Turmeric is a fantastic golden spice from the orient that is getting a lot of attention for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. But is your Turmeric regimen doing more harm than good?
There are many ways to consume this excellent herb, but not all forms are created equal, and some have serious potential negative apsects to them. Here’s a quick summary of the dos and don’ts of this magical and delicious remedy, followed by an in depth explanation of everything you need to know about how to use this herb and a recipe.
- Buy extracts without knowing the extraction method
- Use Turmeric that is not certified organic
- Spend lots of money on an herb that can be obtained relatively cheap
- Take Turmeric with food (preferably Lecithin-rich fats)
- Use Black Pepper, Ginger, and Turmeric Essential Oil to increase absorption
- Buy in bulk, dried powder to save money and avoid spoilage
First of all, protect yourself from extracts that do not display their extraction method. Extractions of any herb require a solvent to obtain the "active ingredient(s)" from the plant material, and some solvents approved for use in the supplement industry are classified as neurotoxins by the EPA (such as Hexane—a petrochemical—and Acetone a.k.a. nail polish remover)! The FDA knowingly allows this to happen on the basis that much of the solvent is removed in processing (but not necessarily all—a small percentage is allowed to remain on the assumption that trace amounts are safe), but there is no actual oversight or regulation of this process. Some solvents are natural and harmless (such as water, organic glycerin, alcohol, or carbon dioxide), but you can only be guaranteed that these are used if the company claims so, or if the supplement is certified 100% organic, which prohibits the use of chemical solvents (beware of supplements that contain organic ingredients but are not 100% certified, which may still be extracted with chemicals—e.g. the label may read “made with Organic Turmeric” that is then extracted with Hexane—when in doubt look for the USDA Organic Seal).
This brings me to my second point. Buy organic. Period. Turmeric is a rhizome, which is technically a root-like stem. This means it will soak up any water-soluble pesticides like a sponge, where they will be waiting until it finds its way into your body. Which brings me to cost—just because it’s organic doesn’t mean you have to spend 15 bucks a pound on it at Whole Foods. First of all, get the powder. It’s cheaper and is actually more concentrated due to the water being dehydrated out. In addition to this it stores for much longer than the fresh roots, and the naturally high antioxidant content will support protection from spoilage—in fact the powder really won’t go bad even for years, but it will lose it’s antioxidant qualities over time so I’d recommend buying a pound of powder at a time—about a year's worth supply, depending on your use. A good recommended dose is 1.5 teaspoons maximum of powder daily—keep reading for why you don’t want to take more than that. Buy from an online bulk organic supplier like Mountain Rose Herbs (note: I’m in no way getting money from them to suggest their product, it’s just what I use and I’m sharing this knowledge with you for your benefit).
It’s important to know a couple things about how Turmeric absorbs in the body to maximize its effects. If you take Turmeric for its anti-inflammatory properties, you are aiming to absorb a class of chemical constituents called Curcumin. It has a very low oral bioavailability, which means when you eat or drink Turmeric, very little Curcumin gets into the bloodstream (it does however exert its anti-inflammatory effect on the digestive tract, which can be great, but very little gets through to your muscles or joints). There are several ways to enhance the bioavailability of Curcumin.
First, take it with some form of fat, as Curcumin is fat-soluble and will absorb more readily through the digestive tract if it hitches a ride on some fats. The best choice is a type of fat called Lecithin, which is actually found to some extent in all living things, but is more highly concentrated in certain foods such as egg yolks, soybeans, and sunflower seeds. You can either pair your Turmeric with these whole foods, or you can purchase Lecithin that has been extracted (again watch out for non-organic Hexane extracted Lecithin—yup solvents are a problem across the food and supplement board! A full blog post on how to avoid chemical solvents is to come soon). Many Curcumin supplements add Lecithin (also known as Phospholipids) to their formulations and gouge the price, calling it “Phytosome—a more bioavailable form of Curcumin,” which is true, but you can get the same effect much more easily with less cost to your wallet, and likely in a more healthy way if you’re using whole foods, rather than their chemically extracted Phospholipids mixed with chemically extracted Curcumin. Lecithin is also a great supplement in its own right, as it is a rich source of Choline, a building block for cell membranes and neurotransmitters in the brain associated with memory. Again, check out Mountain Rose for Organic Lecithin—I love these guys! Another thing to consider is using a gentle amount of heat to encourage the binding of the Curcumin to the fat molecules, whatever the fat you choose. Another great option is Coconut oil, which does not have much Lecithin, but is a great source of easily metabolized fats.
Secondly some other herbs help to activate the absorbability of Curcumin. One is Black Pepper, which increases the absorption rate up to2,000 times according to some studies! Because of this I always use it with my Turmeric. Always! Another is Turmeric’s close cousin Ginger, which not only increases the bioavailability of Curcumin, but is itself a source of this chemical constituent, albeit not as much as Turmeric. Lastly, whole Turmeric potentiates itself! It has been found that TurmericEssential Oil (EO) portion of this herb helps to improve the absorbability of Curcumin in the gut. Keep in mind, the EO is steam distilled, so because Curcumin is fat-soluble and not water-soluble there is actually no Curcumin in the EO—which is a common misconception—but it does serve to potentiate the uptake of Curcumin found in the whole root. This is another benefit of using whole powdered root over extracted supplements, which only aim at extracting the Curcumin, leaving the precious EO behind. If you’re using whole powdered root already, throw in some EO to replace EOs lost in the drying process—only a few drops will be needed per serving. Also, if you are cooking your Turmeric in any way, the essential oil will evaporate away with heat, so this is another reason to add it back in. Eden Botanicals has a great affordable organic Turmeric EO (again I don’t get money or perks from these guys, just sharing my source).
One last consideration before I give you a quick Turmeric recipe utilizing all of these recommendations—avoid too much of a good thing! Turmeric is a powerful antioxidant—so powerful that if you take more than recommended it may have a pro-oxidant effect (meaning the exact opposite of antioxidant)! Additionally, a smaller dose has been shown to be as effective as a larger one, so there seems to be a plateau effect that negates the need for more. The Turmeric craze is strong right now and in our society we tend to think more of a good thing is better, but that’s not always the case. Be careful and mindful of any side effects you may experience, as they are documented (digestive upset / rash) yet usually mild and rare. Otherwise, enjoy the benefits and flavor of this medicinal spice from the orient!
Here’s an easy quick recipe to incorporate all the above recommendations into a daily routine:
-Mix all ingredients in a shaker bottle or blender -Stir over low heat for 5 to 10 minutes (this step is optional, if doing so I highly recommend adding Turmeric EO after cooling) -Refrigerate and take about 1½ Cups daily with breakfast -Makes 6 servings