How does turmeric work as an antioxidant?

Sunita Mohan
Alternative & Complementary Medicine

Turmeric is the main spice in Ayurvedic cooking. It contains the flavonoid curcumin, which has anti-inflammatory properties. This spice helps detoxify the liver, balance cholesterol levels, fight allergies, stimulate digestion, boost immunity and enhance the complexion. It is also an antioxidant. Ayurveda recognizes it as a heating spice. Turmeric is a bright yellow-orange spice, and, is used in tiny quantities; this spice imparts a rich color and look to cooked white rice, potatoes or yellow lentils. Add it to the water in which rice or lentils are being cooked. It combines well with other spices such as cumin, coriander, cayenne pepper and cinnamon. Turmeric can also stain clothes and surfaces, so be careful when using it.

Distinguished by its yellow color and an ingredient in mustard and curry, turmeric is a spice used in cooking, the dyeing of cloths and for its medicinal value as a powerful antioxidant. A substance in turmeric known as curcumin is what gives it the ability to neutralize free radicals. So what does this mean exactly and why does it matter?

As we breathe, our bodies take in oxygen and expel carbon dioxide, along with molecules called free radicals, resulting in oxidation. These free radicals work on the insides of our bodies like air works on a piece of metal left outside, causing it to rust over time. While this is a necessary, natural process, the damage inflicted on our cells can be slowed down by eating foods with antioxidants.

Molecules of free radicals are unstable because they need one more electron to complete their outer shell. They are constantly seeking another molecule to grab its electron in order to stabilize. When they do this it creates a chain reaction-as one molecule stabilizes, another becomes unstable and this natural process breaks down the inside of our bodies. Curcumin in turmeric like other antioxidants can slow down this process by neutralizing these molecules.

Antioxidants like curcumin hunt down free radicals and stabilize these molecules. If a chain reaction has already begun, antioxidants can stop it. Thus, this degenerative biological process in our bodies can be decelerated and turmeric is a good dietary source of antioxidants.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.