- Extract from curcumin — a chemical found in turmeric — could prevent or treat non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, according to results of a study on rats done by researchers at the Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans Hospital in Columbia, Missouri. The findings were published in the journal Physiological Reports.
- In the study, rats were exposed to a "Western diet" high in fat, sugar and cholesterol — complete with sweetened drinking water. Some also got curcumin extract. Those with the extract showed less liver inflammation, fewer molecular markers for fatty liver disease, and not as much of an imbalance between free radicals in the body and antioxidants to neutralize them.
- Shavon Jackson-Michel, director of medical & scientific affairs at turmeric extract manufacturer DolCas Biotech, said in a press release the findings were "especially significant" because there are not many conventional treatments for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. The condition is thought to affect almost a third of the population.
Turmeric, which is a common source of curcumin, is hailed as a miracle ingredient. This study adds to the root's reputation. Curcumin is thought to decrease inflammation, so the spice that comes from the ground yellow root is used to treat or prevent several conditions. According to WebMD, it's used to treat arthritis, heartburn, diarrhea, Alzheimer's disease, ulcers, fever and cancer.
The vibrant yellow spice adds a distinct flavor to food, and is popular not just for health benefits, but for the color it brings. In 2016, there was a 21% increase of new product launches containing turmeric. The ground root, which is a major component in curry powder, now lends its health halo to everything from coffee to chocolate. In Google's 2016 analysis of web searches dealing with food and beverage, turmeric was a "rising star." In just 12 months, search interest in the ingredient jumped 56%, and YouTube videos on the golden spice — mostly on its health benefits — logged 3.9 million views.
As benefits of curcumin continue to be found, turmeric will likely start turning up in more places. This is both good and bad news. While turmeric is generally safe in most normal quantities, the spice tends to have a bitter taste. It's good as a savory addition to some products, but it can be difficult to hide the taste in items on the sweeter end of the spectrum. While international tastes are trending, products spiced with turmeric are likely to be popular. Still, there is likely to be a limit to how much of it consumers want to eat.
The spice, which often comes from India, also is often linked to lead contamination. Turmeric powder comes from grinding a root, and has not been found to naturally contain lead. A Harvard researcher examined soil to see if it might be the source of the contamination. Her report was inconclusive, but health experts say the lead may get into the spice through processing, and it has been rumored that lead might be added as a matter of course to give the powder more weight.
While the health benefits of the root may outweigh the risks, manufacturers should be careful to select turmeric from sources that have been found to be pure. They also should consider taste and saturation when adding it to products. Turmeric can add zip to some products, but it may take it away from others, making them something consumers steer clear of — despite the health benefits.