When guests are given their going-home recommendations at The Raj Ayurveda Health Spa, we encourage them to use spice mixtures, called “churnas”, when cooking. One reason is that these spice mixtures contain all six tastes and that they help keep the doshas in balance. Another reason is that churnas contain herbs and spices that promote health.
Today we are going to focus on turmeric, the yellow-pigmented spice that is an important ingredient in all of the churnas. Turmeric has traditionally been used in Indian cuisine and in Ayurveda herbal medicine. Ayurveda practitioners prescribed the spice to reduce inflammation and joint problems, to treat digestive disorders, and to address skin disorders. Due to turmeric’s heating quality, it helps to balance Kapha and Vata doshas and due to its bitter taste, it helps to balance Pitta dosha.
In recent years, turmeric has become well known in main-stream America for its medicinal benefits. Nearly 7000 studies and scientific articles have been published on the medical effectiveness of compounds in turmeric in areas such as chronic inflammation and pain, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, cancer, and brain health and memory.
How To Use Turmeric
Before I get into the wonderful details of how turmeric supports health and longevity, I wanted to highlight how best to use turmeric. Over-cooking turmeric can easily destroy the fragile molecules of the important medical compounds contained in the spice. To retain the best of both taste and health, add turmeric after you have cooked your soup, grains or vegetables.
Start with melting ghee in a frying pan until it becomes clear. Then add turmeric powder and mix it into the oil. Remove the frying pan from direct heat and allow the spice to simmer in the hot oil for 5 minutes, or until it turns a slightly darker color and releases its aroma. Pour this over your already-cooked food or add it to your pot of already-cooked soup, and serve.
When storing turmeric, it is good to protect the spice from the light and heat. Store turmeric in a dark, cool place.
Now let’s look at the wealth of benefits offered by turmeric.
Curcumin is the most well-studied bioactive ingredient in turmeric, exhibiting over 150 potentially therapeutic effects. Curcumin is also capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier. This is why is it is good to add turmeric to healthy fats used in cooking, such as ghee and olive oil. The addition of turmeric allows the fats to be utilized by the brain. Our brains are composed of 60 percent fat and the brain needs fat in order to work properly.
Curcumin has been investigated for its potential role in improving Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, colon cancer, and stroke damage. It can also promote brain health in general, courtesy of its potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, as discussed more below.
Amazingly, Curcumin has the ability to modulate as many as 700 of our genes. It can also insert itself into our cells’ membranes, changing the physical properties of the membrane itself by making them more orderly. Curucmin also has the ability to affect signaling molecules. For example, curcumin has been shown to directly interact with inflammatory molecules, various carrier proteins, cell survival proteins and DNA and RNA.
Turmeric May Regenerate Brain Cells
Curcumin is not the only important ingredient in turmeric. Aromatic-turmerone is a compound that can increase neural stem cell growth in the brain by as much as 80 percent. Neural stem cells differentiate into neurons and play an important role in the brain’s self-repair mechanisms. This suggests that turmeric could aid in the recovery of brain function diseases such as Alzheimer’s and stroke
Curcumin has been shown to help inhibit the accumulation of destructive beta-amyloids in the brain of Alzheimer’s patients, as well as break up existing plaques. In addition, people with Alzheimer’s tend to have higher levels of inflammation in their brains, and curcumin is perhaps most known for its potent anti-inflammatory properties.
Given the astounding health benefits of adding turmeric to soup, grains and vegetables, we recommend making the use of this wonderful spice a daily practice.