There is a great diversity of plant species in nature, many of which are edible to humans. Fruit trees, vegetables, legumes, cereals… all of them are an indispensable part of our diet.

In addition to these, we can also find other types of plants that we use more as condiments, although they are still very important to us and even form part of the traditional gastronomy of many cultures.

One of them is turmeric , which in addition to being one of the main ingredients of curry has been part of Asian cultures such as India since ancient times and is receiving increasing attention due to its many beneficial properties. It is about this vegetable that we will talk throughout this article.

What is turmeric?

It is known as curcuma a an aromatic herbaceous plant which is part of the family Zingiberaceae and whose scientific name is Curcuma longa . This plant is native to the territories of Southeast Asia, where it has been highly regarded since ancient times, and unlike others, it does not reproduce by means of seeds but by the use of cuttings. The part of the turmeric that is most commonly used is the rhizome or underground stem, from which the roots start.

The best known use of this plant is in gastronomy, where it is generally used as an aromatic spice (obtained by crushing the rhizome of the plant) and used as a condiment in different preparations, including the famous and already mentioned curry. It is also sometimes used in infusions. Although is a traditional food in Asian countries and especially in India , little by little the use of this spice has been expanding.

It is also sometimes used as a food that helps to treat various conditions and minor ailments, many of its properties being known since ancient times and some of them endorsed by science. It also has other uses, such as dyeing or colouring.

In this sense, an orange food colouring, E-100, has also been generated, in addition to being used in the colouring of paints and clothing. It is also part of various religious and cultural traditions (for example, it is one of the plants used as a dye to draw the traditional mark on the forehead usually worn by the Hindu population).

Main benefits and properties of this plant

Many properties and benefits have been attributed to turmeric, some of which have been scientifically verified. Generally, one of the elements that has been most studied at this level is curcumin, the natural dye derived from turmeric. Below are some of the most well known benefits and properties.

1. It has anti-inflammatory properties

Several animal model investigations seem to indicate that the administration of turmeric and/or curcumin has anti-inflammatory effects, reducing the emission of cytokines (which are pro-inflammatory) and inhibiting that of inflammatory prostaglandins.

In this sense it can be useful in conditions such as arthritis or psoriasis, and has been shown to be effective in reducing oedemas and granulomas , in addition to treating asthma. These effects are observed in different organs, both ectopic and respiratory, among others.

2. Anti-tumour effect

Although far from being a miracle product in this sense, it has been observed that the administration of turmeric has a certain anti-cancer effect, contributing to reduce the growth of neoplasms by inhibiting the expression of tumor necrosis factors and various interleukins (which favor tumor development and growth). Its anti-inflammatory property also contributes to this.

3. An interesting antioxidant

Another of turmeric’s proven properties is its action as an antioxidant, through which it slows down the generation and effects of the free radicals that cause cellular aging . These effects have been seen at the blood level, protecting against the oxidation of hemoglobin and lipids. This also includes a protective effect against Alzheimer’s disease by reducing the appearance of beta-amyloid plaques.

4. Hypoglycemic and diabetes support

Some studies indicate that curcumin has a hypoglycemic capacity, i.e. it contributes to lowering blood sugar levels. In addition it has also been observed to favour an increase in insulin and a reduction in cholesterol.

5. Protects the intestine and liver

Partly due to its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and hypoglycemic activity, turmeric has been shown to contribute to maintaining the digestive tract in good health , as well as possessing hepatoprotective properties. It also facilitates the flow of bile, which in turn facilitates the digestion of fats.

6. Healing

In addition to being used as an anti-inflammatory at the skin level, turmeric has also been used at the topical level since it also has antioxidant and astringent effects, something that favours the closing of wounds . It is used for example in burns.

7. Protects the heart, lowers cholesterol and prevents heart disease

Turmeric has been found to be useful in preventing heart disease, as it reduces inflammation and oxidation that can promote heart disease and also has antiplatelet capacity . In this sense, it is very useful since it makes the creation of thrombi more difficult and also contributes to reducing cholesterol.

8. Antibiotic properties

In addition to all the above, turmeric has been found to have antibacterial, antifungal and antiprotozoal effects, which can help fight some infections and parasites.

9. Its usefulness in HIV is investigated

Some studies suggest that turmeric and products derived from its active ingredients may be useful for people with HIV, as they appear to help slow the spread of the retrovirus by affecting the HIV-1 inter-fat .

10. Improves mood

Finally, it is worth mentioning that another of the interesting properties of turmeric is the fact that it helps to reduce stress and depression levels by contributing to modulate the neurotransmission of certain hormones .

Bibliographic references:

  • Ammon, H.P.T. & Wahl, M.A. (1991). Pharmacology of Curcuma longa. Planta Medica, 57 (1): 1-7. Georg Thieme Verlag Stuttgart. New Work.
  • Araujo, C.A.C. & Leon, L.L. (2001). Biological Activities of Curcuma longa L. Memórias do Instituto Oswaldo Cruz, 96 (5): 723-728. Rio de Janeiro.
  • Diaz Ortega, J.L. (2014). Curcuma Longa and its beneficial molecular potential on inflammatory processes, cancer and chronic-degenerative diseases IN CRESCENDO Journal – Health Sciences, 1 (1): 115-124.
  • Saiz de Cos, P. (2014). Turmeric I (Curcuma longa L.). Reduca (biology). Serie Botánica, 7 (2): 84-99.
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