Turmeric been used in Indian cooking for thousands of years-both for culinary and medicinal purposes. New research has revealed the wisdom behind this ancient practice, with turmeric shown to have potent anti-inflammatory properties with possible benefits ranging from arthritis to Alzheimer’s disease. A new report highlights yet another novel benefit for turmeric as an Omega-3 booster. Let’s dig into the science surrounding this fascinating old world spice:
Turmeric as an Anti-Inflammatory
The active ingredient in turmeric, curcumin, is a potent anti-inflammatory agent. Curcumin appears to inhibit inflammation through several mechanisms, including the COX-2 pathway blocked by nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Documented benefits of turmeric include significant reduction in the pain and limitations of age related arthritis.
Turmeric and Alzheimer’s Disease
The rate of Alzheimer’s disease is especially low in India where turmeric consumption is high-less than 25% the rate in 70-80 year olds in India compared to the US.
This association has generated questions regarding the possible tole of turmeric as an aid for prevention of Alzheimer’s disease. There is some experimental data that curcumin can destroy the beta-amyloid plaques in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s disease (see reference). The potential role of turmeric in patients with or at risk for Alzheimer’s disease is not well defined-but remains a tantalizing possibility with additional research underway.
Turmeric as an Omega-3 Booster
The most biologically active Omega-3’s are EPA and DHA, highly concentrated in fish. Omega-3’s are also found in plants, including flax and walnuts, but plant-based Omega-3’s need to be converted by the body into the more usable EPA and DHA.
EPA is a an important fat for heart health, and DHA is a key building block of brain with links to cognitive function and depression.
Interestingly, our bodies are not equipped to efficiently convert plant based Omega-3s into EPA and DHA. Only ~5% of plant based Omega-3 is converted to EPA and less than 1% to DHA! (see reference)
Here’s where turmeric comes in! A recent animal study shows that turmeric boosts the conversion of plant based Omega-3’s into DHA in the brain. The effect was major- with about 50% additional DHA when turmeric was added to the diet (see reference).
The results, although performed in animals and in need of clinical study, offer a glimpse into how biologic needs may be met in a variety of ways; fish eaters consume high levels of EPA and DHA directly, and vegetarians may boost their production of these same compounds by combining plant Omega-3s with turmeric.
Moving Turmeric from Tests to Table
Although the specific health value of adding turmeric to your diet is unclear, the preliminary research is provocative and there is little to lose by spicing up your diet. Dishes that pair particularly well with turmeric:
- vegetables (particularly cauliflower)
- whole grains
- salad dressing
It’s fascinating to consider that the value of turmeric was recognized for thousands of years-and that we are only now beginning to uncover the science that supports this ancient wisdom.