Using Turmeric: From Tradition to Modernity in India


H. Y. Mohan1 Ram and S. Natesh2, 1Honorary Scientist, Indian National Science Academy, New Delhi 194, SFSDDA Flats, Mukherjee Nagar, Delhi - 110 009, 2Senior Adviser, Department of Biotechnology, Government of India, CGO Complex, New Delhi -110 003


Proceedings of the Women's Health And Asian Traditional (WHAT) Medicine II Conference




turmeric, Curcuma longa L., Curcuma domestica, traditional ingredients, modern medicine, anti-cancer properties, curcumin


The paper attempts to provide a bird's eye view of the traditional and modern uses of turmeric. The rhizome or powder of Curcuma longa L. {Curcuma domestica, a cultigen believed to have originated in India and presently also grown in China, Kuwait, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and the West Indies) is an auspicious article in all religious observances in Hindu households. It has been a traditional ingredient used as a yellowish orange food and fabric dye, condiment, in skin care preparations, and in medicine. Hindu brides are given a ritual bath with turmeric during wedding ceremonies and turmeric has been considered a sign of married womanhood. Anointing the face and body with turmeric and mustard oil (often mixed with chickpea flour) removes unwanted hair and renders the skin soft with a faint lustre. It is also effective against skin infections. Turmeric serves as a condiment with a pungent taste, in the preparation of curry powders, sauces, and for flavouring poultry, seafood and pickles. In the Indian system of medicine turmeric is used as a stimulant, tonic, stomachic and depurative. Consumed with warm milk, the powdered turmeric reduces cough and promotes expectoration. A paste of turmeric with lime relieves inflammation of the joints, and is effective against sprains and bruises. Recent research has revealed that turmeric has anti-cancer properties. The dye curcumin (diferuloylmethane), a low molecular weight polyphenol derivative identified almost two centuries ago, has been shown to prevent cancer of the skin, forestomach, duodenum, and colon in mice, and of tongue, colon, mammary glands, and sebaceous glands in rats. Curcumin has also been associated with the regression of established malignancy in humans. The common use of turmeric as a dietary ingredient in the Indian subcontinent parallels the low incidence of colorectal cancer in the region. Besides cancer, curcumin has also been used in the treatment of arthritis, diabetes, Crohn's disease, cardiovascular disorders, osteoporosis, Alzheimer's disease and psoriasis. Studies have also shown that such diverse effects are mediated through the modulation of several important molecular targets including transcription factors, enzymes, cell cycle proteins, cytokines, receptors and cell surface adhesion molecules.