Houston: The humble turmeric or `Haldi`, an essential ingredient in Indian cuisine also has substantial health benefits and medicinal properties that can fight diseases like cancer, diabetes and inflammation, Indian-origin doctors in the US have claimed.
Curcumin, a phenol responsible for making turmeric yellow, does much more than provide numerous Indian dishes with that particular tint, according to Saraswati Sukumar of Johns Hopkins Medicine, who, along with colleague Anirban Maitra, is studying the organic compound`s health benefits.
Turmeric has been used widely in Indian cooking for thousands of years, and, in the past two decades, hundreds of studies have determined curcumin helps fight arthritic inflammation, reduces cancer risk and slows the onset of diabetes, said Sukumar, co-director of the breast cancer programme at Johns Hopkins.
Curcumin is a potent inhibitor of inflammation, which can exacerbate rheumatoid arthritis and spur cancerous growths, according to Sukumar.
The compound inhibits a molecule called NF-kB that plays a key role in initiating inflammation.
"What curcumin does is blunt this pathway. That`s how it is able to mediate its effect," Sukumar said.
Consuming curcumin also has been shown to repair skin damage caused by radiation therapy for cancer, she said.
Maitra, Sukumar`s colleague, began working a few years ago on a water-soluble form of curcumin that can be taken in pill form.
That formulation is still in the experimental stages.
The body doesn`t readily absorb curcumin so a person has to consume several grams of curcumin a day to get the health benefits, Sukumar said.
Pills containing unaltered curcumin are on the market.
"The other way, the preferable way, is to add (turmeric) to everything you cook," Sukumar said.
"The spice doesn`t add a lot of taste to the food, but it adds a colour," she said.
To get the full benefits, dissolve turmeric in warm oil and add it to foods, she said.
With an estimated 26 million people diagnosed with diabetes, Sukumar said curcumin can also be a great benefit in fighting the metabolic disease.