Around every New Year, Google searches for turmeric tea spike. It is one of those elixirs whose benefits are numerous, wide and vaguely remembered, hence the Google searches.
Turmeric has been used medicinally for centuries in India and surrounding countries. Naturopaths and dietitians have been recommending it for decades. “The benefits of turmeric go into three buckets,” said registered dietitian DJ Blatner, “anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant and mood boost, and the anti-inflammatory is such a huge bucket.”
Inflammation is the body’s way of protecting itself from outside invaders, like bacteria and viruses. Chronic inflammation, however, damages and infringes the pathways of several bodily systems. This adds to the underpinning mechanisms of common ailments including cancer, heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s. Growing medical evidence shows inflammation has become a modern epidemic.
Among the health benefits of curcumin, the compound that turmeric contains, many can be attributed to its effect easing inflammation. Since inflammation is a factor in so many ailments, curcumin is believed to have a benefit in easing so many (see the potential benefits, below).
Why people get their turmeric from tea
Why so many people consuming turmeric in a tea—or at least Googling it? That may be more because just about every tea brand has a turmeric variety than because sipping it is the best way to consume turmeric.
“You’re not going to get the full effect unless you get a supplement,” said Monisha Bhanote, MD, a physician specializing in integrative medicine. A problem of curcumin, she said, “is that it is poorly absorbed in the bloodstream.” Turmeric supplements from reputable retailers are formulated with additives to help deliver curcumin to the bloodstream.
If you insist on going the tea route, she recommends adding black pepper to enhance absorption or consuming it with a fatty meal.
“For my patients, I try to incorporate it through their day with black pepper lemon turmeric ice cubes,” she said. You can pop them into water glasses or tea or anything, Bhanote said.
As for a good dosage of turmeric for generally healthy people, 0.5 to two grams seems to be the range considered effective in research on its benefits. Bhanote often recommends a gram a day.
There is no significant risk of taking too much. In some fairly rare cases, consumption of turmeric has caused digestive issues, headache and nausea and skin rashes. There's also a suggestion that people with certain conditions, such as liver disease or bleeding concerns, should talk with their doctors prior to taking curcumin.
More risk comes from the way turmeric is harvested and prepared in regions where it has grown. The use of machines to peel turmeric caused many batches to become contaminated with lead, according to a 2019 study.
If you’re serious about getting the benefit of turmeric, and want to know which of the labels adorned with glam photos of golden-hued tea pack the most health benefit, Bhanote said, “Work with a professional,” she said. “They know the sources of the best product.”
The main benefits of turmeric
Curcumin has a number of benefits in a studies-have-shown/more-evidence-is-needed-to-decisively-say kind of way. Here’s where these studies suggest curcumin could have an effect:
Heart disease, possibly due to an ability to curb the development of clogged arteries, a key risk factor for heart attacks and strokes.
Cognitive ability and a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease. In one study, curcumin performed better than a placebo in benefitting people’s memories and even affected brain chemicals in regions associated with memory and emotion. With Alzheimer’s disease, researchers are increasingly believing that that oxidative stress, bio-metal toxicity and abnormal inflammatory reactions—all of which are reduced by curcumin consumption—contribute to Alzheimer's.
Diabetes. Curcumin may help people with diabetes by improving insulin resistance and cholesterol levels.
Exercise recovery. Curcumin consumption had some impact on people’s reported measures of pain and tenderness, evidence of muscle damage and markers of inflammation and oxidative stress, among other recovery signs.
Some preliminary studies suggest it may be helpful in people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), arthritis, and may have an effect on cancer, potentially preventing it, slowing its spread, making chemotherapy more effective, and/or protecting healthy cells from radiation therapy damage. And rodent studies indicate it may one day be found useful for delaying the onset of diseases associated with aging, easing erectile dysfunction, and preventing the formation of gallstones.
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