You might have heard of turmeric, which is a common cooking spice that emits a unique orange-ish hue. Something that you might have not known about the turmeric is that it is an incredibly effective medicine.
WHAT IS TURMERIC
Turmeric, or Curcuma longa / Curcuma domestica, is a plant that can be found all throughout India and Indonesia. It is a close kin to ginger, which you might have heard of, which is another incredibly powerful spice with a plethora of medicinal properties.
Turmeric has been used for years in both Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine as an antidote to many health conditions. Per the California College of Ayurveda, “few (medicinal plants) possess such a wide spectrum of qualities and medicinal uses as turmeric.”
The College goes on to list all of the conditions for which the turmeric has proven useful, which are amenorrhea, anemia, atherosclerosis, arthritis, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, bronchitis, bursitis, common cold, conjunctivitis, diabetes, diarrhea, edema, fever, gallstones, headaches, hemorrhoids, ingestion, inflammation, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), liver disease, multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases (e.g. hepatitis C, genital herpes), urinary tract infections, and others.
Some claims are rather empty and devoid of substantial evidence. Fortunately, there is an abundance of research that appears to show the health benefits of turmeric and curcumin. For example, multiple research studies affirm the potential role of turmeric and curcumin to help with arthritis symptoms:
- A 2006 study “showed turmeric was more effective” in the prevention of joint inflammation than reducing joint inflammation.
- A 2010 study cites a turmeric product, Meriva, helped “(provide) long-term improvement in pain and function in 100 patients with knee (osteoarthritis).”
- A 2012 pilot study concludes that a curcumin product, “BCM-95,” reduces pain and swelling symptoms associated with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) better than non-steroidal inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS).
While the majority of research has cast its focus more on the physical health benefits of turmeric, we should not ignore the evidence suggesting that turmeric can help cognition and mental health. On this note, we will talk a bit about how turmeric, and its magnificent ingredient curcumin, can boost the mood by helping relieve depression and stress.
The Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Turmeric
Of all of the beneficial health benefits it offers, turmeric and curcumin are best known for reducing inflammation. Inflammation can have a drastic and adverse impact on cognition and everyday thinking, more on this later.
A number of studies suggest that curcumin, when used in highly bioavailable forms, for example nanocurcumin, can powerfully counter the inflammatory response. Curcumin is a polyphenol, which is a well-researched class of organic chemicals known for their psychological benefits, particularly for reducing inflammation markers.
Researchers, in a 9 study meta-analysis of the effect of curcumin on knee osteoarthritis (OA) patients, the authors conclude that ‘it is possible to investigate a synergistic effect between curcumin and other OA treatments’. In other words, the therapeutic effect of curcumin are significant enough to consider it as a complementary treatment for osteoarthritis, an arthritic condition that affects more than 630 million people all around the world. Of course, osteoarthritis is in part defined by high levels of inflammation in the body.
Inflammation, Depression and the Brain
Medical experts know that inflammation negatively affects the function of the brain. Robert J. Hedaya, MD, a psychiatrist and clinical professor of psychiatry at the Georgetown University Medical Center, explains the cumulative negative effects of systematic inflammation on the brain:
Inflammation affects hormones and other neurotransmitters in your brain (and) drives down the level of serotonin, which can lead to feelings of depression or anxiety, and problems with memory. (Inflammation) causes dopamine levels to rise, which contributes to insomnia, and feelings of anxiety and agitation. The excitatory neurotransmitter, glutamine, goes up, over time or with excessive levels of glutamate, anxiety can result.
This is academic talk for the real point that Dr. Hedaya is trying to make, which is that inflammation messes with your brain. Thus, inflammation can mess with both your cognition and mental health.
We know that alterations and changes to the brain chemistry can affect cognition, whether one fits the diagnostic criteria for anxiety and depression. Dr. Hedaya states that the diminishing serotonin levels brought about by inflammation can affect memory and, thus, learning. Indeed, interruptions to a person’s memory capacity can negatively affect just about every aspect of his/hers life.
As per a widely consumed 2010 study, published in the journal Immunology, “chronic immune activation”, read long term inflammation, is a “common feature of neurodegenerative diseases, as well as infections, immune-mediated disorders, ischemia, which is a condition of poor blood circulation often affecting the major organs such as the heart, and trauma.
Well known neurodegenerative diseases include Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease). Other common neurodegenerative diseases include frontotemporal dementia, Lewy body dementia, Huntington disease and prion diseases.
Curcumin and Depression
“Curcumin’s positive antidepressant and anti-anxiety effects are likely due to its ability to normalize specific physiological pathways. It appears to elevate neurotransmitters such as serotonin while lowering stress hormones.” – Adrian Lopesti, Ph.D., Murdoch University
We have already mentioned the effects of inflammation on the brain. Put aside that it is damaging the learning and memory capacity, inflammation of the nervous system can lead to the development of anxiety and depression. Given the powerful anti-inflammatory effect of curcumin, scientists posit that the substance can be useful in reducing said symptoms.
In a study published in 2017 in the Journal of the American Medical Directors Association, researchers performed a meta-analysis of six clinical trials totaling 377 patients. Compared to a placebo, a sugar pill, curcumin reduced subjective depression symptoms by 35 percent. The research team not ‘significant anti-anxiety effects’ in three of the studies.
Physiologically, curcumin appears to act on the neurotransmitter’s serotonin and dopamine levels. In a study in 2018, published in the journal Applied Biochemistry and Biotechnology, a research team found that administration of nanocurcumin, which is a more bioavailable form of curcimin, restored the levels of both serotonin and dopamine in rats.
The team also notes that there is a ‘significant increase’ in alpha, beta-1, beta-2 and theta brain waves in just 7 days. Alpha waves typically mean a relaxed and aware mindset; beta, an awake and active mindset; and theta, which is a brain wave pattern often seen in sleep and deep meditation. Clinical depression tends to reduce the frequency at which the brain experiences all of the three wave patterns.
How to Make a Turmeric Lemonade That Relieves Stress and Anxiety
So, now that you know of the actions of curcumin on the brain, the next logical step is to see for yourself. Here is a delicious turmeric lemonade recipe that will help you wash away the stress and anxiety.
The Grocery List:
- 5 cups of water
- 4 tablespoons of freshly ground turmeric root
- 3 tablespoons of honey (raw preferred)
- 2 teaspoons of grated ginger
- Half a cup of fresh lemon juice
- Half a cup of orange juice
Do This Next:
- Boil the water.
- Dump the ground turmeric root and grated ginger into a glass jar (or another container capable of holding hot water.)
- Pour the hot water into the jar.
- Allow the mixture to steep for 10 minutes.
- Pour the honey into the jar and stir until dissolved.
- Strain the mixture.
- Add the lemon juice.
- Allow the liquid to cool.
- Add orange juice if you like.
- Sit back, sip, and enjoy!
The health benefits of curcumin and turmeric are well-established, as you can clearly see. No matter the kind of turmeric or curcumin you use, you will probably experience some good results.
With all of that being said, newer forms of curcumin are more highly bioavailable than that found in turmeric root. “Bioavailability” means that the amount of substance circulated by the blood following ingestion and provides a good measure of the effectiveness in treating what it says it will.
The bioavailability of nanocurcumin is reported to be around 80 to 95 percent. Some estimate that this number is 40 times higher than that of “normal” curcumin, such as that acquired from turmeric root. In addition, nanocurcumin passes the blood-brain barrier, which allows the substance to influence brain function more directly.
The application of “nanotechnology-treated” curcumin is relatively new, however, and a number of studies, including the ones listed above, have found health benefits from the use of nanocurcumin.
All in all, in the end, just make sure that the food products you use are clean, fresh and naturally-sourced. If you opt for a turmeric or curcumin supplements, do a little bit of research on the brain’s quality and reputation. If you are considering taking curcumin for medical reasons, you will likely want to check with your doctor first, just in case!