Turmeric is a plant of Asian origin belonging to the Zingiberaceae family (same family as ginger). The species of greatest interest is Curcuma Longa , cultivated in most tropical regions, particularly in India.
The Curcuma Longa plant consists of an underground root (rhizome) from which, once dried and ground , a powder with a characteristic yellow-orange color is obtained, rich in various active ingredients with numerous biological activities:
- Curcuminoids: (95% of the standardized extract): curcumin, demethoxicurcumin and bisdemetoxicurcumin
- Volatile oils: tumerone, atlantone and zingiberene
The most abundant element, and also the most studied, is curcumin which, like the other curcuminoids, belongs to the polyphenol family.
From a nutritional point of view
Turmeric is mainly composed of carbohydrates (70%) and minimally of lipids and proteins . Despite the many calories it brings, turmeric can also be included in a low-calorie diet given the limited amount of spice used in food.
Pay attention to cooking
Like all spices, do not overdo the cooking otherwise you risk losing nutrients . In addition to heat, the active ingredients present in turmeric are very sensitive to light and pH values> 5.
Pharmacological properties of curcumin
Turmeric is the most studied spice in the world, especially its active ingredient curcumin. A broad spectrum of studies has in fact demonstrated the ability of curcumin to induce numerous biological and pharmacological effects:
- Curcumin is a powerful antioxidant : it is able to activate various antioxidant proteins through the Nrf2 pathway.The Nrf2 pathway is a cellular defense system that is activated in the presence of oxidative stress, inducing the expression of proteins with antioxidant action. Unlike many other antioxidants, curcumin has a dual activity as it is able to both prevent the formation of free radicals and neutralize existing free radicals. The antioxidant property is much higher than that of vitamin E , vitamin C and beta-carotene .
- Curcumin is a powerful anti-inflammatory : it is able to block the production of molecules that increase inflammatory processes (proinflammatory cytokines). Again, curcumin is very useful in the prevention and treatment of inflammatory diseases.
According to a recent study from 2019, curcumin taken orally, once it reaches the intestine , is transformed by the microbes that populate it into a series of metabolites much more active than curcumin itself. These metabolites appear to have a neuroprotective role .
Turmeric and intestinal microbiota
Curcumin , after oral ingestion, can exert regulatory effects on the intestinal microbiota , whose alterations are linked to numerous metabolic and non-metabolic diseases .
Integration with curcumin can also be useful in the treatment of type 2 diabetes mellitus : a 2019 study showed that treating diabetic mice with curcumin results in an improvement in insulin sensitivity , a reduction in blood sugar and an improvement in dyslipidemia.
Turmeric and cardiovascular disease
Curcumin is very effective in the treatment of cardiovascular diseases through several mechanisms: reduction of plasma lipids , increase of HDL levels , reduction of lipid peroxidation , reduction of atherosclerotic lesions and improvement of endothelial function .
As confirmed by a 2018 study, curcumin showed improvement in symptoms and inflammatory processes in rheumatoid arthritis mice.
Curcumin and oncology
In addition to the activation of NF-KB as mentioned above, curcumin is able to increase its activation and therefore induce the death of cancer cells, in particular p53, by stimulating the apoptosis process.
Various studies have also shown that curcumin is also an excellent aid to counteract the typical side effects of chemotherapy .
How to improve bioavailability
Despite all the benefits it brings to health and the many pharmacological properties of the spice, one of the main criticisms that the scientific world addresses to curcumin is its poor bioavailability .
The main problem of cucumin is the poor intestinal bioavailability : to overcome this problem a known substance called Piperine and the oil fats have been added to increase its bioavailability: By accompanying turmeric to these ingredients it is possible to increase their bioavailability .
- Olive oil
Since curcumin is a hydrophobic substance, poorly soluble in water but highly soluble in lipids, associating it with olive oil (or any other type of fat) significantly increases its solubility and facilitates its absorption.
I conclude by citing a fairly recent study where a particular blend of spices was added to meals particularly rich in fats and carbohydrates to evaluate their beneficial effects on health. Pennsylvania State University researchers specifically focused on a blend of basil, bay leaf, black pepper, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, ginger, oregano, parsley, chilli, rosemary, thyme and turmeric, in a dose of about 6 grams. addition to meals.