Turmeric – anti-inflammatory gold

This column is written by Stig Bengmark – professor emeritus, researcher, lecturer and author. Read more of Stig’s columns here.

Abuse your own genes and your bacteria’s genes, and chronic inflammation is likely to follow

Several of the texts on this website contain information on how our lifestyle adversely affects our immune system, which causes our bodies to go into a “prepared for the worst” mode called chronic inflammation – the mother of almost all of our illnesses. You can also read about how our consumption of highly heated foods – fried, grilled, roasted and baked – causes us to store inflammation-promoting proteins in the body’s cells, which usually remain in the body for many years (sometimes forever). Soot, in principle, never leaves the body, and those with kidney and lung disease – especially those with COPD – often have elevated AGE/ALE, which may explain, among other things, the lethargy they often feel, often in parallel with a lack of vitamin D.

Human beings have about 25,000 genes, of which about 5% (1,200 -1300 genes) are involved in the control of inflammation. Add to this the 3-9 million genes that are contained in our “resident flora”– especially in the gut – which also play a major role in controlling the level of chronic inflammation in our bodies. If we picture our genes as something like a super piano with 25,000 keys, the “inflammation symphony” that is played is entirely dependent on how you treat/abuse your piano keys – the more strain you place on them with bad food, lack of exercise and stress, the worse it becomes. Some of us are more sensitive while others have more robust “keys,” – some of us get sick easily and others more seldom.

Antioxidants have an anti-inflammatory effect

It is likely that more or less all antioxidants have the ability to make the keys wear out “slower” and thus “fight” the harmful effects. Here is a list of dried spices with the strongest antioxidant power (also called ORAC value):

Cloves (315000)

Oregano (201000)

Turmeric (160000)

Caraway (77000)

Parsley (74000)

Curry (48500)

Mustard seed (29500)

Ginger (29000)

Black pepper (27600)

To date, the queen of all plant-derived antioxidants has been turmeric, probably because it is the only one that has been studied extensively enough – it has been used in folk medicine for thousands of years – but it is completely possible that if the other foods on the list above were fully studied, they would be found to have similar effects. Turmeric is a root that looks quite similar to ginger, but smaller and bright yellow in colour. The ancient Indian system of medicine, Ayurveda, has used turmeric for thousands of years to treat various internal and external diseases.

The development of biologicals – drugs with the ability to inhibit inflammation

At the end of the last century, the pharmaceutical companies realised the opportunities that would be presented to them if they could curb chronic inflammation by inhibiting/subduing the effects of inflammation-promoting genes, and the pursuit of inflammation inhibitors began. This group of drugs was collectively given name biologicals, and since the task of inhibiting all of the 1,200-1,300 genes seemed impossible, they focused on the particularly strong inflammation-promoting genes, such as COX-2. But much to their dismay – they found that all of the drugs taken to inhibit COX-2 were more or less toxic and could results in death by stroke and heart attack – several drugs had to be withdrawn and several pharmaceutical companies were required to pay billions in damages. It is estimated that at one point there were approximately 25,000 claims filed against the companies from individuals and relatives who suffered injury from the products.

Plants and beneficial bacteria have the same effects. I call them eco-biologicals

Now comes the good news – turmeric is not just a completely non-toxic COX-2 inhibitor, it can actually control more or less all of the 1,200-1,300 inflammation-promoting genes (something that high-quality probiotics also do – turmeric and probiotics work incredibly well together).

Gurkmeja krönika - Stig Bengmark

Turmeric contains over 20 different substances that cooperate to serve this function – called curcuminoids. The dominant curcuminoid and captain of the team – Zlatan – is called curcumin, but the others are all just as important. Curcumin can be purchased in capsule form, ingested through spice powder (use one heaping tablespoon per day) or fresh turmeric if you get your hands on it.

New research on turmeric is constantly coming out

As we all know, clinical studies on the effects of different preparations cost a lot of money, and only big pharmaceutical companies that bring in large sums of money for their preparations have the resources for this. When it comes to preparations such as turmeric and probiotics, there is generally a lack of funding to pay for the research, and thus far, society has shown little interest in supporting this kind of research. Therefore, the research done on these substances to date, with a few exceptions, has been done on animals. Still, there are a great number of researchers investigating the secrets that turmeric holds, and they are increasing in number all the time – especially in India, where they already have over a thousand years of experience using turmeric. At the University of Houston in the US, there is a centre that is exclusively concerned with turmeric; the image below lists the diseases they hope to someday prevent and treat with turmeric/curcumin.

Experience to date has shown that turmeric:

  • Inhibits allergies
  • Improves arthritis
  • Prevents/reduces atherosclerosis
  • Slows the aging process
  • Prevents/slows the growth of cancer
  • Prevents/improves diabetes
  • Prevents/improves skin conditions
  • Prevents/improves infection
  • Prevents/improves liver disease
  • Prevents/improves lung and respiratory diseases
  • Prevents/improves gastrointestinal diseases
  • Prevents/improves oral disease/periodontitis
  • Prevents/improves neurodegenerative diseases
  • Prevents/improves pancreatic disorders
  • Prevents/improves musculoskeletal diseases
  • Prevents/improves tobacco-induced diseases
  • Prevents/improves eye diseases

So, how do we get turmeric in our diet?

If you are going to use it in powder form, you will need some additional ingredients as the body has difficulty absorbing turmeric adequately. Absorption is improved by adding a little chili pepper and/or black pepper (as much as you handle but no more than ¼ teaspoon), which facilitates absorption and boosts the overall antioxidant effect as these spices and are strong antioxidants and anti-inflammatory substances in their own right. [New research also shows that different types of fat solutions facilitate the absorption of turmeric, as curcumin (a substance in turmeric) is a fat-soluble substance.] / Red

Your body can easily handle fresh turmeric, so you can simply dice it and add it directly to your salad. In India, people generally scrub down a couple of dozen roots (enough for a week) and put them in a glass jar with half lemon and half water. Indians have told me that they can easily chew down 2-3 turmeric roots every day.

Now, I would like to wrap up this column with a recipe for our turmeric drink, which we drink whenever we do not have access to fresh turmeric. We drink this cocktail every morning with tea instead of breakfast, and it keeps hunger at bay until lunch.

Turmeric shot

(1 glass)

½ – 1 glass fruit juice (choose a juice with low sugar content)

1 heaped tbsp turmeric powder

Up to ¼ tsp cayenne pepper

2 tsp Ceylon cinnamon

1 tsp cumin

1 pinch clove powder

½ – 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

1 tsp lemon juice


Bengmark S. Curcumin, an atoxic antioxidant and natural NFkappaB, cyclooxygenase-2, lipooxygenase, and inducible nitric oxide synthase inhibitor: a shield against acute and chronic diseases. JPEN J Parenter Enteral Nutr. 2006;30:45-51

Bengmark S. Plant-derived Health-Effects of Turmeric and Curcumenoids. Kuwait Medical Journal 2006, 38 (4): 267-275

Bengmark S. Control of systemic inflammation and chronic disease – the use of turmeric and curcumenoids. In Nutrigenomics and proteonomics in health and disease. Food factors and gene interaction. Edited by Y Mine, K Miyashita, F Shahidi, Wiley-Blackwell 2009

Prasad S et al Curcumin, a component of golden spice: From bedside to bench and back Biotechnology Advances, 2014;32:1053–1064

Professor Bharat B Aggarwal discusses curcumin http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zht2Q5D0RdY

The benefits of curcumin http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZHu280-mf7E


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