Turmeric (curcuma longa) is an ancient Indian spice that belongs to the wider ginger family. It has been used in medicinal and culinary traditions for thousands of years.
Modern research has discovered a variety of incredible health benefits that are associated with consuming turmeric regularly.
This wonder-spice has been scientifically proven to improve cognitive ability, lower the risk of heart disease, help reduce the effects of arthritis, help reduce the incidence and severity of depression and even delay the effects of aging!
It is also a powerful anti-inflammatory and increases antioxidant activity within the body (more on that in a moment).1
However, some of turmeric's most valuable health properties are the ones that don't get spoken about as much.
A Bit Of Background...
Before we dive into the science, here’s a fun fact.
In the traditional Sanskrit language of India, turmeric has at least 53 different names, some of which are pretty interesting!
Check these out...
Jayanti (one that wins over diseases), Bhadra (auspicious or lucky), Jawarantika (which cures fevers), Krimighni or Kashpa (killer of worms and parasites), Rabhangavasa (which dissolves fat), Gauri (to make fair), Hridayavilasini (gives delight to the heart) & Varna Datri (enhancer of body complexion).2
The ancient Indians seemed to be quite aware of turmeric’s health benefits and they had some really beautiful words to describe them.
Ok, Now For The Science...
So what makes turmeric valuable in the context of detoxification?
Turmeric is incredibly complex. So far scientists have been able to isolate over 100 different compounds from this incredible spice!
The queen of these compounds is an active ingredient called “curcumin”. It’s responsible for the deep yellow/orange colour that my kitchen bench is stained with, as well as providing most of the incredible health benefits that turmeric is known for.
In terms of detoxification support, turmeric has been proven to contain powerful antioxidants, support phase 2 enzyme production, help chelate heavy metals & boost bile production.
Here’s a quick look at each of these benefits, and why they’re so crucial to the detoxification process.
1. Turmeric Contains Powerful Antioxidants
During phase 1 of detoxification, your body produces natural by-products known as “free radicals”. You can read more about that here, but to cut a long story short, free radicals cause oxidative damage, which is believed to be one of the mechanisms behind aging and many chronic diseases. The solution to this problem is to make sure you’re consuming a healthy variety of antioxidants.
The curcumin found in turmeric is a potent antioxidant that has the ability to neutralize free radicals, due to its chemical structure. Additionally, curcumin actually boosts the activity of your body's own antioxidant enzymes, which essentially delivers extra reinforcements in the fight against free radicals.3
2. Turmeric Activates Crucial Phase 2 Detoxification Enzymes
Phase 2 of detoxification is a super complex process, involving multiple pathways.
You can read our short summary of it here, but basically, one of the pathways is called “glucuronidation”, and its job is to processes excess hormones as well as a number of external toxins, including drugs, chemicals, environmental toxins & dietary substances.
This is a big deal, and we should be doing anything we can to assist the function of this pathway.
Studies have found that turmeric significantly increases the concentration of the enzymes that are involved in glucuronidation.4
Heavy Metal Chelation
Heavy metals are a direct threat to human health, and 4 in particular (lead, mercury, cadmium & arsenic) have been added to the World Health Organisation’s “Top 10 Chemicals of Major International Public Health Concern” list.
In some animal studies, curcumin has been found to have a “chelating” effect on lead & cadmium, which essentially means that it binds to these metals and helps expel them from the body. This helps to protect against a whole host of health issues that these toxic metals are associated with (more on that here).5
Bile production is an important part of the body’s natural detoxification process.
Bile has two main roles in the body:
1. To help eliminate waste products from the body
2. To support the breakdown and absorption of fats & fat-soluble vitamins.
Turmeric is a cholagogue, which means it has the ability to stimulate bile production and excretion, which helps get rid of the compounds from phase 2 of the detoxification process.6
Consuming turmeric is an amazing step towards better health, however, curcumin is poorly absorbed by the body on its own.
So here's a scientifically proven "hack" - when curcumin is combined with black pepper, the bioavailability increases up to 20 times, due to pepper’s active ingredient, piperine.7
So try to add black pepper every time you consume turmeric!