The Benefits and Contraindications of Juicing Turmeric
by David Mioduski, L.Ac.
Turmeric, scientifically known as “curcuma longa”, has a long history of medicinal and culinary use, and can be readily obtained as a fresh root from Asian type grocers around the world. The medicinal value is tremendously increased when it is used as a fresh juice, as opposed to the dried powder commonly used in Indian cooking and curries. Its taste is much milder in terms of spiciness compared to its relatives ginger and galangal, and although it is considered warming to the body, it is generally more balanced and tolerated much better as far as taste and heating properties. If one searches turmeric, or the main active substance in turmeric known as curcumin (only one compound of many in a group called “curcuminoids”), one will find thousands of research articles on the clinical applications and scientific reasons underlying the medicinal value of this substance. The benefits include the alleviation of symptoms related to pain and inflammation, especially arthritis and joint related diseases, cancers including breast, colon, pancreatic, skin, and prostate cancer, hemorrhoids, Alzheimer’s disease, gastro-intestinal disorders, as an anti-microbial to treat various infections, heart disease, inflammatory skin conditions like psoriasis, external ulcers and acne, as an anti-aging and anti-oxidant to help the liver and other toxic conditions, eye diseases including conjunctivitis and cataracts, and as an anti-depressant. The U.S. National Institutes of Health currently has registered 19 clinical trials underway to study use of dietary turmeric and curcumin for a variety of clinical disorders (dated February 2010). Its effects as an anti-inflammatory are well documented, and it is known that turmeric, or more specifically curcumin, acts very similarly to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) by inhibiting the arachidonic acid (AA) cascade, a pathway of fatty acid metabolism which builds precursors to prostaglandins, or compounds which cause inflammation in the body.
By utilizing the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) model, one can gain a more thorough understanding of how to properly use turmeric as a medicine for specific conditions which manifest in specific individuals. According to the principles of TCM, one must treat the individual and not the condition or the disease. Ten different people diagnosed with the same disease, say pancreatic cancer, may have ten different diagnoses according to TCM, leading to ten different treatment protocols tailored to each individual patient. Although many herbs and acupuncture points may overlap in this treatment protocol, it is the custom tailoring of the treatment which accelerates the healing process and MOST IMPORTANTLY avoids any unwanted and unnecessary side effects which are often present when herbs or food are used as therapy by untrained individuals. This can include doctors, naturopaths, nutritionists, and other health “experts” who only use the western model of medicine and try to treat a specific disease or condition with the same strategy for every patient, not taking into consideration their unique individual constitution. Maybe, if they have some training in herbal medicine, they will say turmeric is contra-indicated (not to be used) for pregnant women, as it can stimulate the uterus into contraction, thus causing premature birth, or miscarriage. In cases of pregnancy, it is very wise to take the conservative approach and avoid anything which might cause complications. With this in mind, an experienced TCM herbalist could still utilize the benefits of turmeric in small doses, in COMBINATION with other herbs in a balanced FORMULATION, without even slightly inducing pregnancy or creating any imbalance whatsoever. This comes from a long history of clinical experience administering herbal formulations to thousands of pregnant women over a long period of time and observing and documenting the outcome of the treatment. But for our purposes we will say to avoid turmeric while pregnant.
Another contra-indication for the use of turmeric is in the case of gallstones, or bile duct obstruction. This is a great example of misunderstanding the effects of turmeric on the body. In TCM, turmeric is specific for invigorating the movement of blood and “energy” in the body, specifically in the Liver and Gallbladder systems. Although this includes the organs known to us in the west as the liver and gallbladder, it also includes a pathway of energy circulating throughout the whole body, interconnecting with other organs and systems, and having the effect of general movement of blood everywhere in the body. It includes interconnections between the organs and the brain, and the delivery of specific hormones and neurotransmitters which affect not only the liver and gallbladder, but the digestion in general, our emotions and appetite, the elimination of toxins in the body, and on and on. If you isolate the body according to systems like digestive, neurological, vascular, etc. you loose the interconnectedness inherent in the way the body truly functions. Turmeric can stimulate the gallbladder to secrete bile, and in the case of somebody with gallstones this can be beneficial if used in a balanced formulation specific to the individual. The most likely reason that turmeric is considered by some to be avoided in the case of gallstones or bile duct obstruction is that, if used alone in moderate to high dosages, it can aggravate the symptoms, namely pain in the abdomen/chest area, by stimulating the functions of these organs and the movement of bile through the duct. If there is obstruction from stones, one must add substances which also help to dissolve the stones and aid in promoting elimination via urination and/or bowels. By slowly and gently promoting the movement of bile and adding other herbs to treat the person’s unique imbalances one achieves a balanced and therapeutic effect using turmeric in formulation, thus avoiding the creation or addition of pain. Say for instance you add substances which promote the building of enzymes, bile salts, and stomach acid for someone who has poor and incomplete digestion in general, which is actually in part the ROOT CAUSE of the gallstones to begin with. So, for practical purposes of this article, we will say if you have gallbladder, or bile duct related problems like gallstones or bile duct obstruction, avoid the self administration of turmeric and seek an experienced TCM herbalist to assist you with a proper formulation, which may include turmeric.
People who are taking anti-platelet or anti-coagulant (blood thinning) drugs such as warfarin (Coumadin), heparin, etc. should avoid taking turmeric as it also has the effects of “thinning” or moving the blood. Something to consider are the negative side effects of taking pharmaceutical drugs in general. Coumadin is known to be eliminated through the body mainly via the liver. Most pharmaceuticals are known to be toxic to the liver and/or kidneys, and weaken these organs, especially when taken over a long period of time (months to years). Many people who are on such anticoagulant drugs have the alternative to seek herbal therapy as a method of treatment for such conditions as atrial fibrillation (heart beat irregularities) or deep vein thrombosis (blood clots) in the legs. Those who are on such medications for prevention purposes (the majority of people) are in an even better position to replace the drug with an herbal formulation which actually improves the health of the liver and the person as a whole, as opposed to weakening the liver and creating a weaker organism at the expense of “prevention” in the western sense. Again, we are not advocating stopping a course of therapy prescribed by a physician, but perhaps looking into alternatives under the guidance of an acupuncturist/ Chinese medicine herbalist.
Turmeric is also known to stimulate gastric acid secretion and promote digestion. In the case of gastric or duodenal ulcers, creating more acid in the digestive tract could worsen the situation. If there is bleeding from the ulcer, then turmeric could further worsen the problem by causing even more bleeding, as it has been discussed that turmeric promotes blood flow. Most ulcers are linked to the bacteria “helicobacter pylori” or H. pylori which are eating away at the lining of the stomach or other mucus membrane of the GI tract. In TCM the approach might be to firstly determine the presence of such bacteria, treat it via antibiotic or other appropriate formula, and then treat the ROOT by strengthening the immune system so the body can fight off any recurrence of this infection. Another common factor which can aggravate the ulcer is the recurrent use of NSAIDS, aspirin, ibuprofen, and other pain killers. In this case, looking at the root cause of the pain and treating it is preferable to continually taking pain meds and merely suppressing the symptoms. Stress is also now seen as contributing to the formation and development of the ulcer by increasing the acid state in the stomach and body in general. In the TCM view, these are all symptoms associated with a deeper underlying ROOT CAUSE which varies for each individual. Often times it comes from a deficiency of the digestive abilities which lead to weak immunity and overall lack of energy. In fact, over-worrying can lead to digestive weakness over time and vice versa… a lot of worrying can take energy away from the digestive functions of the body. The treatment of digestive weakness is a topic in and of itself, and beyond the scope of this article. But remember that merely taking herbal supplements which improve digestion is usually not sufficient to put the body back into long term balance, and often requires a course of treatment by a qualified practitioner.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), turmeric, also known as “Jiang Huang”, is known to help circulate the blood via activating and promoting proper liver function. This is a large part of why it can be included in a formula to treat depression. In TCM, anger and depression which is out of proportion to any given situation is viewed in part as an improper functioning of the “liver organ system”. In the western sense, turmeric’s role as an antioxidant is well known and documented. Much of this takes place in the liver. What is an antioxidant? It is a nutrient like a vitamin, mineral, enzyme, or other bioactive substance which reduces oxidative stress in the body. This oxidative stress or “oxidation” is the result of harmful molecules which pull electrons from “healthy” molecules, and in the process break chemical bonds of normally healthy cells and tissue. Basically you can look at it as a chemically harmful process that takes place on a molecular level. These oxidative molecules are a normal part of metabolism in small amounts, but these days our toxic world has made them much more prevalent due to chemicals in our food, water, and air as well as electromagnetic effects of modern technology. So basically we need as many antioxidants in our diet as we can get to combat this added stress from our environment. Internal states of mind, like negative emotions, or constant recurrent stress can also lead to an abundance and formation of the bad “oxidative” molecules. By consuming fresh fruits and vegetables, we intake antioxidants which reduce the levels of oxidative molecules, thus promoting healthy cells and tissue and slowing down the degenerative aging process. When you cut a pineapple in half and let it sit for a few hours, it turns brown. This is the “oxidation” process. The fruit starts to break down and become less powerful in its healing and nutritional qualities. The Versapers juicer minimizes this breakdown process by limiting the amount of heat and air introduced into the juice, thus preserving the antioxidant properties of the juice. Maybe you eat some pineapple every day for health, but you probably would not chew up a piece of turmeric root along with it, and you probably wouldn’t eat a whole pineapple. By using a high quality juicer, you can combine a whole pineapple and an ounce or two of turmeric and consume it as a healthy tasty drink. In fact, by including turmeric, you are utilizing a highly potent medicinal herb and supercharging your “health drink” into a very specific therapeutic substance used to adjunctly treat specific medical conditions, if you like. Or you could use it as an all around health drink with a high level of safety having read the medical contraindications of this article.
Combining turmeric with pineapple can be a particularly effective way of reducing pain and inflammation in the body. It can be used for acute muscle pain from strain or overuse, for injuries related to such strain, or for chronic conditions such as arthritis or joint inflammation, or other chronic inflammations in the body such as inflammation of the colon, the skin, other internal organs or tissues. A good dosage would be an average size pineapple juiced with an ounce or two of turmeric root. A good way to start would be to add increasing amounts of turmeric once you are used to the taste and your body is used to its effects. Gradually increasing any new or potent herb or food is a good way to avoid unwanted side effects and assure that your body is digesting and transforming it as opposed to the body rejecting it in the form of a loose bowel movement. In general, loose bowels are a sign of incomplete digestion, especially of raw or difficult to digest food.
One must realize that for chronic conditions this is only an alleviation of the symptoms associated with a deeper underlying cause in Chinese medicine. Therefore, one must also treat the root with appropriate therapy. For instance the root of the arthritis is often seated in “Deficiency of Liver and Kidney Yin”, of which appropriate therapy would be to nourish this deficiency with more sophisticated herbal formulas which include herbs which nourish the Yin, such as wolfberry and rhemmania. Yin would include the state of one’s blood, neurotransmitters, hormones, lymph, immunity, and in general the material substances in the body. The other opposite concept in Chinese medicine is Yang, which could be explained as the energetic aspect of the functions of the body, including the transformation of these material substances in the body to create function and action. Heat, movement, thought, metabolism, and the experience we know as life are the main manifestations of the Yang. To learn more about these and other aspects related to your health, check out continuing articles through www.versapers.com or visit www.acupuncture-medicine.com.