When I was at the Yoga Journal conference last month, I had the pleasure of meeting the team representing the Turmeric brand of drinks in the expo room. The drinks, a blend of cardamom, coconut, citrus, vanilla, green tea, matcha and – of course – turmeric, are designed to deliver high doses of the all-powerful plant… while doing its best to make it palatable.
I mean, let’s face it. The stuff tastes terrible alone. That doesn’t change the fact that, for the training body, it’d be wise to keep it on hand in as many forms as possible.
A couple of months ago, I attended another conference (no wonder I feel so burned out) here in the city, the One Body One World Conference by ECA, where I sat in on a panel that discussed inflammation (read: pain) and natural ways to heal it. High upon the list… was turmeric. Hmmmm….
Raw turmeric is a root plant that looks an awful lot like raw ginger. You know how you can tell the difference between yams and sweet potatoes? It’s the same with turmeric and ginger. The insides of turmeric are a beautifully bright gold color, a color that’s reflected in the dried powder we receive when we buy the spice in its most familiar form.
Speaking of the turmeric that we buy in the spice aisle, it’s nowhere near as potent as the fresh turmeric squeezed from the root, or juiced from the plant. The spice is prepared by boiling the entire root, then drying it in heat as opposed to naturally in the sun. Not only is it possible that the heat from the drying process has weakened the potency of the plant, but it’s without a doubt that the boiling has usurped many of the more valuable antioxidants and acids from the plant. That being said, while you can get some benefits from regular use of the spice, you’re far better off working with raw turmeric.
And what does that raw turmeric do for you? According to the book The Herbal Drugstore, you can count on curcumin (the active agent in turmeric, also known as curcuma longa), a long-loved spice in South and Southeast Asian cuisine, for digestive health, fever treatment, and arthritis… but that’s not what I’m most interested in, here.
Yes, this plant whose roots have been used for thousands of years also reportedly provides care for “indigestion, poor circulation, cough, amenorrhea, pharyngytis, skin disorders, diabetes, arthritis, anemia, wounds,” and “bruises.” Because of the effects turmeric has on the blood, it is also credited with fighting free radicals, aiding blood circulation and lowering cholesterol, and is also being explored for its ability to slow down the creation of cancer cells as well as its ability to prevent the spread of HIV in the body. In other words, it’s a superspice (or superroot, if you will.)
But my particular interest has been that which involves inflammation, or pain, and how to naturally alleviate it. For me, turmeric does exactly that. For the past six or so weeks, I’ve been suffering a pinched nerve in my neck due to inflammation from a training injury, and it had resulted in numbness all along the side of my scalp and the right side of my neck and shoulder blade. I’ve been pretty much laid out on my back, on a steady diet of tylenol and prayer. I went back into my notes, found the information on natural sources of pain relief, and realized the turmeric was an option.
After I told Eddy I was considering trying this, he mentioned to me that the Organic Avenue near his route home sells one-ounce bottles of turmeric shots – turmeric, grapefruit juice, lemon juice, and purified alkaline water (all organic) – and that they were pretty potent. Okay, let’s see how it goes.
As soon as I drank the shot, I definitely stopped feeling the pain in my neck, if for no other reason than the taste of the shot took my mind off the pain. However, in less than 10 minutes, the pain started to fade, giving me a good 9 hours of pain relief before feeling like I needed to take something else to add alongside it. Curcumin serves as a natural blood thinner that neutralizes the enzymes responsible for pain internally, doing the same things that your basic NSAID – nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, also known as naproxin or ibuprofen or aspirin – does without the risk of damage to the intestines and digestive system that normally comes with them.
(It’s also worth noting that turmeric isn’t the only source of these naturally anti-inflammatory properties, it just happens to be really trendy right now and I wanted to explore the “why” behind it.)
I returned to Organic Avenue and picked up a few more bottles of the turmeric shot, and resolved to drink one every morning. I am both pleased – and terrified – to report that the pain I’d been experiencing for weeks is now 100% gone, and the numbness is 95% gone. I’d changed nothing about my diet, I’d stopped training (well, for the most part: I stopped any impact-based training and laid off of any strenuous yoga poses), and simply given myself time to rest. I’m unable to find research to back up my experience, but I’m comfortable saying that outside of those with hepatitis, those on blood thinners, those who are pregnant and those who are trying to conceive, there’s little risk in testing out the shot for yourself. Juicing a piece of turmeric root with equal parts turmeric juice and grapefruit to two parts water and 1/2 parts lemon juice should do the trick at home if you’re unable or unwilling to pay the $4.50 for the Organic Avenue shot.
Fair warning, it tastes like drinking watered down mustard, and for that… you might be mad. Just know that I still love you.
However, I’m sold. The entire experience has made me wish I had a juicer… mainly because buying the little shots regularly is going to cost me just about as much as it would’ve to get one.
Raw turmeric is hard to come by – it’s not available in regular grocery stores and, unless you have a bustling South Asian community in your neighborhood, you might find yourself coming up short on locating it. You can order it online, though I’ve not given that a shot yet. I’d also suspect that you can boil it and drink it like tea, much like how we do with raw ginger. Maybe I can avoid plunking down the cash for a juicer, after all.
Natural sources of pain relief are valuable for the training body because what do we do every day? We kick our own asses! What better way to heal, than with a carefully chosen combination of fruits, vegetables, roots, and spices? It’s worth exploring healthily with your health care practitioner, just to be on the safe side, to ensure that it doesn’t conflict with anything else you’re taking or prescribed.
The Turmeric – Elixir of Life drinks that I mentioned earlier are actually quite tasty, which makes me feel like there isn’t enough turmeric in them. The Japanese matcha flavor tastes like there might be the absolute most turmeric in that one, and the coconut nectar drink is the best-tasting, so… that might have the least. They did tell me that each drink had a different amount of turmeric in them, so if you’re looking for the best bang for your buck (the drinks do carry a steep price) then you’d go for the one with the most turmeric in it, the Japanese Matcha. And, if you want to test out cooking with the spice, I have a recipe for you to try.
And, as always, if you’re a juicer, then you know what time it is. Add a little bit of turmeric to your blends, your smoothies, whatever you do. And let me know how it goes!