I could not come up with a quirky title for this.
Again, this is one of those topics that has been trending on my social media feed for some time.
People love this stuff! It cures gum disease, it whitens your teeth, it reduces inflammation, it detoxifies your third eye! Really?
The best use I have heard of so far is putting it in margaritas. Wellness margs. Now that I get.
Let us talk about turmeric.
What is turmeric?
Turmeric is the rhizome of the flowering plant curcuma longa. It looks like a really orangy-yellow version of ginger, and is often used to colour and flavour curries and broths. In addition to its culinary uses, turmeric has long been praised in Eastern medicine for having anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. There are various chemical substitutuents of turmeric with the main ones being curcumin, demethoxycurcumin and bisdemethoxycurcumin.
Does it really have health benefits?
I have no doubt that natural products can have medicinal effects on the human body. So many modern medicines are derivatives of natural compounds that exist in the plant (and fungi) world; penicillin, aspirin, atropine, cocaine, etc.
Tumeric has an ancient history in medicine, and has been researched for various purposes, ranging from aiding in depression, to reducing pain and inflammation in arthritis, for which it appears to work very well in comparison to analgesics such as ibuprofen. It has clinically been shown to reduce biochemical markers of inflammation.
What about dental health?
Just like coconut oil, people are putting turmeric on and in everything. This one video I saw had a guy brushing his teeth with it because it is supposedly good for a whole bunch of things, including removing fluoride, strengthening enamel, whitening teeth and of course healing your pineal gland.
You have seen that stuff, right? It is brightly coloured! It stains everything! Do not go smearing that stuff on your teeth if you have plastic fillings. There are various studies that use turmeric to test the colour stability and stain resistance of composite and glass ionomer restorative dental materials because, well, it stains more than coffee or red wine. It is simply not a good idea to "whiten" your teeth with it.
Turmeric does appear to have some antibacterial, antifungal, and antiinflammatory properties that have been evaluated clinically and in the lab. It has been shown to be effective at reducing gingival inflammation when used as a topical application during scaling and root planing. It has been shown to kill common endodontic pathogens (in vitro). It has even shown some positive outcomes in the treatment of inflammatory oral lesions such as lichen planus and fibrosis.
Maybe turmeric does have a lot going for it.
You have to look at the little details in the studies. In these clinical and in vitro trials, they are not just using dried and ground turmeric like you would sprinkle into a curry, but are using concentrated and processed versions.
The studies that look at its topical use for gingivitis for example, process the tumeric into a viscous gel using various solvents. The studies that look at the systemic use of turmeric utilize concentrated capsules that have been chemically standardized to contain specific concentrations of the substituent curcumin, and at doses way higher than what would be used in cooking or as an addition to a smoothie. It is not the same as sprinkling a teaspoon into a lovely sauce.
The reason that the researchers do this is because curcumin has a very low bioavailability; the body processes turmeric so fast that there is little actual curcumin in the bloodstream after ingestion.
This reminds me of a martini infused conversation that I had with my best friend James, when we were at dinner and eating fabulous, juicy steaks. I was trying to be faecetiously philosophical about how the food that was in our digestive tracts was in our bodies, but not actually within our bodies. Only once something is absorbed, is it actually "in" the body.
"whooa, so the food is in my body, but it is not"
What happens to turmeric when you eat it, is that it gets absorbed, but then gets processed right away. If you look at research that evaluates blood concentrations of curcumin after the consumption of turmeric, it shows that at doses that you would find in meals (a teaspoon or two), the amount of curcumin that is found in the blood is negligible, and that what you really find are its metabolites. You only really start seeing curcumin circulating in the body at super high doses of turmeric (10 grams plus...which is like 4 or 5 teaspoons), and even then the amount is quite negligible. Clinical research therefore does not reflect the regular dietary consumption of turmeric.
This means that either you have to believe in homeopathy, where a microconcentration of a chemical is enough to cause the desired health benefit, or, that curcumin acts as a prodrug, meaning that one of the products of its metabolism is the active ingredient.....which has not been proven.
That being said, turmeric has had some promising outcomes in various clinical studies, especially as an anti-inflammatory and analgesic. I would not go ahead to recommend using it as a mouthwash or toothpaste because it really does stain things. It is, however, relatively safe to add to your food and adds beautiful colour and flavour to sauces. Be careful in trying to up the dose to get the "health benefits", as has turmeric been shown to have gastrointestinal side effects and can cause allergic reactions.
Read: allergic dermatitis
I do not know if turmeric is the miracle root that all these internet health stars claim it to be, but it is certainly a yummy and beautiful way to add some colour to a dish. Will I start pounding back a couple of teaspoons of turmeric instead of an extra strength ibuprofen and an espresso after an evening of wellness margs??? Not likely.
Thanks for reading!
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