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Turmeric (AKA Curcuma longa) belongs to the ginger family and its rhizomes (the underground part of the stem) are harvested, steamed and dried to produce the turmeric powder we know and love. Turmeric is probably best known for giving curry its characteristic golden glow. Curcumin, one of the three curcuminoids present in turmeric, steals the limelight, and for good reason.

What is so special about curcumin?

Curcumin has potent anti-inflammatory effects, comparable to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). It works by regulating certain molecules involved in inflammatory processes. The fact that inflammation is so central to many conditions that affect fertility makes curcumin (and the turmeric that contains it) a potentially helpful substance for supporting fertility.

Conditions that are characterised by inflammation and may negatively affect fertility include: PCOS, endometriosis and uterine fibroids. PMS is also associated with inflammation.

Curcumin also happens to be a powerful antioxidant and helps to reduce cell damage by supporting antioxidant enzymes. This may benefit fertility by supporting egg and sperm quality, a key priority when trying to conceive.

The snag

Why is there always a snag?! The compounds in turmeric, especially curcumin, are extremely poorly absorbed when it is eaten on its own. This is because curcumin is rapidly metabolised, so very little of it actually reaches the bloodstream. Therefore, simply adding turmeric to a meal here and there might not be enough to reap its potential rewards.

The good news is that there are some proven tricks for enhancing curcumin’s absorption and getting the most out of this spice:

Piperine (responsible for black pepper’s pungent flavour) can stop the enzymes that break down curcumin. Eating black pepper alongside turmeric may increase the absorption rate of curcumin by 2,000 percent!

  • Fat can greatly enhance the absorption of curcumin, since it is fat-soluble. Traditional curries that make use of dairy or coconut milk together with turmeric are great, because the milk naturally helps increase the absorption of turmeric’s active compounds.
  • Piperine (responsible for black pepper’s pungent flavour) can stop the enzymes that break down curcumin. Eating black pepper alongside turmeric may increase the absorption rate of curcumin by 2,000 percent!

Ways with turmeric

Despite its valid benefits, consuming very high quantities of turmeric can be problematic, as can supplementing with only small amounts therapeutically. There is some evidence that at excessive levels, turmeric stops becoming anti-inflammatory and actually becomes either pro-inflammatory or immune-suppressive.

There’s also a risk that high doses of curcumin can have an impact on the gut similar to that of NSAIDs, which isn’t good! NSAIDs are known for damaging the gut barrier and causing intestinal lesions (which can become ulcers). Supplementing with turmeric is not recommended if you have a history of ulcers or if you are currently dealing with one.

Excessive curcumin may also result in other negative side effects, such as nausea and diarrhoea in some people. Curcumin may also interfere with certain drugs, such as antiplatelet agents (e.g. aspirin, which is commonly used in fertility treatment) since it can prevent the clumping together of platelets in the blood. Finally, curcumin can be a problem for pregnant women when taken in therapeutic doses, since it can increase uterine contraction.

Therefore, the safest way to enjoy turmeric is to make use of it in cooking. Here are 3 simple ways to enjoy turmeric:

Turmeric oil

This oil makes turmeric an everyday accent. Experiment with it. It can be used for drizzling on vegetables (I love to drizzle over sweet potato fries), whisking into salad dressings or topping veggie noodles (amazing with courgette noodles). A grind of black pepper helps activate turmeric’s healing power.

  • I use 1-part ground turmeric to 2 parts oil (a blend of equal parts avocado and unrefined extra-virgin olive oil)
  • Fill a glass bottle with the oil and turmeric
  • Cover and let sit away from light for 2 weeks before use

Turmeric dressing

So simple, but absolutely delicious. This fabulous dressing is so versatile you can use it as a marinade too!

Makes about 175ml

  • 2 tbsp hulled (light) tahini
  • Juice 1 lemon
  • 1 tbsp turmeric oil
  • 1 tbsp raw honey
  • 3 tbsp filtered water
  • Place all the ingredients in a mixing bowl and whisk until smooth
  • Serve straight away or pour into a mason jar and store in the fridge for up to 5 days

Turmeric latte

Nutritious milk that totally tastes like a treat! Ditch those sugar-laden lattes from the café for this delicious golden latte.

  • 1 cup full fat coconut milk
  • ¾ tsp organic ground turmeric
  • ¾ tsp ground ginger
  • ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp raw honey
  • Pinch black pepper
  • Pinch grated nutmeg
  • Place the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Pour into a saucepan and simmer gently for 5 minutes.