Hero Ingredient: What Is Turmeric And How Does It Affect Immune Function?
For thousands of years, holistic medicine has been using spices, herbs, and various other naturally occurring substances to help cure ailments and aid in overall health. One such spice that has been used extensively is turmeric.
“Turmeric” has become something of a buzz word because of its current trending status among health communities; however, it’s more than just a passing fad. Turmeric has a wide variety of different health benefits when used regularly. So what is turmeric, exactly? And how does turmeric affect immune function?
What is turmeric?
Turmeric is a powder derived from a type of perennial herbaceous plant belonging to the ginger family, native to southern India and Indonesia. The powder is taken from the underground stems of the plants and it is widely used in its native lands as well as the islands of the Indian Ocean.
The stems of turmeric plants have a similar scent to pepper and a bitter taste. Turmeric is bright orange-yellow in colour because of the presence of the chemical curcumin. Curcumin on its own has been used as a herbal supplement for centuries.
How is turmeric used?
Turmeric has a plethora of different uses. In food, it helps add flavour and colour to many dishes including curry, relishes, pickles, butters, chicken and fish dishes, and more. Turmeric has a musky taste and can be very bitter and earthy.
It is also used to help give other foods colour, such as:
- Canned drinks
- Dairy products
- Baked goods
- Ice cream
- Orange juice
Turmeric has also been used to help dye fabrics, as a food colouring, and even in cosmetics to provide a golden hue.
When it comes to its medicinal purposes, turmeric has been used for a variety of different ailments. It can help to reduce pain and inflammation throughout the body, and has also been used to help curb symptoms of hay fever, depression, high cholesterol, some liver diseases, and itching.
Some specific health conditions that may benefit from the use of turmeric include:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Chronic anterior uveitis (ailment within the eye)
- Skin cancer
- Chicken pox
- Wound healing
- Urinary tract infections
- Liver ailments
- Heart disease
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Multiple sclerosis
- Inflammatory bowel disease
When it comes to autoimmune diseases, turmeric has been shown to act an inhibitor, leading researchers to believe that is does more for the immune system than once thought.
How does turmeric affect immune function?
Turmeric has been hailed a wonder spice because it can help drive overall health when used appropriately and regularly. It can also offer specific benefits in how well the immune system functions. This is because the chemical curcumin interacts with both cellular and molecular targets within the body.
Turmeric has also been shown to have immunomodulatory properties within the body. In other words, when turmeric is consumed, it can regulate the immune cell function, leading to an overall healthier response to pathogens. In certain clinical trials, the use of curcumin specifically was found to directly affect how T-cells and dendritic cells (immune cells) and cytokines responded to foriegn invaders. It has also been shown to enhance antibody responses.
How does turmeric boost immunity?
There are a lot of ways turmeric lends a hand to immune function. In situations where the body’s innate immune system becomes overactive, turmeric has the ability to lower blood levels of acute-phase proteins that pose harm to overall health after becoming heightened. This regulates the immune system and normalizes the immune response.
Gut health also has a lot to do with how the immune system functions. When gut health is at its best, it helps to keep the immune function stable. Studies have shown that turmeric can help balance good and bad gut bacteria to help maintain balance, thus aiding the immune system even further.
Chronic stress can be a huge contributor to the weakening of the immune system. When cortisol levels are continuously at high levels, the immune system begins to resist initiating a response. Since acute-phase proteins can signal the brain to release more cortisol, and turmeric limits the overproduction of those proteins, research has found that it plays a vital role in keeping cortisol levels where they should be.
Ways to get more turmeric in your diet
It can be easy to get more turmeric in your diet if you’re looking to supplement your immune function. Since the spice has a robust flavour, it may be difficult to incorporate into all of your meals, but there are simple additions you can make to get this hero ingredient into your everyday life and help you boost your immune system.
Golden milk is a type of turmeric latte made with warm milk, turmeric, and other spices. Turmeric smoothies are also a great choice. You can mix the spice with your favourite fruits and vegetables. A little bit goes a long way with turmeric, so adding in even a tablespoon will help you get all the benefits. You can also drink it in tea form.
The earthy flavour of turmeric goes nicely with a variety of different egg dishes, such as scrambled eggs or omelettes.
Dips and dressings
Whether you buy store-bought or make your own, turmeric can add a pop of flavour to dips and dressings, as well as providing you with all the aforementioned health benefits.
Roasted meats and veggies
Adding a moderate amount of turmeric to roasted vegetables or meats will enhance the flavour profile without overpowering the entire dish.
Turmeric can also be bought in supplement form, so even if you don’t like the flavour, you can still reap all the benefits of this amazingly versatile spice.