Adapted from INFLAMED: discover the root cause of inflammation and personalize a step-by-step plan to create a vibrant, healthy life
Flip open the pages of any natural health magazine right now, and it seems that a magical, bright yellow pile of dust – turmeric – is staring back at you. But why is this spice suddenly in the spotlight, and how specifically can it help you?
Studies reveal that turmeric possesses substantial anti-inflammatory qualities – more on that in a minute. Before we get into those benefits, though, let’s talk about inflammation and the way it manifests in your day-to-day health.
When your body is taken over by inflammation, it can not only be debilitating, it can raise your risk for heart disease, diabetes, obesity, some cancers, mood and cognitive disorders, and is the source of autoimmune disease and many other chronic conditions. Because it’s an umbrella term for a condition with a whole host of outcomes, it can be hard to identify whether or not you’re experiencing it. However, research suggests that scores of us are.
Today, almost half of all Americans (and 50% of our children) live with some type of chronic health condition, and 38 million people across the globe die each year from preventable “lifestyle disease.” This begs the question: what preventions can we take to stave off these types of diseases? And outside of the obvious (don’t smoke, for example), what are some of the more subtle ways we place stressors on our bodies? This is where inflammation enters the equation.
Simply put, “inflammation” is the immune system’s response to a stimulus that is viewed as foreign or toxic to your body (also known as an antigen). Your immune system constantly monitors for anything that appears as a foreign intruder, like an infectious bacteria or other material, that shouldn’t be there, and is always at the ready to signal its highly-specialized troops of cells and molecules to attack and dispose of the foreign material.
Inflammation can play a positive role in our health as the primary defense mechanism against acute conditions — like when a fever fights off an infection, or blood rushes to a sprained ankle to help heal the tissue. It is an essential part of healing. But (and this is a big ‘but’), when your immune system is disrupted, it puts itself unnecessarily on constant defense, sending inflammation continually rippling throughout your body. In this state of chronic inflammation, it’s working against you instead of for you by switching focus from the antigen it’s supposed to attack, and instead launching a targeted strike on your own cells, tissues, or other harmless material.
FIGHTING INFLAMMATION NATURALLY
A common approach to fighting inflammation, especially with exclusive exposure to conventional medicine ideals, is that of inflammation management through quick-fix anti-inflammatory medications, such as NSAIDS (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs). These include prescription NSAIDS and over-the-counter ibuprofen and naproxen. But there’s a problem with this approach: it’s well supported in the research that this particular class of pain relievers is very damaging to your digestive system, and can increase the permeability of your gut. Our digestive system contains approximately 70% of our immune cells and serves to prevent inflammatory toxins from entering your bloodstream. So, when this protective barrier breaks down, it takes down your entire system with it. Prescription corticosteroids can also have the same effect.
Ironically (and unfortunately), these are commonly prescribed for autoimmune and other inflammatory conditions. But while taking away pain, they are actually worsening a primary root cause of inflammation: a leaky gut.
So what to do if you want to calm your body’s inflammation, and protect – or even improve – the integrity of your gut health?
Interestingly, both fish oil and curcumin have been found to be as effective for treating pain as NSAIDs in several studies. One of the most effective, natural anti-inflammatories out there is turmeric (active component: curcumin), the main spice in curry, and the reason mustard is yellow. It has more than two dozen anti-inflammatory compounds and its benefits have been widely studied. Turmeric has been shown to outperform many pharmaceuticals in its effective fight against several chronic, debilitating diseases with virtually no side effects, including: arthritis (including rheumatoid arthritis), fibromyalgia, Alzheimer’s disease, certain cancers, depression, inflammatory skin conditions, gallbladder and liver disorders, bronchitis, heartburn, and more.
So as the power of mighty turmeric makes its way into health headlines, know that this isn’t just any trendy super food. Slowly, we are coming to understand what other cultures have practiced for generations: that food can be medicine. Turmeric is one spice you can start weaving into your diet not only for its subtle, bitter flavor, but for its medicinal benefits, too. By taking small steps toward an anti-inflammatory lifestyle, you will set yourself up to cultivate sustained, vibrant health.
About Shelly Malone
A conventionally-trained, progressive-minded nutritionist, Shelly Malone has spent over 20 years working in the healthcare and nutrition industries.
She is the author of, INFLAMED: Discover the root cause of inflammation and personalize a step-by-step plan to create a healthy, vibrant life.
Shelly is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and a member of the Dietitians in Integrative and Functional Medicine practice group within the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She holds a B.S. in Nutritional Science from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and a Masters in Public Health (MPH) from UCLA, with a concentration in Nutrition. She is a Foundational Member of the Bioindividual Nutrition Institute and a Certified Bioindividual Nutrition Practitioner (CBNP).
Inspired by her own diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis and symptom management with diet and lifestyle for nearly a decade, she is on a mission to help others understand and reap the benefits of an anti-inflammatory lifestyle.
Opening Photo, Osha Key