When most people talk about turmeric, they are actually referring to the species of turmeric known as Curcuma longa. Estimates vary, but it is typically believed there are around 120 species of turmeric. Within the species Curcuma longa, it is estimated there are around 70 varieties - that is a lot of biodiversity (something we get very excited about)!(1) While turmeric has a large biodiversity, only a handful of varieties are grown commercially, and the majority are of the Curcuma longa species.
Curcuma longa varieties are the most widely grown due to containing the highest curcumin contents of any of the turmeric species. While there are a number of different molecules within turmeric that are bioactive, the most well-known and studied is curcumin, which has been shown in a number of scientific studies to provide a wide range of health benefits. Curcumin is a polyphenol – polyphenols include many different micronutrients that are commonly found in plants and have antioxidant and other health promoting actions. Curcumin is what gives turmeric its attractive yellow-orange color. Did you know that it is commonly used in food coloring under the name ‘Natural Yellow 3’? (2)
Why do we care about antioxidants? Oxidation is a naturally occurring process in the body, it reflects stress as well as regular wear and tear on our system. Oxidation creates free radicals, which are unstable substances that damage our cells and our bodies. Antioxidants are able to stabilize these substances once again and decrease the stress or inflammation in our system, which helps our body move toward a greater state of health and well-being.(3) There are now thousands of scientific studies looking at the function and health benefits of curcumin – it has been shown to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, antimicrobial, antiviral, antihepatotoxic, antirheumatic, neuroprotective effects and more. (1) Due to its antimicrobial and antioxidant effects, it is often used as a food additive to help prolong freshness and decrease spoilage- studies show it can decrease bacterial counts and prolong shelf life in a number of different foods (1).
There are actually three different compounds with similar chemical structures that are referred to as curcumin. Curcumin is a large, fat soluble substance. These attributes make it difficult for the body to absorb it when taken on its own without other fat-containing foods – when you take turmeric or curcumin with fat-containing foods, the digestive enzymes released by your GI tract allows for the curcumin to be absorbed into your bloodstream for use in the body. There are many creative ways to enjoy turmeric – you can cook in your favorite meal that contains oils, coconut milk, nuts or seeds or other healthy fats like those found in avocado, butter, grass-fed meat or wild salmon. You can also mix in with some MCT oil and black pepper and add to your coffee, teas and smoothies.
While our products do not contain concentrated extracts of curcumin as you may find at your local vitamin vendor, we believe in the benefits of ingesting this herb in its natural state, with the full spectrum of health promoting benefits found in our organically grown turmeric rhizomes. We will share more about the other compounds in our curcuma longa and other varieties in newsletters to come, so stay tuned!
As with any substance, it is important to consider what amount is right for you. Everyone has a unique biological makeup and different health needs. The dose, frequency of use and duration of use are important factors to consider. Though it has many health benefits, too much turmeric can have possible adverse effects. Turmeric can lead to interactions with medications, either increasing their effectiveness or inhibiting their function. Turmeric can have blood thinning effects, can lower blood sugar and can decrease the effectiveness of some cancer treatments. Any information in this blog is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice and should not be relied on as health or personal advice. Always seek the guidance of your doctor or other qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition.