When it comes to healing herbs and plants, turmeric tops the list for its significant health benefits. This distinctive yellow-orange root has been used for centuries in medicines, herbal drinks and foods around the globe, and is often used to treat a wide range of ailments. In recent years, scientists have been studying turmeric for its positive effects on health, and the results are promising, particularly when it comes to cardiovascular health.
The primary chemical found in turmeric is called curcumin, and studies show that this polyphenol contains powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Inflammation has been linked to cardiovascular disease, as well as other health problems such as Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, diabetes and cancer. Moreover, curcumin has positive effects on insulin sensitivity, which causes a reduction in triglyceride levels in the body. Researchers believe that it may just be the anti-inflammatory and insulin sensitizing properties that make turmeric so effective in warding off cardiovascular disease and strengthening the heart.
A recent study published in the American Journal of Cardiology suggests that curcumin can reduce the risk of heart attacks in coronary bypass patients. During 2009 and 2011, researchers from the University of Chiang Mai in Thailand studied 121 patients who underwent non-emergency coronary bypass surgery at the University Hospital. Half of the patients were given curcumin capsules before and after the surgeries, while the other half were given a placebo. The researchers found that the patients who had taken the curcumin supplements had a 65% lowered risk of heart attacks after the operation than the placebo group, as well as significantly lower levels of inflammation and oxidative stress.
Another study by the University of Tsukuba in Japan shows that curcumin may also improve vascular function and protect the heart, especially when combined with moderate exercise. Over a period of eight weeks, the scientists here monitored postmenopausal women in three different studies that measured the effects of curcumin and moderate exercise on blood flow, artery response and blood pressure.
In the first study, they divided the women into three groups: those who took curcumin supplements, those who exercised moderately and those who did nothing. When they examined the blood vessels, they found that the women who did nothing had no significant changes to their blood flow, while the curcumin and exercise groups showed an increase in vascular endothelial function. Interestingly, curcumin seemed to be just as effective as moderate exercise in improving blood flow.
In the following two studies, the researchers found that curcumin supplements also improved the performance of the arteries when reacting to changes in blood pressure, lowered aortic and brachial systolic blood pressure, and strengthened the heart against age-related degeneration of the left ventricle. They found that the women who exercised in addition to taking curcumin supplements showed the greatest improvements.
These are just a few examples of how turmeric can help improve heart health. I suggest taking turmeric in its natural form, either chopped, juiced or ground into powder, and adding it to curries, stir-fries and healthy drinks. To enhance the absorption rate, add a little black pepper to your food or drink as well. If you decide to take turmeric or curcumin in supplement form, be sure to consult with a registered health professional beforehand.