Is Turmeric A Superfood?

I patently reject the idea of superfoods or evil foods. There is no food or supplement on the planet that will catapult you to immediate super health nor is there any food, sans toxins or poisons, that will cause immediate disease. These are sales pitch words meant to sell a product, to separate you from your money. So, when Dave Asprey at Bulletproof Executive is urging you to buy from his last lots of charcoal tabs (yes – he wants you to chew on charcoal) ignore it and char your black bean burger if you feel the need for burnt organics in your life.

My argument is simple: live a healthy life of good food, simple exercise, and meaningful relationships that promote and maintain health better than anything from a bottle. The counter argument – a good one – is that most people don’t eat right, hate exercise that doesn’t include lifting a sixteen ounce liquid weight to your mouth, and generally despise their family. I won’t argue. But, for the interested individual, a focus on whole-life well-being trumps any concoction that requires you to first empty your wallet.

Lately, though, I’ve been uncharacteristically enamored with turmeric (also called curcumin) after reading an article claiming that the region in India where the most turmeric is consumed is almost devoid of Alzheimer’s Disease. I can’t find where this has been shown to be true and, though the link is anecdotal and correlative at best, there is much interesting research in the area. But beware – this kind of news story causes almost uncontrolled glee from makers of vitamins and other sales folks as they see a veritable trough of money rolling down the aisle from folks wanting to avoid the heartbreak of Alzheimer’s – and who doesn’t? But the reproducible, evidence-based science is clear at this point: while turmeric has promise, there is yet any clear and causal relationship between turmeric and a healthy brain.

Per the Alzheimers Society, turmeric is known to have anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, and anti-amyloid characteristics. They note that it has been shown in studies to break down amyloid-beta plaques which are the putative symptom causing the neural traits of Alzheimer’s. Put most simply, these ‘holes’ in the brain are akin to breaks in a train track: as thoughts travel in your brain they are derailed and can’t be completed. What kind of restored brain function one would have if these breaks were repaired is not clear. They note that while turmeric’s anti-plaque activity can be shown in research studies (in rats or mice?) the results are not duplicated in human clinical studies.  The active chemicals in turmeric are not easily absorbed (low bio-availability) which may be the cause of this difference between lab and clinic. Or it just might not have the same effects in humans. More work is needed.

From the Alzheimers Society’s site, I learned that another compound in turmeric, turmerone, has the unique ability to promote neural stem cell growth. These studies have only been performed on animals to date that they warn that it would be unlikely that humans would eat the amounts necessary to see results.

For what it’s worth, I have decided to up my turmeric intake. I love curry and could eat Indian food most days of the week but will happily satisfy myself with a comfortable hot tea. I use a peeler to collect several slices of turmeric and ginger and steep them in hot water with honey for a few minutes and voila! At work, I drink a cup of Pukka brand turmeric tea in the afternoon. If your tea taste leans toward jasmine or Lipton then this brew will be different. It’s earthy and peppery which gives me a nice jolt in mid-afternoon.

Besides the science of turmeric and Alzheimers, the other take away here is to always check in with a recognized source of science information for questions about health and wellness.  Have you ever seen a book with ‘Not a Great Read!’ splashed on the cover? Neither will you find that anyone selling you stuff reveals that it probably won’t do what they’re selling it for. Educate yourself to make informed decisions about your health. No one else will.

I doubt very seriously that a cup of tea each day, or even a plate of curried vegetables, will stave off any of the issues associated with neural plaques. But, as I repeat often, when it comes to health and exercise, it all adds up. And the tea tastes good and there appears to be no downside. So drink up and enjoy.


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Go here to see the turmeric page for the Alzheimer’s Society

Go here for an excellent overview of the relationship of turmeric to health in the Annals of Indian Academy for Neurology

Go here for the WebMD turmeric page

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