Medical herbalist Nicola Parker explains how to avoid those turmeric traps
So if you have heard of turmeric and wonder what it might be able to do for you, here’s a few pointers on navigating the marketing babble
Why is turmeric so complicated? The health benefits of turmeric are numerous, but due to its rising popularity, hundreds of products have hit the market.
I have no problem with companies selling turmeric products, the more available, the better! What I find irritating though, is how each company will market their product as unique, while accusing other products of being ineffective. They’ll do this while baffling us with science, and this type of marketing babble can often come with a hefty price tag.
Turmeric and curcumin are by and large the same thing. Turmeric is the whole root, the yellow spice common in Indian cuisine. Turmeric contains many different compounds and curcumin is the one hailed as being responsible for its anti-inflammatory properties.
Does this mean that taking turmeric as a whole herb will not be as effective as taking products labelled curcumin? Not really. I know many herbalists who use whole root turmeric to make pastes and capsules, to excellent effect. Most turmeric products will have the curcumin content written on the bottle, but in my own practice, I fully support the use of whole herb turmeric, not just curcumin.
Now, with that out of the way, let’s talk about absorbability. Turmeric isn’t easy for the body to absorb. It is difficult to get the active compounds from the digestive tract and into the blood steam. Only once it enters the blood stream can it have an anti-inflammatory effect of the rest of the body, so different companies have patented ways to this process more effective. This patenting technology can increase the price considerably, which is why the pricing of these products ranges so wildly.
Is it worth paying for? That depends. Firstly, if you want to use turmeric for digestive inflammation, then having the turmeric remain in your digestive tract means the effect will be more localised. Inflammation of the digestive tract can cause pain and diarrhoea and is a common symptom of conditions like inflammatory bowel disease and diverticulitis. You may be better off using turmeric powders, capsules or tinctures that are made from plain old turmeric.
If you want it for your joints, but don’t want to pay out for the pricier products, here’s a few hacks to increase the absorbability of this wonderful herb. Taking turmeric with fats makes a difference, one of the reasons that turmeric drinks are made with milk. The other way to increase absorption is to take it with black pepper, hence the Ayurvedic remedy “Golden Milk”, which is a traditional way of enjoying the health benefits of turmeric, in a warmly spiced drink.
Alternatively, many turmeric products include black pepper and capsules containing both can be swallowed alongside food that contains any fat or oil (yoghurt, salad dressings, oily fish), to the same effect as making golden milk.
Studies on absorbability show that black pepper can make turmeric compounds 20 times more absorbable, while the pricier product that I personally recommend (called Curcumin Ultra) boasts that it can increase this to 46 times. Do people see a difference in effect though?
Based on the reports I get, yes. For greater amounts of pain, this is one instance where I do prefer Curcumin Ultra over the standard turmeric with black pepper. People report significant pain relief in as little as a few days and being an impatient person, I like to see results quickly. There is always the option to drop down to the cheaper turmeric options and monitor their effectiveness once you know that it is the right herb for you.
Do you need to pay big money for turmeric? No, even my best product is under £20 and the powder comes in at less than £1. If you’re serious about trying it, start with the better products, look for absorbability claims and if the better products don’t work, at least you haven’t wasted too much time on turmeric and the confusing marketing spiel that surrounds it.
For more information, or to book an appointment with Nicola, contact her clinic on 01524 413733.