Southeast Asian mothers around the world rave about the spice turmeric, not only as an essential ingredient in traditional cooking, but also for its health benefits. Growing up, my mom’s remedy to solve many ailments was to drink turmeric in milk, traditionally known as Haldi Ka Doodh. To my mom, a teaspoon of turmeric in warm milk could cure most health issues.
Cough or runny nose? Haldi Ka Doodh.
Muscle or joint pain? Haldi Ka Doodh.
Deep cuts? Haldi Ka Doodh.
And today, I can still envision her telling me…
Stressed about COVID-19? Haldi Ka Doodh.
During my childhood, I did not think much about the benefits of this drink and found it a bit ridiculous to drink, especially with the unpleasant taste. However, as I grew up, I have come to learn about the potential power of this simple and accessible herb.
What is turmeric?
Turmeric is a plant that has been regarded as a medicinal herb, primarily in Southeast Asia, and has been a common home remedy for thousands of years. It is mostly used in cooking, cultural and religious traditions, and traditional healing. It is the spice that gives your favourite curry its bright, yellow colour; it is the centre of premarital ceremonies — used to give the skin a healthy glow before the wedding — and it is culturally well-known for its preventive and therapeutic effects.
More recently, modern medicine has recognized the value of turmeric for health and well-being, as evidenced by numerous published research studies that evaluate the various powerful benefits of this traditional home remedy.
As a result, turmeric milk has grown substantially in popularity owing to its potential profound ability to help balance one’s mind and body. Today, turmeric milk is offered in coffee shops as “Golden Milk” and can be found in drink mixes at large chain grocery stores. However, simply adding turmeric to your cooking (e.g., in curry dishes) or to warm milk with a touch of cinnamon and honey may also provide health benefits.
What are the benefits of turmeric?
Turmeric is one of the most researched spices for its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, anticancer properties and neuroprotective effects. Most studies evaluate the effects of curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, and turmeric extract, in a concentrated liquid extract form. The results demonstrate beneficial effects for treating wounds and various chronic inflammatory diseases, including arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s.
While turmeric might be best known for treating physical injuries and illnesses, it may also help improve mental health. It has been found to help strengthen the overall energy of the body and has appeared to improve mood, anxiety and depression. Animal studies have shown turmeric to help mitigate stress-induced reductions in the concentration of “happy” hormones in the body (serotonin, noradrenaline and dopamine) and increases in serotonin turnover, and reductions in stress-induced increases in stress hormones and cortisol levels, thus regulating neurochemical and neuroendocrine systems.
Some studies suggest that feeding turmeric extract to mice may have a more profound impact than the antidepressant fluoxetine. The results suggest that turmeric has specific antidepressant effects in the body. In a 6-week study, “Efficacy and safety of curcumin in major depressive disorder: a randomized controlled trial,” 60 people with major depressive disorders took either an antidepressant or a combination of an antidepressant and curcumin. Those who were given only curcumin experienced similar health outcomes as those who were only given antidepressants. However, the group that was given a combination of both antidepressants and curcumin experienced the most benefits.
Finally, studies show that turmeric also appears to boost levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF is a protein compound that helps your brain form new neuronal connections and promotes the growth of brain cells. It is essential for brain development, synaptic plasticity and cognitive function. Among other purposes, BDNF is also involved in stress response and long-term memory; therefore, increased BDNF forms stronger neuronal connections, which have the ability to improve memory and productivity.
Though further studies are required to confirm the numerous benefits of turmeric, an increasing number of research studies are finding that turmeric has the capability to support our health and well-being.
So, as it turns out, my mother was right about Haldi Ka Doodh: a natural product that has been passed down from my ancestors through generations and has spread across the globe. It has many benefits, ranging from maintaining physical health and well-being to boosting mental health and productivity.
Chair, Well-Being Subcommittee, Canadian Bar Association