Pain Relief in Your Spice Rack

Turmeric’s beneficial anti-inflammatory properties

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Curcumin, the primary compound in turmeric, has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

Turmeric brings to mind the warm aroma and flavors of curry, but its uses reach far beyond cooking. Other cultures have long used this colorful spice to help treat a myriad of ailments because of turmeric’s anti-inflammatory qualities. These properties make it a natural resource for people with pain issues.

“Turmeric and its primary compound, curcumin, work with inflammation in the same way as over-the-counter medication does, but without the side effects,” explains Tyler Giles, general manager of HealthWay Nutrition Center. “There is adequate information to show turmeric helps with inflammation.”

Often traditional medications carry a laundry list of side effects. As more people crave natural alternatives to pharmaceutical pills, turmeric fits the bill. “A key attribute of turmeric is that it’s safe to use,” notes Giles. “However, you can take too much of anything – even water. Just because an ingredient is safe and natural doesn’t mean you should take too much. As with adding any supplement, it’s important to talk with your physician first.”

Whether you take turmeric as part of a regular regimen of vitamins or to treat pain, research its benefits, risks and how it affects inflammation in the body first. “Inflammation isn’t inherently bad,” explains Giles. Without inflammation, pathogens like bacteria could harm or potentially kill us. “However, chronic inflammation can directly, or indirectly, cause some diseases.”

Medford resident Jessica Cempa has found relief from debilitating pain by using turmeric. “After several bouts of strep throat, my immune system started attacking my joints, which became extremely inflamed,” she says. “Medication didn’t help, and I was told I’d need chemotherapy drugs to treat the inflammation. Another doctor prescribed a handful of vitamins, which included turmeric supplements. It helped my pain, and after a month I was off all other medications. Something as simple as a spice helped me in ways modern medicine could not.”

Turmeric’s potent anti-inflammatory qualities affect a variety of systems in the body, but the delivery of these compounds changes its level of effectiveness. “The amount of turmeric in food is so low it’s difficult to get any benefits,” Cempa finds. “A supplement is preferable because it’s a concentrated dose.”

While some people take turmeric to treat pain, others use it more casually. “Capsules are very good for those without a serious illness,” says Giles. “Since curcumin absorbs at a low rate, patients seeking meaningful therapeutic action with turmeric should look into enhanced absorption products. The one thing you should avoid is tea made from turmeric because it’s ineffective at delivering curcumin into the body.”

Despite its many benefits, turmeric may not be the right supplement for everyone. “Turmeric is good for the average person, but it can have a slight blood-thinning effect, so it’s not a good supplement for someone on blood thinners,” says Giles. People with diabetes or low blood sugar should also remain cautious about taking turmeric. “Curcumin might decrease blood sugar in diabetics.”

According to Giles, there are many alternative herbal anti-inflammatories if someone can’t ingest large amounts of turmeric. “Ginger is botanically related to turmeric and helps with inflammation,” he notes.

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GRILLED THAI TURMERIC CHICKEN

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Ingredients:

2 pounds boneless/skinless chicken thighs

  • 5 teaspoons garlic paste
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons light soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons ground turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • Garnish with fresh cilantro sprigs

 

Directions:

Add all ingredients in a covered container and refrigerate the chicken mixture at least 4 hours or overnight. Toss the chicken on a medium-hot barbecue grill or grill pan and discard the marinade. Be watchful of the chicken, turning occasionally, being careful not to burn. Cook until the juices run clear or the internal temperature of the chicken reaches 170 degrees.

Makes 8 servings.

Recipe by Tessa DeLine

COCONUT TURMERIC RICE

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Ingredients:

  • 2 cups jasmine rice, washed
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped fine
  • 1 3/4 cups water (or more as needed)
  • 1 – 14-ounce can coconut milk
  • 2 teaspoons canola oil
  • 2 teaspoons ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt

 

Directions:

In a heavy-bottomed pot with a tight-fitting lid over medium-heat, cook the onion and canola oil until onion is translucent (about five to seven minutes). Add remaining ingredients, stir and then bring to a boil. Stir once again, immediately turn heat down to the lowest setting, cover with the lid, and cook about 20 to 30 minutes or until all the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is tender. Fluff with fork, remove from heat and let sit for 10 minutes before serving.

Makes about 10 cups cooked rice.

Recipe by Tessa DeLine

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