The earthy golden color that you see in dishes prepared with curry comes from turmeric, a spice that has been beloved by Asian cooks for centuries. More than just a spice, the western world is finally beginning to embrace what Asians have known about of this healing spice for centuries. Turmeric, or curcumin the active ingredient in Turmeric is finding its way into the marketplace with sales of turmeric-based items climbing as much as 35% over the past five years. The commercial interest for this extract is built on a solid research base, consisting of many ongoing trials conducted by the National Institutes of Health.

Used by healers in India, the unique healing properties of this herb are commonly used to treat everything from cuts to coughs, to reduce inflammation and ease digestive problems. Western researchers are particularly interested in its ability to fight a variety of diseases, specifically cancer.

India’s rates of prostate, colorectal, and lung cancer are among the lowest in the world. Of course there are a number of possible factors for these low rates including the practice of vegetarianism, but it is believed that one of the major contributing factors for these low rates is the number of India’s signature spices, specifically turmeric. In laboratory experiments curcumin is able to affect almost every tumor biomarker. Researchers at the University of Alabama conclude that curcumin repressed prostate cancer cells from expressing a protein that is linked to tumor formation.

Other studies found that curcumin blocked the production of substances that speed up the spread of colorectal and pancreatic cancer, inhibited the ability of malignant tumors to develop their own blood supply, and counteracted the HP virus- the main cause of cervical cancer. In addition, studies show that turmeric is a valuable inflammation fighter, important because chronic low-level inflammation promotes the development of cancer.

Since inflammation has been linked to a variety of other chronic disorders and diseases, curcumin shows great potential in the relief of so many conditions. Studies done on arthritic rats given turmeric extract displayed less dysfunction, joint inflammation and cartilage destruction. Curcumin has also been shown to protect the brain and sharpen mental acuity. Studies on healthy older Asians with frequent consumption of curry were found to have the smallest risk of mental decline including dementia and Alzheimer’s. 

The traditional role of curcumin in digestive relief has also been proven in many studies. Curcumin not only kills the bacteria known to cause ulcer formation in the stomach, it also helps keep ulcerative colitis in remission and fights the Giardia bacterium, a main suspect in intestinal infections.


With all these benefits discovered and more yet more to come down the road, maybe we should relegate turmeric from the back of the spice cupboard to the front for use in cooking soups, chicken dishes, stews and salad dressings. Till next time, Rebecca