomile, echinacea, motherwort, valerian, tulsi and marigolds.

Author of Ayurvedic Medicine, The Principles of Traditional Practice (Elsevier 2006).

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