Turmeric – anti-inflammatory superpower

If you wrestle with inflammation, turmeric could become your most delicious friend. The healing power of turmeric is big news, and rightly so because it cooking with it is an easy, healthy way to reduce inflammation and improve your overall health. There are many ways to enjoy turmeric beyond eating more curry. Try my Amazing Tumeric Tonic – recipe below.

The Standard American Diet (SAD) is largely a diet of inflammatory foods. Eating refined carbohydrates such as white flour, white potatoes; sugar; alcohol; gluten and casein (found in most hard cheeses); additives and preservatives – create inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation becomes allergies, Alzheimer’s disease, anemia, arthritis – and that’s just some of the As!  See the expanded list here.[1]

Inflammatory conditions turmeric is beneficial for

  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease
  • Cancer prevention
  • Protects cardiovascular function
  • Improves liver function
  • Lowers (bad) cholesterol
  • Prevents Alzheimer’s disease
  • Reduced symptoms of flatulence
  • Hemorrhage
  • Toothache
  • Bruises
  • Colic
  • Chest pain
  • Jaundice
  • Menstrual difficulties

My friend has noticed a huge reduction in her Migraines – duration, frequency, and severity – as she’s adding turmeric to her diet.

Are you getting it? This stuff is great!

There are many ways to lower inflammation in your body; the most obvious one is to stop eating inflammatory foods. While you work on that, turmeric can help you reduce inflammation acutely (e.g. in the case of hangover or a sprain) and is a delicious, healthy addition to your diet to bring down chronic inflammation systemically.

Deep Orange History

Turmeric is native to Indonesia and southern India, where it has been harvested for more than 5,000 years. It has a peppery, warm and bitter flavor and a mild fragrance slightly reminiscent of orange and ginger, and while it is best known as one of the ingredients used to make curry[2], it also gives ballpark mustard its bright yellow color.

Turmeric comes from the root of the Curcuma longa plant and has a thin brown skin and bright orange flesh. It has long been used as a powerful anti-inflammatory in both the Chinese and Indian systems of medicine. Turmeric was traditionally called “Indian saffron” because of its deep yellow-orange color and has been used throughout history as a condiment, healing remedy and textile dye.[3]

It’s bright yellow-orange pigment can dramatically stain fabric, skin, and other foods it is cooked with.  Peeling and handling fresh roots can leave your fingers yellow. You can apply hand lotion beforehand to lessen staining or use gloves if temporarily yellow fingers would be a big problem.  I have several plastic containers that turmeric has permanently stained yellow and I simply see it as a testament to turmeric’s power!

Try it again

Years ago, I tried a turmeric tincture that I didn’t like so I (mistakenly) decided turmeric wasn’t for me. Later, I kept hearing about turmeric’s anti-inflammatory properties, and since in knew inflammation was part of my joint pain and digestive upset, I thought it deserved a second chance.

I bought fresh turmeric root at my local farmer’s market and discovered a new culinary and medicinal best friend.  Fresh root is best, when I can get it, and ground powder is fine when I can’t.  I use it in everything from smoothies to entrees.  Heating the turmeric and combining it with other ingredients gives it a bigger anti-inflammatory punch.

I extend the use of fresh turmeric by fine-grating it with a microplane and “pickling” it with lemon juice and salt. It makes great turmeric guacamole. I add it to scrambled eggs, savories, and salads and I continually find new ways to use it.

Heat it, Add Fat + Other Spices

Recent research is showing that traditional preparation methods – combining turmeric with other spices, fat, and heat – increases the bio-availability of the curcumin and other healthful properties.  Look to those traditions as a starting place to get the most from this fabulous “healing friend.”

The basic Ginger Turmeric Lemonade recipe (below) heats the turmeric and ginger to further “activate” their healing properties.  I went a step further and created a drink with a health boost my friends and I can feel immediately.  It has coconut oil (healthy fat), black pepper, and other spices to max-out the overall healing benefit.

I don’t take anti-inflammatory meds anymore because between the magnesium I take trans-dermally and the turmeric I now cook with – I don’t need them!  If I were to get a bruise or sprain, I’d put magnesium and turmeric directly on the area – yellow stain or no yellow stain.

Anti-inflammatory benefits of curcumin

The yellow-orange pigment in turmeric is known as curcumin and an extracted form of it is sold for as a supplement. Curcumin is a powerful antioxidant and lowers the levels of two enzymes in the body that cause inflammation. It also stops platelets from clumping together to form blood clots.[4]

In numerous studies, curcumin’s anti-inflammatory effects have been shown to be comparable to the potent drugs hydrocortisone and phenylbutazone as well as over-the-counter anti-inflammatory agents such as Motrin. Unlike the drugs, which are associated with significant toxic effects (ulcer formation, decreased white blood cell count, intestinal bleeding), curcumin produces no toxicity. [5]

Wherever possible, I recommend whole-food-based forms of nutrition over lab-produced extracts and supplements. When we grow healthy, balanced plants in healthy, balanced soil and eat them in local variety and that already goes a long way to keeping us healthy. In the case of turmeric/curcumin, it’s easy to get the benefits in the whole-food form.  And, no matter how you take your turmeric, it can only take down so much inflammation if you still eat a lot of wheat, sugar or other inflammatory foods.

Using Fresh Turmeric Root

Buy some fresh turmeric root and play around with it. It’s like an exotic friend that you have seen but not gotten to know. You can press pieces of fresh turmeric with a garlic press, then discard the fibers, which aren’t very digestible, anyway.
I also make an Easy Turmeric Pickle – especially when it looks like I may not otherwise use up the fresh root before it goes bad.

Easy Turmeric Pickle*
Grate 2-5 fresh knuckle-roots of fresh turmeric with a cheese grater – the roots can be simply washed, or washed and peeled, depending on the condition of the peel. Squeeze 1-2 lemons and mix in 1/2 teaspoon of salt per lemon to the juice.  Mix the grated turmeric with lemon-salt juice and put it into a small mason jar, packing the turmeric down so it’s completely covered in lemon-salt juice. Leave the jar covered on the counter for 24 hours (can be longer in colder weather) and then refrigerate.  You can use the pickled turmeric as a pre-meal tonic, as a condiment, or add it to flavor soups and other dishes.

I like this chicken in turmeric-basil-coconut sauce recipe because I can use my own turmeric and spices instead of a pre-mixed curry powder. (I leave out the jalapeño and cayenne.) Many pre-mixed curries have chili and other spices that combine to turn up the heat level too high for me and seem to increase inflammation. By adding the spices individually, I can control how much overall heat I’m getting. I add cumin and coriander and feel like I’m invoking the healing properties of each plant as I add them to the pot. 😉

Try this Ginger Turmeric Lemonade [6] and look for other ways to add turmeric to your food.

Basic Ginger Turmeric Lemonade        

1 quart water  (+ 1/2 cup for evaporation)
1.5 teaspoon Turmeric powder or 3 inches of fresh root, peeled, diced and pressed*
1 teaspoon Ginger powder or 2 inches of fresh root, peeled, diced and pressed*
Juice of 1 fresh lemons or 2 fresh limes
10-20 drops of dark stevia liquid, to taste (or other sweetener)

1.    Bring the water to a boil in a saucepan on the stove. Add the ginger and turmeric and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes.
2.    Remove pot from the stove and strain the liquid through a fine mesh strainer to remove solid particles.
3.    Add sweetener and lemon juice to taste. Note: Do not use white sugar as that increases inflammation.
4.    Drink warm or chilled.                                      Yield: One quart

Recently I had a headache and other inflammatory symptoms so I mixed up a batch and brought it to a party where every one else was drinking alcohol. My intention was to drink it all myself but the bright orange drink looked so inviting in my glass, someone asked to try it. Another joined in, and soon I was in the kitchen making an impromptu second batch! I didn’t take the time to boil/steep the turmeric and ginger, and it was still really yummy.

Try this AMAZING tonic!  It’s wonderful warm and refreshing cold. Don’t let the black pepper put you off. It amplifies the anti-flammatory effect of the turmeric and gives an interesting foodie boost.  This drink is truly a Healing Catalyst!

Denise’s Amazing Turmeric Tonic

1 quart water  (+ 1/2 cup for evaporation)
1.5 teaspoon turmeric powder or 3 inches of fresh root, peeled, diced and pressed*
1 teaspoon ginger powder or 2 inches of fresh root, peeled, diced and pressed*
1 Tablespoon (organic) coconut oil  (ghee or grass-fed butter also works)
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper, (optional: other spices such as cumin, coriander)
Juice of 1 fresh lemon or 2 fresh limes*
10-20 drops of dark stevia liquid, to taste (or other sweetener)

1.    Bring the water to a boil in a saucepan on the stove.  Add the ginger, turmeric and black pepper.  Simmer for 8 to 10 minutes.
2.    Remove pot from the stove and strain the liquid through a fine mesh strainer to remove solid particles.
3.    Add coconut oil and stir vigorously or blend in a blender to emulsify the oil (See my Buttered Coffee post)
4.    Add stevia and lemon juice to taste.    Note: Do not use white sugar, as it increases inflammation.
5.    Drink warm or chilled. You may need to stir/blend it to re-emulsify the oil.

Adjust amounts as per your preference, i.e. more ginger, less lemon, etc.    This lovely, buttery orange colored drink warms and stimulates so take it earlier in the day.

Try my Amazing Turmeric Tonic!  I recommend drinking turmeric tonic or turmeric lemonade for at least three mornings running. I don’t feel a difference the first day I start with it, but by the third, I do. You may need to stay with it a while to start feeling the effects.                                                                  Yield: One quart

Besides being delicious, versatile and colorful, turmeric can be a potent tool in your overall strategy to decrease systemic and specific inflammation.

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I am interested in all aspects of healing. Turmeric is something I get excited about and use myself.  I wanted to share what I know with you. You’ll find my best, original wisdom for overall health and well-being in my book, Issues in Your Tissues: Heal Body and Emotion from the Inside Out. Please take a look and see if it speaks to you.

*  The potency of these ingredients varies according to freshness, season, etc. so experiment about what works best with what you have.

[1] See Dr. Mercola’s list of inflammation-causing disease.
[2] What Westerners know of as “curry powder” is usually a blend of turmeric, cumin, and coriander, with lesser amounts of other spices (ncluding ground chilis, ground peanuts or ground garbanzo beans) to give a characteristic yellow, warming flavor to a variety of dishes.
[3] & [5] The World’s Healthiest foods
[4] Source: Amitahealth.com
[6] This is my version of Christa Orecchio’s Ginger Turmeric Lemonade from her Gut Thrive in 5 program.

*  The potency of these ingredients varies according to freshness, season, etc. so experiment about what works best with what you have.

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