A relative of ginger, Curcuma is a perennial plant that grows 5 - 6 feet high in the tropical regions of Southern Asia, with trumpet-shaped, dull yellow flowers. Its roots are bulbs that also produce rhizomes, which then produce stems and roots for new plants. curcuma is fragrant and has a bitter, sharp taste. Although it grows in many tropical locations, the majority of turmeric is grown in India, where it is used as a main ingredient in curry. The roots, or rhizomes and bulbs, are used in medicine and food. They are generally boiled and then dried, turning into the familiar yellow powder. Curcumin, the active ingredient, has antioxidant properties. Other substances in this herb have antioxidant properties as well.
Curcuma, more commonly known as turmeric, may help treat a variety of different disorders. Healers have used the herb for medicinal purposes for more than 4,000 years. In Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine, herbalists value Curcuma as an effective anti-inflammatory agent and wound healer. The primary compounds to which turmeric's benefits are attributed are curcuminoids and volatile oils. While raw turmeric has many supposed benefits, it's important to note that research is ongoing.
The curcumin content of turmeric triggers bile production, which is believed to help the digestive system, explains the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC). Turmeric may ease the symptoms of indigestion and alleviate heartburn. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) adds that turmeric may provide relief from symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome as well, and UMMC states it may boost the remission of ulcerative colitis, a form of inflammatory bowel disease. Turmeric may help treat stomach ulcers too, which also cautions that high doses can be counterproductive, further irritating the stomach.
Anti-inflammatory agents in turmeric may be useful in relieving symptoms associated with rheumatic conditions. Turmeric is sometimes used as part of the course of treatment for osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. It may help with the pain and loss of mobility from these conditions. Turmeric may also be useful for treating uveitis, a form of eye inflammation.
Turmeric may help prevent heart disease, heart attack and stroke hanks to its effects on some key risk factors of these three diseases. It may help stop atherosclerosis and it may help prevent blood clots. Additionally, NIH (3) cites the lowering of LDL, or "bad" cholesterol levels, as a possible benefit of turmeric.
Turmeric may help prevent, manage and treat various forms of cancer, including skin, breast, prostate and colon cancer. However, it points out that evidence has only been found in test tube and animal studies so far. The antioxidant properties of turmeric are believed to be at least partially responsible for its anti-cancer activities.
Turmeric may help regulate blood sugar levels in patients with diabetes, according to UMMC (1). Its ability to boost bile flow may also be useful in gallstone prevention, says NIH (3), which adds other possible benefits. These include liver protection and help in the treatment of HIV, scabies and viral infections.
Turmeric in food is considered safe. Turmeric and curcumin supplements are considered safe when taken at the recommended doses. However, taking large amounts of turmeric for long periods of time may cause stomach upset and, in extreme cases, ulcers. People who have gallstones or obstruction of the bile passages should talk to their doctor before taking turmeric. If you have diabetes, talk to your doctor before taking turmeric supplements. Turmeric may lower blood sugar levels, and when combined with medications for diabetes could cause hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).
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