hello from blizzard land! In addition to snow (ugh, it won’t stop falling here in nyc), there’s almost always “something going around,” this time of year. Aside from frequent hand washing, I’m a firm believer that good nutrition can go a long way when it comes to warding off the sniffles. I always pay extra close attention to the foods and nutrients I’m eating during the colder months to help give my immune system a bit more oomph, because being sick is the pits. I frequently research immune-boosting foods and nutrients for work, as well as common nutrients that are thought to have possible “anti-cancer” affects (or vice versa). There is one that is pretty popular in the oncology world and also quite “on trend” in the health world lately, and that’s turmeric. Or more specifically, its compound curcumin (which is what gives it the yellow hue that is SO HARD to get out of pretty much anything).
what is turmeric?
turmeric comes from the root of the curcuma long plant and kind of looks like a ginger root, except the inner flesh is a much more vibrant orange-yellow. It’s most frequently used in ground form for things like curry dishes and can be found in the spice section of the supermarket.
how is turmeric used?
in addition to delicious curry dishes (this one is my favorite), turmeric has long been used in Eastern cultures as somewhat of a “healing” spice due mainly to the high antioxidant content of curcumin. It can be added to teas, soups, stews and even smoothies to boost both flavor and nutrient content, and because it seems to be the “it” spice of the moment, there are tons of great inventive recipes available around the internet. I’m eager to try this golden savory cake (yum!). Turmeric and curcumin are also sold as a dietary supplement, and though many scientific studies have been performed on its use in this form, I would not currently recommend taking it as a dietary supplement. Just as I tell my patients, dietary supplements are not regulated by the FDA, so there is no way to know what’s actually in them and how it may affect us.
can turmeric boost immunity? prevent cancer? chronic disease?
as I mentioned, curcumin is a very potent antioxidant and known anti-inflammatory compound, and can help reduce oxidative damage to cells and neutralize free radicals. A diet high in antioxidants such as curcumin is important for the prevention of chronic disease and some cancers. When it comes to immunity, the role of curcumin has been extensively studied, with current findings point towards its enhancement of the activation of immune cells important for fighting infection. Whether increasing turmeric in your diet will prevent you from getting sick is a question I can’t definitively answer, but it certainly can’t hurt in most cases.*
Because of these immunomodulatory and anti-inflammatory properties, curcumin is also being studied for possible protective benefits against the development and spread of some cancers. Currently, it is being researched in breast, pancreatic and colon cancers (to name a few), inflammatory conditions like Crohn’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis as well as Alzheimer’s disease. It’s all quite fascinating, especially its potential role not only in the prevention of cancer, but in the spread of already existing tumors. As with so many topics, though, more research is needed before any changes are made to any of the (and my) current recommendations are made.
so what are my recommendations?
try to incorporate turmeric into your diet* – a small amount (1/4 tsp, even!) can go a long way -by making any traditional Indian curry dish, throwing a bit of the spice into a smoothie or trying this recipe for “golden milk” – perfect for a cold winter night or sensible weekend blizzard.
Turmeric “Golden Milk” Recipe
2 cups unsweetened almond milk
1 cup water
2 tsp honey
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
Pinch black pepper (this enhances absorption of curcumin!)
Add all ingredients into a small saucepan and bring to a light boil, stirring to combine ingredients. Simmer on low heat for 10-15 minutes. Transfer to mugs and serve warm, topped with an additional pinch of cinnamon as desired.
*turmeric may interact with some medications, especially blood thinners, pain medications and some chemotherapy agents, so always consult with a doctor if you are thinking of incorporating larger amounts into your diet. As I mentioned above, I do caution against the use of turmeric as a dietary supplement and instead advocate for its use in foods and beverages (in moderate amounts!).