Turmeric has been used for over two thousand years in India as a food and medicine - called Holy Powder. Ayurvedic medicine has used turmeric to treat many conditions, including wound healing and infections. Chinese medicine uses turmeric as an anti-depressant. The active ingredient in turmeric is called curcumin. Modern research has shown curcumin to have antibiotic, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant benefits.
Research conducted at the University of Michigan has now shown that the curcumin in turmeric helps regulate cells by inserting itself into the cell membranes. This is what causes the cells to become less susceptible to infection and even to cancer. This research counters the previous assumption that curcumin acted by interacting with the proteins in the cell membrane, but the new research has shown that the cell membrane is changed by the presence of the curcumin in turmeric.
The research, conducted by Ayyalusamy Ramamoorthy, was published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society in March 2009. Ramamoorthy was fed milk with added turmeric when he was sick during his childhood and used this history to inspire his research.
Ramamoorthy is a chemist and biophysicists, not a nutritionist, and his lab utilizes solid state NMR spectroscopy to look at the atoms and membranes of various proteins and compounds. This study shows the benefits of interdisciplinary approach to science when chemists can add to the knowledge of food. Much work is upcoming in this growing field of Food Science. Ramamoorthy's group at the University of Michigan is conducting further research with turmeric and curcumin. They are collaborating with members of the Life Science Institute to search for compounds to treat infections and disease.
Turmeric is a common ingredient in Indian curries. It is a yellow-colored powder that is also used as a dye. Other research has shown turmeric's benefits in reducing the spread of breast cancer in mice, detoxifying the liver, preventing the progression of Alzheimer's disease, and preventing numerous forms of cancers and childhood leukemia. It has been shown to stimulate the growth of blood vessels, heal skin inflammation such as psoriasis, stimulate fat metabolism, and act as a painkiller. Turmeric has shown results in treating pancreatic cancer as well as arthritis.
Turmeric is available in the spice aisle of most grocery stores and is also sold as a tablet in health food stores. The usual dosage is between 250 and 500 mg. Because it stimulates the uterus, it is not recommended for pregnant women. It is also not advised for those with gall bladder disease or gallstones.
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