Health

Nature’s golden anti-inflammatory: turmeric and curcumin

Australia's medical regulator has issued a health alert for Australians taking turmeric and curcumin supplements, following reports of liver failure. Ingesting turmeric in edible doses - such as through this turmeric paste - does not have the same risks. Photo: Sarah Coleman

This wild yellow spice will stain your hands - and maybe your kitchen benchtops - but science says its most active component, curcumin, is an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant that may help ease conditions like arthritis. Naturopath and herbalist Sarah Coleman from The Kitchen Apothecary explains that simply adding a dash of turmeric to your latte is unlikely to unlock health benefits - and turmeric and curcumin supplements may injure your liver. But by adding fat to create a turmeric paste you can ingest more of the powerful compounds that can ease joint pain.

Written by Sarah Coleman

Turmeric’s golden compound: Curcumin

There’s plenty of hype for the naturally occuring compound at the heart of turmeric's magical properties: curcumin.

Curcumin is a potent and bioactive compound that is now available to buy as supplements, as it has been extensively studied for its potential health perks.

Curcumin has received worldwide attention for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory mechanisms.

Its benefits are best achieved when curcumin is combined with agents such as piperine - an ingredient in pepper - which increase its bioavailability significantly.

Research suggests that curcumin can help in the management of oxidative and inflammatory conditions, metabolic syndrome, arthritis, anxiety, and hyperlipidemia.

It may also help in the management of exercise-induced inflammation and muscle soreness, enhancing recovery and subsequent performance in active people.

But there’s a big warning around turmeric and curcumin supplements, courtesy of Australia’s health regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).

What? A warning about turmeric supplements

There is a rare risk of liver injury from taking turmeric or curcumin in medicinal dosage forms. The risk may be higher for products with enhanced absorption or bioavailability.

You can read more about the reports - 18 people in Australia have suffered liver injury, and one person died - on the TGA’s website.

The risk of liver injury does not appear to relate to Curcuma longa (turmeric) when consumed in typical dietary amounts as a food. That means ingesting turmeric as food is potentially safer than taking a supplement.

Ingredients for The Kitchen Apothecary’s turmeric paste recipe

Recipe by Sarah Coleman of Kitchen Apothecary

  • 1/2 cup turmeric powder (preferably organic - several brands of turmeric in the United States have been recalled due to lead contamination)
  • 1 cup filtered/spring/rain water
  • 1/4 cup of fat - choose from butter, ghee or virgin coconut oil - turmeric requires fats to release the active ingredient curcumin
  • 2 tsp of freshly ground black pepper

Instructions to make your own The Kitchen Apothecary turmeric paste

1. Mix the turmeric powder, pepper and water in a small saucepan until combined and bring to a gentle simmer.

2. Add the fat of choice and continue to simmer for a further 10 minutes gently. Take it off the heat when it forms a soft paste. You might need to add a little extra water if it becomes too thick.

3. Store in a clean jar in the fridge for up to two weeks.

7 ways to add a dash of turmeric paste to your diet

Turmeric paste tastes a little too bitter to simply ingest from a spoon, though plenty of people swear taking a teaspoon a day helps them.

Turmeric paste also comes in handy in the base for curries and tagines.

When possible, opt for high-quality, certified organic turmeric powder. Buying it in bulk is a great idea, and a quick online search will help you find a reliable supplier near you.

Try using turmeric paste in the following recipes:

  • Golden milk: Indulge in the soothing warmth of golden milk, a traditional beverage crafted from turmeric, warm milk (or a milk substitute like almond milk), and spices like black pepper, which can enhance curcumin absorption.
  • Turmeric tea: Add turmeric paste to warm cup of water, add honey and a quick turmeric tea is ready. You may wish to strain it through muslin as it can taste a little gritty!
  • Turmeric banana smoothie: Turmeric paste is a great addition to any smoothie, but add a banana - and a splash of fresh ginger - and you have deliciousness.
  • Curry creations: Turmeric is a star player in curry dishes, adding both flavour and health benefits. Explore the world of curries and introduce your taste buds to a palette of aromatic spices.
  • Salad dressed in gold: You can make a really tasty salad dressing by adding a bit of oil to your paste until it is runny enough to pour over your salad.
  • Porridge with turmeric and ginger: It tastes better than it sounds, but grated fresh ginger, turmeric paste and black pepper add a unique twist to your morning porridge - or just use oats soaked overnight with the spices. Add yoghurt or honey if you want to sweeten it.
  • Turmeric rice: Turn your rice into a vivid gold by stirring turmeric paste through the rice while it is still warm and moist. Adding slivered almonds and a handful of sultanas or raisins makes this even more delicious.

Have you taken turmeric or curcumin for health reasons?

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