To most people in India, the tasty, bright yellow spice turmeric is affectionately known as “the kitchen queen” because everyone there uses it in cooking. It’s, of course, the main spice in any curry dish. And it has long been my favorite spice in a hearthealthy diet plan. (Find out about five heart healthy seasonings I love to cook with.) Why? Because turmeric contains a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound called curcumin.
The Scientific Scoop
Researchers attribute an impressive list of heart-health benefits to curcumin. In one study, researchers at the University of Toronto found that curcumin blocks a wide range of biochemical reactions involved in cardiac hypertrophy (enlargement of the heart chambers), inflammation and fibrosis. In another study, investigators at Japan’s Kyoto Medical Center found that curcumin helps support healthy blood pressure in addition to preventing cardiac hypertrophy.
Curcumin has also been found to reduce the excess platelet aggregation that occurs in sticky, clot-forming blood. And it appears that curcumin helps keep NF-kappa B production, a protein complex involved in the body’s inflammatory reactions, in check. Elevated NF-kappa B production has been linked to cancer as well as inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.
The Heart-Healthy Diet Plan
Since inflammation is the root cause of so many conditions, including heart disease, curcumin’s well-established anti-inflammatory abilities make it an important component in a hearthealthy diet plan. That’s why I cook with plenty of turmeric, and suggest you do the same.
Using Supplemental Curcumin
You may also want to consider supplementing with curcumin in addition to your hearthealthy diet plan. If so, it’s important to keep in mind that curcumin in supplement form tends to pass quickly through the gastrointestinal tract without being fully absorbed, meaning you miss out on much of its health benefits. But there is a curcumin extract called Meriva, which uses a patented technology called phytosome encapsulation that solves this problem.
The process involves wrapping a small quantity of turmeric extract in a thin layer of phosphatidylcholine (PC), a component of soy. This ingenious wrapping increases the absorption of turmeric by up to 45 times, so a little bit of curcumin here becomes the equivalent of a much larger dose of ordinary curcumin.
Think of this concept as a chaperone that shuttles curcumin through the intestinal wall and into the bloodstream on the other side. I like this approach a lot. The same technology has also been shown to improve the absorption of green tea, lysine and other compounds as well. That’s why Meriva is my favorite form of supplemental curcumin.