Unraveling the Secrets of Turmeric: Ancient Medicine, Modern Miracle

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Turmeric (Curcuma longa Linn, synonym Curcuma domestica Val) is a (sub)tropical plant which is a member of the ginger (Zingiberaceae) family. It’s native to India and has spread to Southeast Asia. The root of the turmeric plant has been grown traditionally and used in Chinese (姜黄 / Jiāng Huáng) and Indian Ayurvedic medicine (हरिद्रा / Haridra) for thousands of years. Technically, what is commonly referred to as the root of turmeric is a rhizome, as it’s a horizontal underground plant stem, a form of creeping rootstalk that can produce shoots and roots to create new plants. 

Turmeric can be used as a culinary spice, medicine, and preservative. It can also be used as a natural dye (E 100) because it contains curcumin, a vibrant yellow color which can be extracted from the turmeric root or leaf. Curcumin has powerful anti-inflammatory, anti-tumour, and antioxidant properties. Because of its brilliant yellow color, turmeric is also known as “Indian Saffron” or “Golden Spice”. 

We’re seeing a growing interest in turmeric as modern medicine has begun to recognize it due to its incredible health properties, as indicated by the over 3000 publications dealing with turmeric that came out within the last 25 years. Indonesian turmeric is known for its quality and high curcumin content. There are also other kinds of turmeric that can be found according to its color, black, and white turmeric which have different properties and benefits. One of the benefits of white turmeric, for example, is to help cure cancer. While the benefits of black turmeric are to treat leprosy and become a mixture for medicinal ingredients for dengue fever.

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Turmeric Root Benefits for health:

Turmeric is not only useful as a food flavoring, but also has various health benefits. It is also known as one of the most powerful natural healers. Most of turmeric’s health benefits come from its curcumin, which contains polyphenol antioxidants. It has powerful antiviral, antibacterial, and anticancer capabilities.

“Curcumin is a phytopolylphenol pigment isolated from the plant Curcuma longa, commonly known as turmeric, with a variety of pharmacologic properties. Curcumin blocks the formation of reactive-oxygen species, possesses anti-inflammatory properties as a result of inhibition of cyclooxygenases (COX) and other enzymes involved in inflammation; and disrupts cell signal transduction by various mechanisms including inhibition of protein kinase C. These effects may play a role in the agent’s observed antineoplastic properties, which include inhibition of tumor cell proliferation and suppression of chemically induced carcinogenesis and tumor growth in animal models of cancer.” US government’s National Cancer Institute

The essential oils contained in turmeric are efficacious in preventing excess stomach acid from escaping and reducing strong intestinal peristalsis. Turmeric also contains other substances, such as volatile oil, oxalate, resin, gum, starch, fat, protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, and vitamin C. The benefits we can find from research are:

Fights viral infections

Curcumin in turmeric functions as an antiviral that can help you fight various viruses such as Norovirus, Adenovirus, herpes and flu.

Improve digestive health

Curcumin functions as an antibacterial. It can stimulate the walls of the gallbladder to contract and secretes bile for better digestion. Turmeric can help improve symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). IBS is a disorder of bowel interactions characterized by abdominal discomfort and pain associated with changes in bowel habits in the absence of structural abnormalities.


Curcumin can help treat inflammatory conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, pancreatitis, arthritis, stiffness and relieve joint pain.

Increases the antioxidant capacity in the body

Oxidative damage is one of the mechanisms behind aging and many diseases. Oxidative damage involves free radicals, highly reactive molecules with unpaired electrons. Free radicals tend to react with important organic substances such as fatty acids, proteins or DNA. Exposure to free radicals is linked to health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Curcumin is a powerful antioxidant that can neutralize free radicals due to its chemical structure. The content of these antioxidants can help us protect the body from free radicals and protect DNA from damage.

Helps prevent cancer

Turmeric can stop the growth of tumor cells and help detoxify the body. Research shows that curcumin acts as an immune modulator. It can help slow growth and increase the death of cancer cells. Consumption of curcumin with chemotherapy drugs increases the effectiveness of chemotherapy and radiotherapy resulting in increased patient survival time, and increases the expression of anti-metastatic proteins while reducing side effects.

Prevent Alzheimer’s

Curcumin supplements can improve from symptoms of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and dementia. Alzheimer’s can cause total dementia because the physical condition of the brain continues to decline. Researchers think reduced brain inflammation and curcumin’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties reduce cell damage, inflammation, and amyloid or plaque deposits resulting in less impairment of neurocognition (the ability to think and reason). Curcumin may also slow or prevent some of the age-related protein changes that scientists have linked to neurodegeneration.

Overcoming Depression

Like Alzheimer’s, depression is also associated with reduced levels of a protein known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and loss of neurons in the hippocampus, the area of the brain responsible for learning and memory. Because it has the ability to increase BDNF levels, turmeric is also believed to be able to provide an effective antidepressant effect. curcumin is as effective as fluoxetine (Prozac) at reducing symptoms of depression. On the other hand, curcumin can increase brain neurotransmitters that produce serotonin and dopamine, which are chemicals in the brain that regulate mood and other bodily functions.

Reducing the risk of heart disease

A study shows that curcumin can dilate blood vessels, increase blood flow and improve endothelial function or the health of the thin membranes that cover the inside of the heart and blood vessels. This membrane plays a key role in regulating blood pressure. Lower endothelial function is associated with aging and an increased risk of heart disease. This is the reason why curcumin is believed to help protect against decline in body function related to age and reduce the risk of heart disease.

Lowers cholesterol levels

Turmeric also helps to manage cholesterol levels because it can lower bad cholesterol (LDL) and triglycerides thereby cleaning up plaque buildup in the arteries.

Helps Control Diabetes

Turmeric keeps blood sugar levels stable and adds to the effects of drugs that treat diabetes. This powerful herb can complement key diabetes treatments by helping moderate insulin levels. Turmeric also lowers insulin resistance, which can help prevent the development of type 2 diabetes. However, it is better to consult a doctor before supplementing diabetes treatment with natural remedies.

Reduces symptoms of osteoarthritis

Due to its strong anti-inflammatory properties, curcumin can also be a safe and effective long-term treatment option for people with osteoarthritis (OA). In one study, people with osteoarthritis who took 1,000 mg/day of Meriva experienced significant improvements in stiffness and physical function after eight months. Meriva is a proprietary treatment consisting of a blend of natural curcuminoids (75 percent curcumin, 15 percent demethoxycurcumin, and 10 percent bisdemethoxycurcumin), phosphatidylcholine (a chemical found in eggs, soybeans, and other foods), and microcrystalline cellulose (a common fine wood pulp used by the pharmaceutical and food industries).

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) Treatment

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disorder that usually affects the joints. It can also spread to other areas, such as the eyes, lungs, skin, heart and blood vessels. The condition causes painful swelling of the joints and over time can cause the bone to erode. In the end, people with rheumatoid arthritis can experience deformities and physical disabilities. Curcumin has promising potential for use as a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

Improve skin health

Turmeric masks help brighten the skin, repair the skin, rejuvenate dull looking skin, fight stubborn acne, reduce redness, and reduce dark spots. Oral administration of curcumin may be an effective and safe treatment option for psoriasis, although more research is needed.

Benefits of Turmeric for women

Turmeric is useful as a phytoestrogen having estrogenic activity similar to one of the female hormones (estrogen). Meanwhile, the emmenagogue properties stimulate blood flow in the pelvic and uterine areas. Turmeric also has antispasmodic properties that can help relieve premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms and are important in the menstrual cycle. The curcumin content in turmeric balances various kinds of chemicals in the brain that regulate emotions and avoid mood swings. Curcumin can also inhibit hormones that cause stomach cramps, pain and inflammation. Turmeric can also be used to get rid of the fishy smell during menstruation.

Other Benefits

Turmeric can be used to get rid of the fishy smell. It needs to be grated and then smeared on the fish to be processed. Let stand for a while, then washed before processing. If you don’t have fresh turmeric, you can use turmeric powder with a ratio of 1 tablespoon of chopped turmeric to ¼ teaspoon of turmeric powder.

Maximize the benefits of turmeric:

The curcumin content in turmeric is usually not very high, only about 3% of the weight of the rhizome. Most studies using turmeric extract contain only curcumin, with doses typically exceeding 1 gram per day. If you only use turmeric as a cooking spice, it will be very difficult to reach that dose. That’s why some people choose to use supplements.

In fact, the absorption rate of curcumin into the bloodstream is not that high. In order to maximize the benefits of curcumin, the body’s absorption rate of a substance (bioavailability) needs to be increased. One way to increase the absorption of curcumin is to consume it with piperine which is contained in black pepper. Piperine is a natural substance that increases the absorption of curcumin by up to 2,000%. In conclusion, when choosing a supplement, it’s best to look for brands that have black pepper extract or piperine listed as ingredients in them. Curcumin is also soluble in fat or oil. That is why it is best to take curcumin supplements with foods that are high in fat.

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Turmeric side effects

Turmeric is a spice and relatively safe for consumption, turmeric products that provide up to 8 grams of curcumin daily will not cause serious side effects if used for up to 2 months. It is also safe to take up to 3 grams of curcumin daily for up to 3 months. Mild side effects that may occur include dizziness, nausea, acid reflux (GERD), flatulence, abdominal pain and diarrhea. Excessive use in old age can cause stomach upset and liver or kidney disorders. While the potential side effects that we need to pay attention to include:

Contains hazardous materials

Pure commercial turmeric powder isn’t contained in all products, some are adulterated. This means that cheaper, potentially toxic ingredients have been added and are not listed on the label. High lead content in turmeric can also cause nervous system disorders.

Iron Deficiency

Turmeric can interfere with the way your body absorbs iron which can lead to the formation of smaller red blood cells and in lower numbers

Skin rash

It is very rare but there have been reports of skin rashes after taking doses of 8 g of curcumin or more.

Kidney stones

Turmeric contains about two percent oxalates. Oxalate can bind to calcium, making kidney stones more painful. The use of high doses will have an impact on kidney stones in individuals who have a tendency.

Low blood pressure

Turmeric can lower blood pressure and it can increase the risk of stroke and heart disease for people who have low blood pressure.

Gallbladder disease

Turmeric is dangerous if you have gallbladder disease. This can encourage the gallbladder to contract and make symptoms worse.


Turmeric can cause a decrease in blood sugar levels so there is the potential to interfere with the treatment being undertaken.


Turmeric is a natural blood thinner. You should not consume turmeric if you are taking blood thinners, or if you are going to have surgery because it can increase the risk of bleeding for someone.

Risks to pregnant women

In addition, drinking excessive turmeric during pregnancy can also have serious consequences. Consuming large amounts of curcumin during pregnancy can change the level of the hormone estrogen in the body. It causes uterine contractions or bleeding which will later trigger miscarriage or early labor. There is also a risk of an allergic reaction with all natural remedies. If you experience allergy symptoms such as hives, rapid heartbeat, or difficulty breathing after using turmeric, then you must stop using it and seek medical treatment immediately.

If any unwanted side effects occurred, treatment with turmeric may not be the best approach and should be stopped immediately. Before using turmeric as an herbal treatment or consume it in the form of a curcumin supplement, it is better to consult your doctor first to prevent unwanted side effects. However, until now there has been no evidence that the use of curcumin in lower doses or in a short period of time causing serious side effects in humans.

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Life cycle and how to grow turmeric in the tropics:
  1. Choose a location that gets plenty of sunlight and has well-draining soil. If you want to plant turmeric in a pot, try to use a pot that is large enough, when the rhizomes grow it can spread throughout the pot.
  2. Add compost or other organic matter to improve soil fertility.
  3. Prepare the turmeric seeds which can be obtained from the nursery or online supplier. If no seeds available, we can break the large rhizome into smaller pieces, each should have at least two or three buds.
  4. Place the turmeric rhizomes into the holes with the buds facing up. Turmeric is a plant that reproduces by vegetative propagation (rhizomes). Seedlings can be planted at a distance of 30 – 40 cm / 6-8 inches from each other and in well-drained soil then cover the rhizomes with soil.
  5. Plant the seeds at a depth of about 5 cm / 2 inches.
  6. Provide enough water.

The position of the turmeric plant must be protected from the wind while the ideal temperature range for growing turmeric is between 20 to 35 degrees Celsius. After a few weeks, the shoots will sprout from the soil. Growing turmeric is also fairly easy as there is no need to trim the leaves, you only need to keep the soil moist throughout the growing season by watering and applying fertilizer regularly. Fertilizer application is considered very important for the growth of rhizomes because organic matter will make the rhizomes grow large quickly.

Disease and pest

Turmeric plants are not susceptible to serious diseases or pests. Common diseases are rhizome rot and leaf spot. Rot appears when the plant is planted in waterlogged soil. Therefore, it is important to plant turmeric in a place that has good drainage.

Harvest time

During the dry season, the turmeric plant will dry up all of its leaves but the roots will stay alive and can grow again when the rainy season arrives. When this happens all the nutrients are transferred into the rhizomes which become dormant during the dry season. Harvesting can be done after the leaves turn yellow and the stems begin to dry. This process usually takes 7 to 10 months after planting. Harvesting turmeric is not difficult, just dig up the entire plant until you find the roots. Cut off the required amount and then replant the remaining pieces to get new plants growing.