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It starts with Turmeric…

Have you ever wondered where the rich, yellow hue of turmeric (a spice commonly used in traditional Indian cuisine, as well as in preparing Dijon/American mustards) comes from, along with its slightly acrid and uniquely earthen taste?

Several research studies have indicated that
Curcumin, a potent anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory compound that is also
found to a limited degree in ginger, is responsible for this interesting
peculiarity. Because of its powerful disease-alleviating potential (an inherent
trait of the spice which has long been recognized in the folk-medicinal circles
of native – particularly south-Asian – cultures), inexpensive and
over-the-counter curcumin extracts have made their way into the retail stores
of major nutritional and health brands over the past few decades – and continue
to remain in popular demand; from an overtly sales perspective.

People make use of curcumin supplements to ward off a range of illnesses, from the more mundane and usual bouts of occasional headaches (migraines, or otherwise) to the bone-crippling pains of chronic osteoarthritis; with some even resorting to this biochemical agent as a fitting complement to their standard chemotherapy (cancer-fighting) pharmaceutical regimens.

Large-scale epidemiological studies have discovered that curcumin is not only beneficial for its acute pain-relieving attributes, but also for its ability to curtail the further expansion of tumor cells – which is why many dietitians enthusiastically refer to it as a ‘Super Spice’, through and through. And as newer rounds of research and on-going clinical trials are increasingly demonstrating, there may be some considerable merit behind the bestowment of such an overarching accolade (one which is laced with many important implications for the wholesale practice of holistic medicine, at large).

Addressing Inflammation – and the Health Crises it spawns

According to contemporary understandings in
conventional medicine, chronic inflammation is thought be the greatest
instigator behind the bulk of all modern diseases; whether it be hypertension,
diabetes, arthritis, a range of neurodegenerative illnesses likes Parkinson’s
and Alzheimer’s disease, or Cancer. Inflammation on the cellular level is
mediated by the function of free-radicals, which may be attained either from an
array of environmental toxins, or from the normal operation of a host’s organ
systems. These free-radicals are chemically classed as ‘reactive oxygen
species’, and if left unchecked, they can inflict considerable oxidative stress
on the body’s tissues – thereby turning the affected sites into effective breeding
cultures for the spread of further disease.

Free radicals can spread through the entire spectrum of the body’s transport and storage mediums; whether it be through the lymph, blood or fat systems. Because of this property, they are able to infiltrate cellular defenses, and make their way to the vital organelles-system present inside all important somatic and reproductive cells. The mitochondria (which are the ATP – energy – producing factories within cells; and are literally responsible for imparting ‘life’ to a functioning organism) are put at a considerable risk of dysfunction by free-radicals, which can cause irreversible damage to mitochondrial (and even nuclear) DNA.

The resulting DNA mutations may further result in the attainment of a number of cancers. As such, and in the light of this understanding, it does not come off as a surprise why many physicians around the world recommend the consumption of a maximal amount of natural antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds (of which curcumin is a good example) on a daily basis – because they seriously believe that by preventing the onset of uncontrolled inflammation, they can nip the inception of the aforementioned disease conditions in their proverbial ‘budding’ stage.

Using Curcumin as a Natural Painkiller

Like the common NSAIDs (Non-steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs) Tylenol, Aspirin and Ibuprofen (among many others), curcumin supplements may be used as a natural anti-inflammatory alternative – and without incurring the threat of any grievous side-effects like those associated with its pharmaceutical counterparts. Inflamed tissues invoke the symptoms of pain, since the nerve endings involved are made sensitive to the onslaught of free-radical attack. 

In the event of injuries, the body may also engender an inflammatory response in the damaged tissues itself (usually in the form of a noticeable swelling); so as to evoke an instantaneous immune response from its white cell reserves. By using a range of anti-inflammatory agents, a patient can greatly tone down the functioning of his/her sensitive pain receptors, and continue with the reflexive wound-recovery process – without having to tolerate the usual accompanying pain. Apart from the curcumin contained within turmeric, fish oil, green tea, ginger, garlic and capsaicin (from bell-peppers) are all excellent sources of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds derived directly from nature.

Managing Cognitive Decline with Curcumin

Progressive cognitive decline often comes about as a corollary of longstanding systemic inflammation, and is of particular concern in the case of elderly subjects. Losing one’s ability to comprehend, recall and analytically resolve common day-to-day situations is an intensely worrying prospect not only for the individual(s) concerned, but also for his/her/their immediate associates and caretakers – an issue which leads to a considerable decline in the ‘quality-of-living’ standards of everyone concerned. In the case of neurodegenerative brain illnesses like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, as well as in generalized Dementia, patients are usually put on a ‘cocktail’ of prescription medications designed to retain their undamaged neurons; in the hope of preventing a complete dissolution of his/her sensory faculties. 

For such beleaguered individuals, using curcumin supplements as an add-on to their existing drug schedules can provide them with a definitive edge in the fight against the further progression of their disease. In this context, curcumin works by providing both pain-relief and defense against the barrage of neuro-toxic substances that manage to cross the protective blood-brain barrier, and attempt to target the mind’s struggling neurons.

A few Precautions…and some Advice

Although a complete account of curcumin-associated health benefits is too long to fully list here, the use of this natural medicinal compound is also correlated with a few safety concerns. Curcumin may interfere with anti-clotting prescriptions, and could result in excessive bleeding in the case of injuries.

This is why it may be important to discontinue its use at least a week prior to undergoing any invasive surgical procedure. Also, supplemental curcumin is generally not recommended for people with prior histories of gall/kidney stones. Like with all therapeutic preparations (of both synthetic and natural varieties), it is important to consult a certified medical practitioner before attempting to self-medicate with any curcumin/turmeric-containing health products.

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