Turmeric. Reminiscent of the summer sun, this vivid, golden yellow powder has transitioned from lining the spice aisle of natural food stores to nearly every grocery store nationwide.
As a mainstay of Ayurveda, turmeric (Curcuma longa) has been a signature herb in meals and medicines for thousands of years in South Asia. Known for its anti-inflammatory properties, it has taken on numerous forms from your neighborhood coffee shop golden milk latte, to your daily morning supplement.
“Do I need to take the supplement or can I just add some turmeric to my food?”
When it comes to turmeric, the amount of powder necessary to evoke its intended therapeutic benefits is recommended to be consumed via capsule or tablet as a dash of it in your smoothie will likely not be enough. However, if you have been consuming turmeric as a spice in your meals from a young age, this continued culinary use may provide you a similar benefit as supplementation does for patients’ bodies more naive to turmeric.
The most well-known active component of turmeric is called curcumin, found in high concentrations in its rhizomes. The abundance of research published on curcumin has led experts to believe that it could be a panacea, meaning that it could be a substance with an endless list of potential benefits for the human body. Although it is such a versatile herb, the data has been most convincing for patients diagnosed with depression, allergic rhinitis and osteoarthritis.
As you have probably noticed as a trend in our series of dietary phytochemicals, many of them, like curcumin, are linked with the suppression inflammatory biomarkers, such as tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-ɑ), and nuclear factor kappa B (NF-κB); multiple studies investigating this pathway support the the hypothesis that curcumin could be a naturally-occurring agent as a part of a treatment regimen for the inflammatory nature of osteoarthritis.
In a meta-analysis published in 2019 reviewing 531 patients diagnosed with major depressive disorder, curcumin showed a statistically significant decrease in depressive and anxiety symptoms; it was concluded that the tolerability and impressive results call for more studies to evaluate whether curcumin could be a validated addition to the standard of care in this patient population.
Like other spices such as black pepper, cinnamon and cloves, curcumin is rich with the terpene, B-caryophyllene. Terpenes are compounds that provide plants their aroma, like fresh pine, ripe mango or soothing lavender (stay tuned for future articles on terpenes!), each with their own set of therapeutic effects. These compounds are known to interact with the endocannabinoid system like their cannabinoid counterparts; in particular, B-caryophyllene selectively binds to cannabinoid receptor type 2 (CB2), associated with immunity, demonstrating the potential role of curcumin in our protective shield against pathogens causing allergic rhinitis.
Studies reveal that even if a reasonably high dose is consumed of curcumin, it has very low bioavailability; this is indicated by its poor absorption in the small intestine and its rapid metabolization in the liver. Research is inconclusive as to whether curumin could work in synergy with other B-caryophyllene-containing compounds, like black pepper; certain media outlets and supplement companies boast the improved absorption of curcumin when, however, more clinical studies are needed to determine the relationship between the two. Researchers on the quest to discover how to improve curcumin’s dismal bioavailability are newly looking at how it has been used in Ayurveda, with an emphasis on the entire plant rather than just one component. When discussing this concept with my western-trained colleagues, I am met with their frustration when it comes to the complexity of the multifaceted nature of an entire plant, rather than what we are taught about prescription medications being one molecule and having only one effect.
But, times are changing. As patients shift their mindsets to include a more all-encompassing and preventative view of health, clinicians must expand their scope of knowledge to provide the best personalized patient care. As an Integrative Health Pharmacist, I believe that we are moving towards the model involving a multilayered integration of the many modalities of medicine including prescription medications, nutrition, therapeutic aromatherapy, nutrition and, of course, herbs, like turmeric.
Your health and wellness are our priority. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me, Dr. Swathi Varanasi, Element Apothec’s Chief Scientific Officer, with questions about turmeric, CBD or anything in between.