Herbal medicines extracted from various plants have been used since ancient times to treat many medical conditions. Some of them are still known as powerful remedies and have even been scientifically proven to have beneficial effect on human health. Turmeric is one of these amazing plants which has been used by eastern medicine even 4000 years ago. Turmeric belongs to ginger family and it is derived from the rhizome of the plant. It was used as a spice, but also in religious ceremonies. Nowadays, turmeric is starting to receive greater attention in western medicine too, and has become an important component of various medicines. There is a huge amount of scientific evidence of the properties of turmeric, giving that there are over 3000 publications investigating its effects on human health.
Active Substances in Turmeric
Turmeric consists of over 100 organic compounds. The substances contained in turmeric that have been found biologically active include: turmerone, curcumin demethoxycurcumin, 5’-methoxycurcumin, dihydrocurcumin, germacrone, termerone, curlone, zingiberene, β-sesquiphellanderene, bisacurone, isoprocurcumenol, procurcumenol , curcumenone; dehydrocurdione; procurcumadiol, bis-acumol; curcumenol, epiprocurcumenol, zedoaronediol, and many others. Turmeric has about 400 kcal per 100g.
Use of Turmeric in Traditional Medicine
In Asian medicine, turmeric has been used since ancient times for the treatment of arthritis, indigestion, nematode infestations, menstrual problems, and gallstone issues. Locally, it was used for burns and cuts because of its antibacterial properties. Ayurvedic approach also uses turmeric as a remedy for respiratory problems, allergies, rheumatic disorders, wound healing, cough, common cold, etc. Turmeric was also used to improve circulation, reduce swelling, and for many other reasons in various formulations and dosages.
Turmeric Use in Western Medicine
Turmeric is widely used in western medicine today, but the mechanism of action is not yet well understood. However, it is known for its antioxidant, antibacterial, anticancer, and anti-inflammatory properties. Studies have shown that even the amount of turmeric used as a spice in cooking could be enough to provide adequate level of antioxidant effect. Antioxidant effect mirrors in elimination of free radicals that are normally created in our body, but are harmful to our cells. Laboratory studies showed that turmeric efficiently eliminated free radicals in kidney cells. Anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial activities of turmeric have also been reported. In laboratory conditions, turmeric killed various types of pathogens including several different types of bacteria. Helicobacter pylori bacteria is a widespread threat and causes digestive problems in many people. Turmeric efficiently kills this bacteria and replaces standard therapy which consists of several antibiotics. Scientists have found that turmeric extract inhibits the growth of cancer cells by inducing programmed death of tumor cells (apoptosis).
Studies on Animals and Human Studies
The most important application of turmeric is in cancer treatment. It is used in the treatment of skin cancer, oral cancer, breast cancer, and stomach cancer. Lymphoma patients also benefit from turmeric intake. In one study, mice receiving turmeric extract had improvement in the lymphoma treatment by 80% in comparison to non-treated mice. There are many speculations how turmeric affects intracellular signaling cascades and how it expresses its anticancer effects, but no one really knows it precisely yet. For skin tumors, turmeric is applied both locally and orally. Studies conducted in mice confirmed that turmeric decreases oxidative stress in mice with diabetes. Therefore, it is suggested that turmeric can decrease the frequency of complications in diabetic patients. Researchers have also reported beneficial effects of turmeric on cardiac muscle function after heart attack, positive effects on kidney function and nerve cells.
It has been shown that turmeric increases serotonin levels, so there is a possibility to use it as a remedy for depression and other psychiatric disorders.
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Naganuma M, Saruwatari A, Okamura S, Tamura H. Turmeric and curcumin modulate the conjugation of 1-naphthol in Caco-2 cells. Biol Pharm Bull. 2006;29:1476–9.
Cruz-Correa M, Shoskes D. A, Sanchez P, editors. et al. Combination treatment with curcumin and quercetin of adenomas in familial adenomatous polyposis. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2006;4:1035–8.