Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a culinary spice, a major ingredient in Indian curries, and the source of American mustard's bright yellow color. Used as both medicine and food for centuries, accumulating evidence suggests that this relative of ginger is a promising preventive agent for a wide range of diseases, probably due largely to its anti-inflammatory properties. Curcumin is the chief active component of turmeric, and is usually taken as a supplement. Research indicates that:
1. Curcumin seems to delay liver damage in some instances that can eventually lead to cirrhosis.
2. Turmeric reduces levels of heterocyclic amines - carcinogenic compounds that are formed when meats are barbecued, boiled or fried - by up to 40 percent.
3. Curcumin inhibits the growth of a skin cancer (melanoma) and also slows the spread of breast cancer into the lungs.
4. Turmeric that is part of daily curries eaten in India may help explain the low rate of Alzheimer's disease in that country. Among people aged 70 to 79, the rate is less than one-quarter that of the United States.
Some Americans may find straight turmeric powder bitter or otherwise off-putting, but when a teaspoon or two is added to a pot of soup or stew, the flavor disperses and adds a subtle depth and complexity that most people find appealing. If even that's too much for you, both turmeric and curcumin supplements are now widely available - just take one along with your daily multivitamin. Note, however, that turmeric and curcumin are poorly absorbed from the G.I. tract. Absorption is enhanced in the presence of piperine, a constituent of black pepper. Indian cuisine commonly uses turmeric and pepper together. I suggest using only turmeric and curcumin supplements that contain piperine or black pepper extract.