Ayurveda's herbs // Turmeric

Abstract cancer cells

Turmeric truly is Ayurveda's wonder herb.1 

One of the most commonly prescribed.

We know you’ve met this guy before. It is...

You probably also know that turmeric is a much loved spice in the Ayurveda. So loved that has been a hallmark ingredient in every pantry, homemade beauty product and medicinal paste (called lepa, pronounced like pepper but with an 'L') for thousands of years in Ayurvedic households.

Here's your scientific low down.
Class (yes plants have classes): Monocotyledonae.
Order: Zingiberales.
Family (yes plants also have families): Zingiberaceae.
Genus: Curcuma.
Species: Curcuma longa.

Translation: Yellow coloured root belonging to the ginger family. AKA: the Golden Spice (for your m-y-l-k) and source of curcumin (in the capsule on your shelf).

Instead we would like to take the little fragments of scientific findings that are being bandied about and piece them together where they belong – within their traditional context.

Here’s a little back story to get your brain ticking like a Modern Ayurvedic.

There are 4590 scientific papers on turmeric in our go-to repository.
The earliest backdates to 1876.2
It is a letter to the editor of the “Indian Medical Gazette”. It was written in response to trials where the plant-derived alkaloid quinine was injected directly into the urethra to treat Gonorrhoea. Um. OUCH.

The (Ayurvedic) author puts forward a simple alternative. 'Drink ground turmeric dissolved in warm water with a pinch of sugar daily at dawn for one week to clear up the infection.' My science brain looks at this and is dying to know:
a) is this for real and
b) which part of turmeric contains the miracle cure

We have spent 142 years and 1 month since then picking turmeric to pieces (literally) trying to nut out (isolate and bottle) the active constituents. Curcumin has gotten the most attention. It is a phenylpropanoid that packs a punch, but has poor bioavailability. That means not much enters the blood stream. If it cannot enter the bloodstream then it cannot act on bodily tissues.

Lots of work has gone into optimising (chemically modifying) curcumin extracts to improve their bioavailability. These efforts have been deemed an outrageous success. You will, no doubt, be charged a premium for your curcumin to be chemically modified. There is no contesting that science is smart, but it overlooks a few founding Ayurvedic principles. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts, and Mother Nature is also damn smart.

The Ayurvedic treatment in the medical gazette is not just about the active constituents. Hell, it is not even just about the turmeric.Every detail in the prescription counts.
The condition of the patient.
The turmeric.
The sugar.
The warm water.
The dose.
The timing of taking the ‘medicine’.

Ayurveda is not about instant fixes and brash attacks. She is too gentle and clever for that. The turmeric elixir was designed to promote a shift in the internal environment. A shift that renders it infertile to the disease-causing bacteria. This line of treatment is what make Ayurvedic medicine so effective. To cure a disease you make the landscape impenetrable to its growth. Simple as that.

Now that we have built turmeric up we can break it down.

The percentage composition of curcumin in turmeric is 1-9% depending on climate. Just a reminder, curcumin is a phenylpropanoid that is commonly misrepresented as the silver bullet found in turmeric.

BUT turmeric contains other phenylpropanoids, as well as essential oils. These are sesquiterpene ketones, zingiberine and phellandrene. It also contains alkaloids and glycans. Not to mention the resins, proteins, vitamins and other minerals.

This is not a phtyochemistry lesson (I know, I almost lost you) but many of these have therapeutic potential. The bonus is that you do not need to know the scientific ins and outs to get a conceptual understanding.

According to Ayurveda turmeric is pungent, bitter and astringent in taste. Of the six tastes of Ayurveda, these three benefit Kapha dosha. If you have a Kapha imbalance, then a dose of turmeric will do you great.

ALL of these tastes aggravate Vata in excess. So if you have a Vata imbalance, then turmeric is not the best.

Pitta is balanced with bitter and astringent tastes. However, some Pitta conditions are made worse by the pungent taste and volatile quality of turmeric. This is especially true if it is taken in excess.

The volatility comes from the oil component, which acts an absorptive aid or a carrying agent. Ayurvedics would say it confers the 'sthira' (mobile) quality of turmeric. So, you see, turmeric itself has natural compounds that improve its bioavailability.

Do you want to know something crazy? One 'bioenhanced' preparation of curcumin simply added back the components that are normally found in turmeric root to the curcumin.3

Boom. Just like that. Put curcumin in its natural environment and it can be better used by the body.

Let’s take the bioavailability a step further. Turmeric is traditionally paired with either black or long pepper in Ayurveda to enhance its potency. It is now well known that piperine (in the peppers) enhances the bioavailability of curcumin by around 2000%.4

So if you want the maximum benefit of turmeric then a perfectly good way to have it is as nature made it. Did you even know your turmeric latte was oh-so Ayurvedic? Well, perhaps not having one e-v-e-r-y-d-a-y.
Turmeric lattes are better than coffee, hands down. The warming property of a turmeric latte nurtures digestion. While turmeric is mildly acidic, it has nothing on coffee. It is also a better choice than a cold smoothie, especially in winter. Ayurveda says smoothies are like a wet blanket to the metabolic fire.

Sounds it.
But not really.

Not when you know your Ayurvedic constitution and have learned to read the language of the doshas in your body. Need help with that?

Head over to our bookings page and schedule your free initial phone consult.

MA // Modern Ayurvedic TM

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1. Pole, Sebastian. Ayurvedic Medicine: The Principles of Traditional Practice. Churchill Livingston; 2006. 282-283.

2. Ally, B. Turmeric Flower as a Remedy for Gonorrhœa. Ind Med Gaz. 1876; 11(10) 273.

3. Antony, B. et al. A Pilot Cross-Over Study to Evaluate Human Oral Bioavailability of BCM-95 CG (Biocurcumax), A Novel Bioenhanced Preparation of Curcumin. Indian J Pharm Sci. 2008 Jul-Aug; 70(4):445-449.

4. Shoba, G. et al. Influence of piperine on the pharmacokinetics of curcumin in animals and human volunteers. Planta Med. 1998 May; 64(4):353-6.

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