Change is slow in Uganda. Traditions are still strong, but I have seen some things change in the 3 years I’ve been coming here.
One of my major goals in equatorial Africa is to search out healing plants. In the past, I’ve traveled far and wide to find just a few of these traditional medicinal herbs.
But now, it seems to have become a sought after crop for local farmers. I don’t even have to go beyond the hills surrounding Kampala.
I’m talking about turmeric, the tall leafy plants whose roots are the source for the spice curcumin, which has powerful healing properties.
You may remember me writing about my friend Westi in Bali growing six different kinds of turmeric. And that was the widest variety I’ve seen.
But turmeric is an excellent example of how different cultures can come to use the same plants for the same purposes independent of each other. Something I look for in my travels…
As the world becomes more connected this process is rapidly becoming replaced with a process of sharing and copying success. And because 80% of the world still uses herbs for healing, when word gets around that a plant is valuable as a healing agent, I start seeing it in more places.
Turmeric has remarkable properties. It looks like a stubby, ugly carrot wrapped in a brownish wrapper. When you cut it open, the flesh of the root is a bright orange. It’s aromatic and so are the leaves.
A local tradition in Bali is to use the leaves to make Dragonfly soup, which I’ll tell you about in my upcoming book Healing Herbs of Paradise.
In Uganda, they grind the dried root into a fine powder for their tonics, and it helps promote healthy inflammatory response all over your body.
You see, curcumin suppress nuclear factor kappa b (NF-κB) activation.
Why is that important?
NF-κB is an inflammatory protein. It can cause you to produce COX-2 and iNOS, two enzymes you might already know of that are present in inflammation. So if you inhibit NF-κB, you can maintain a healthy inflammatory response.
That means soothing for your joints, normal muscle function, and even a healthy weight.1
In one study from India, one of the few places in the world where they intensely study turmeric, they found that people who took 1200 mg a day had less joint swelling, less joint stiffness, and could walk much better than those who got none.2
An animal study I read from the University of South Carolina that looked at curcumin’s effects on inflammation and performance recovery.
They divided male mice into four groups and had them run. The four groups either got a placebo and went uphill or downhill, or curcumin and went uphill or downhill.
To me, the most interesting results were from ones that ran downhill. It’s a different kind of movement from normal “forward” motion because you use a whole different set of muscles. As I would have predicted, the placebo mice got very tired very quickly running downhill.
But the curcumin-fed mice helped return the mice’s running performance to normal levels. It also offset inflammation created by the downhill running.3
To get the benefits of this impressive root, you can:
- Buy the root: You can buy it in conventional ground form, or whole. I prefer to get whole turmeric root because it’s delicious in soups and stir fry. If you’re going to buy it ground, make sure it’s all turmeric and not just some of the root ground up with curry.
- Take it as a supplement: Studies use up to 3 grams of extracted root daily. But there are some who believe that turmeric supplements aren’t as effective because they either aren’t absorbed very well or pass through your system too quickly.
Look for either a curcumin supplement that contains piperine, a black pepper extract that increases the absorbency of other compounds, or the optimized form of turmeric that is more absorbable.
I recommend you get about a gram of turmeric’s major compound curcumin each day, to get the most benefit.
Remember that the curcumin is the main beneficial component of turmeric root, so look for at least 90% or greater curcuminoids, whichever formula you use.
1. Jurenka S. “Anti-inflammatory Properties of Curcumin, a Major Constituent of Curcuma longa: A Review of Preclinical and Clinical Research.” Alternative Medicine Review 2009; Volume 14, Number 2.
2. Deodhar S. “Preliminary study on antirheumatic activity of curcumin (diferuloyl methane).” Indian J Med Res. 1980;71:632-4
3. Davis J. “Curcumin effects on inflammation and performance recovery following eccentric exercise-induced muscle damage.”, Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2007:R2168-73.