Turmeric describes the perennial herb in the ginger family, Curcuma longa.
Turmeric contains sugars, resins, proteins, and volatile oils including turmerone, atlantone, zingiberone; as well as the compound curcumin.
Native to Asia, turmeric plant is cultivated in India, China, and Indonesia. The bright yellow root, used as a dye and food-coloring agent (especially curry), is the part used medicinally.
Curcumin is the best-studied component of turmeric. Turmeric (curcumin) has been shown to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, cholesterol-lowering, platelet aggregation inhibition, hepatoprotective, carminative, and antimicrobial activities.
Curcumin has been shown to inhibit leukotriene (major inflammatory mediators) formation, inhibit platelet aggregation, inhibit neutrophil responses under certain conditions, and stabilize lysosomal membranes. These activities have made curcumin one of the most useful anti-inflammatory agents in nature. Curcumin interacts with the adrenal glands in a way that allows the body to spare cortisol, one of the body's own inflammation control mechanisms.
Curcumin, as an anti-inflammatory agent, should be taken at a dose of about 400mg or more, three times a day. The absorption of curcumin can be enhanced by concomitant ingestion of bromelain.
Curcumin, the ingredient that gives turmeric its yellow color and one of the best studied of the natural COX-2 inhibitors, has been shown to inhibit the development of cancer in animals. Dr. Chintalapally V. Rao, a scientist with the American Health Foundation in Valhalla, New York, has conducted extensive animal studies with curcumin and notes that while the new drugs "undermine the activity of the COX-2 enzyme, curcumin completely blocks formation of the enzyme itself."
The intriguing evidence of curcumin's anticancer effects in animal studies has prompted a clinical trial of the compound. Dr. Steven Schiff at Rockefeller University in New York is assessing whether curcumin supplements (250mg twice a day) can inhibit the development of colon cancer in humans.
As most of the cancer-inducing chemicals in cigarette smoke are only carcinogenic during the period between activation in the liver by Phase I and final detoxification by Phase II, curcumin in the turmeric can help prevent the cancer-causing effects of tobacco. Those exposed to smoke, aromatic hydrocarbons, and other environmental carcinogens will probably benefit from the frequent use of curry or turmeric.