It’s almost like I’ve been living under a rock or something, as I’ve only recently discovered the “golden” craze. For the uninitiated like myself, it is a beverage made using a base of fresh or dried turmeric. The practice originated in India and the traditional preparation calls for turmeric to be combined with water and heated to form a paste. The paste can be stored and easily added to water or milk as needed. Added to milk, coffee, or hot chocolate, it creates a “golden” beverage with numerous health benefits.
Turmeric, Curcuma longa, is a close cousin of ginger and often referred to as the “Queen of Spices.” A key ingredient in curry, turmeric’s pungent, earthy flavor and vibrant yellow color are unmistakable. The root has been used in Asian cooking and traditional medicine for thousands of years. In recent years, turmeric has been touted as a “cure almost everything” and even physicians are getting on board with supplementation.
What’s So Great About Turmeric?
Turmeric is one of those “wonder discoveries” that actually has significant scientific research behind it. Researchers have identified curcumin, one of the curcuminoids that gives turmeric its characteristic yellow color, as the main constituent responsible for turmeric’s wide ranging effects.
Many of turmeric/curcumin’s benefits are attributed to its powerful anti-inflammatory actions. Chronic inflammation plays a significant role in many of today’s chronic diseases. It not only contributes to the development of disease, it causes associated symptoms, including pain and swelling. Curcumin has been identified as a COX-2 inhibitor, which means that it inhibits one of the primary enzymes responsible for inflammation – corticosteroids and NSAIDS work in the same way. Turmeric is actually a more potent anti-inflammatory than aspirin or ibuprofen. (1, 2)
Turmeric/curcumin is also a powerful antioxidant. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals, preventing damage that results from oxidative stress and possibly increasing longevity. Adding to that, curcumin stimulates our own “antioxidant” defender enzymes into action as well, doubling their protective impact. There is also evidence that shows that curcumin may increase levels of Brain-Derived Neurotropic Factor (BDNF). A deficiency in BDNF is linked to a number of neurological and degenerative disorders. (3, 4, 5)
What does this all actually mean? It means that turmeric/curcumin can be very effective in treating a long list of disorders. It is often used and recommended for:
- Pain and inflammation associated with osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and gout
- Atherosclerosis, decreases LDL cholesterol, serum cholesterol
- GI disorders including IBS, Crohn’s, colitis, ulcerative colitis
- Neurodegenerative disorders including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis, neuropathy
- Dermatitis including eczema and psoriasis
- Mild to moderate depression, memory, cognitive decline
- Tendonitis, bursitis, post-workout muscle recovery
- Balancing blood sugar
- Stimulating digestion and circulation
- Antiplatelet/anti-coagulant properties
- May help treat or prevent some types of cancer including prostate and colorectal
This is not an exhaustive list. A notable benefit of using turmeric/curcumin instead of prescription or OTC medications is a lack of side effects. This is mentioned in research summaries. And if you’re healthy, turmeric/curcumin is very effective at preventing many of these disorders in the first place. It almost seems silly NOT to use it – many of these benefits can be achieved by adding only one or two teaspoons to our daily diet.
Turmeric for Dogs?
Yes. And cats. And horses. Even chickens. Animals benefit from turmeric’s effects the same way we do…especially in regards to arthritis pain, digestive issues, and inflammatory skin issues. Getting them to eat it may be challenging, but many adherants say the’ve had no problems mixing turmeric paste with food. Some animals are more sensitive to curcumin than others, so please check with your vet and do further research before administering any type of supplement to your pet! (6, 7)
Turmeric/Curcumin Absorption Issues
One of the problems with turmeric supplementation is the low bioavailability of curcumin in our bodies. We metabolize it before most of the bioactive compounds can be absorbed. Research has found that by adding black pepper, turmeric’s bioabailability is increased by up to 2000%. This is due to piperine, a compound found in black pepper. Only a small amount of pepper is required to achieve this effect. (8)
Since turmeric is fat soluble, it should be consumed with a small amount of fat for proper absorption. Heating turmeric has also been shown to increase curcumin’s bioavailability. The turmeric paste recipe combines all of these tricks into a convenient, easy to use form.
Bromelain, an enzyme found in pineapple, has also been shown to help with curcumin absorption. I bet this paste will work really well in smoothies!
Basic Turmeric Paste
1/2 cup high-quality, organic powdered turmeric
1 cup water (you may need slightly more)
1 tsp. ground black pepper
1/4 cup unrefined coconut oil or other healthy oil (virgin olive, avocado)
Combine water and turmeric in a small saucepan over medium heat. Heat and stir for 7-10 minutes until a paste forms. Remove from heat and add pepper and oil (both have enzymes destroyed at high temps). Stir thoroughly. Store covered in a glass jar. Refrigerated, this paste can last for 2 weeks or more.
You can eat this paste straight out of the jar, or you can mix it into food. A teaspoon can be added to hot water for turmeric tea or warmed milk to create the beverage known as “Golden Milk.”
I used it to make a chai latte…OMG!…these flavors were meant to go together and each of the ingredients have their own health benefits. It’s worth the effort!
Spiced Golden Chai Latte
1 tsp turmeric paste
2 cups milk of choice (I use coconut)
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground allspice
4-5 cardamom pods
1 cup water
1 tea bag of choice (black, darjeeling, green – optional)
1 tsp. vanilla
raw honey to taste
Add cinnamon, ginger, and cardamom pods to water in saucepan and heat boiling. Reduce heat and allow to simmer for 5-10 minutes. Add tea bag and allow to steep for optimal time for your tea. Remove tea bag and strain cardamom pods. Add milk, vanilla, and turmeric paste, and gently heat until warm. Do not boil. Remove from heat and add honey to taste. This can be blended with a whisk or in a blender to produce a creamy froth. Serves two.
All of these ingredients can be adjusted to taste. I love this recipe, but sometimes you don’t have time to whip up something like this. You can easily use store-bought chai tea bags and simply add your turmeric paste and milk.
Or just add these spices to your turmeric paste and simplify from the start. That is how I made my own second batch. Now I can have chai, spiced hot chocolate, or spiced coffee easily, and whenever I want. I can also enjoy guilt-free – this is a health tonic after all! 🙂 This is my current recipe:
Golden Chai Paste
1/2 cup high-quality, organic turmeric
1/4 cup ground cinnamon
2 T. ground ginger
1 T. ground cardamom seeds
2 tsp. ground clove
1 tsp. ground black pepper
1 1/4 cup water (likely slightly more)
1/4 cup plus 1 T. unrefined coconut, olive, or avocado oil
Combine all ingredients except pepper and oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Heat and stir for 7-10 minutes until a paste forms. Remove from heat and add pepper and oil. Stir thoroughly to combine. Store covered in a glass jar. Refrigerated, this paste can last for 2 weeks or more.
I add one or two teaspoons of this to whatever I’m drinking. This is an easy, delicious way to supplement with turmeric, and it’s a much cheaper alternative to store-bought supplements. I could seriously drink it all day.
Unfortunately, too much of anything is never a good thing. While turmeric is generally regarded as safe, you don’t want to overdo it as it may cause GI distress. 1-2 tablespoons daily is generally recommended as a maximum dose. However, studies using considerably more have shown no toxicity.
A Few More Things
Of course, you should always check with your doctor before taking any supplements. Those with stomach ulcers are advised to avoid turmeric, and turmeric may interfere with drugs that work by decreasing stomach acid. It may also interfere with diabetes medications, so it should be used with caution. Pregnant and breast feeding women are advised to avoid turmeric supplementation, although culinary use is fine.
One last thing about turmeric – it stains. It will stain your skin, your sink, and your clothes if you are not careful. Some indications call for topical application of turmeric paste, especially for skin disorders. In this case, the risks vs. benefits are for you to decide…the color does fade eventually. Personally, I’d stick with internal usage…especially for chronic inflammatory issues. IMO, there are better, non-staining alternatives for cuts, scrapes, and acute inflammation.