For most of us in the West, our sole experience of turmeric and ginger are as ingredients in many Asian dishes. But in many parts of the world, these roots have for centuries, possibly millennia, been recognised for their medicinal qualities.
As a traditional medicine, turmeric has been used for a host of purposes, including the treatment of gastrointestinal disorders, pain, inflammatory conditions and wounds, as well as for cancer prevention and anti-aging. Research has shown that curcumin, an active compound in turmeric, has excellent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
In 2016, a review of worldwide clinical trials of turmeric as a treatment for arthritis concluded that:
“although the studies used in this meta-analysis do not have a sufficient number of subjects to permit a definitive recommendation for the use of curcumin as a treatment for arthritis, they do provide a compelling justification for its use as a dietary adjunct to conventional therapy. Furthermore, they also provide sufficient evidence to support larger clinical trials that could eventually lead to its acceptance as a standard therapy for many forms of arthritis and possibly other inflammatory conditions.”
Until recent years, fresh turmeric was largely only available in the UK from specialist food retailers. Now, it’s stocked by most supermarkets. As a dried, powdered spice, it has a warm, mild, peppery, slightly bitter taste. Fresh turmeric is milder. Those who extol its health benefits consume it in a host of ways. In addition to including fresh or powdered turmeric as an ingredient in many dishes, turmeric drinks, including smoothies, have become increasingly popular. Perhaps the simplest recipe I’ve come across is mixing just a quarter of a teaspoon of turmeric powder and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice into between 250ml and 500ml of warm water.
Medicinally, the active compounds in ginger are gingerol, a relative of capsaicin and piperine, the compounds which give chilli and black pepper their spiciness, and shogaols, which are similar in structure to gingerol and produced when ginger is dried or cooked. It’s these compounds that which make ginger an effective gastro-remedy for general nausea, upset stomach, motion sickness and morning sickness.
However, studies have also highlighted the pain-relieving qualities of ginger. In one, of 150 women with severe menstrual pain, ginger was found to be as effective as both Ibuprofen and the prescription NSAID, Mefenamic Acid. Another very recent study concluded that “The addition of ginger to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs may contribute to the treatment of migraine attack.” Research also suggests that the regular consumption of ginger can help relieve the pain of rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.
In addition, there is evidence that ginger may help to protect the lining of the stomach from damage caused by the long-term use of NSAIDs.
In the same way as turmeric, ginger can be incorporated into your diet in a host of ways. In fact, in the UK we are far more familiar with both fresh and powdered ginger than we are with turmeric. In its simplest form, like turmeric, ginger can be consumed as an infusion in hot water.
Should you incorporate turmeric and/or ginger into your diet?
If you suffer with chronic pain, incorporating turmeric and/or ginger into your diet may seem an attractive, non-pharmacological addition to your existing treatment and therapy regime. However, any significant change in lifestyle, including diet, should only be considered after taking appropriate medical advice.
Most doctors are open to discussing the potential health benefits of your diet and, if necessary, making an onward referral should more specialist advice be required.