Inflammation + Your Period = Turmeric
Curcuma longa, more commonly known as turmeric, is the little yellow-orange root that leaves your fingers stained golden and adds a warming quality to Indian dishes and golden milk lattes.
This root has been used medicinally for thousands of years for a wide variety of purposes, including arthritis, colds, diabetes, and more.(1) Turmeric is a hot buzzword at the moment and can be found in skin products, ghee, and even poached eggs. But what makes turmeric such a stand-out spice?
Well, the prominent active compound in turmeric is called curcumin, which supports the body’s natural healing process by decreasing free radical damage and increasing glutathione production (necessary for detoxification).(2) Essentially, turmeric modifies inflammatory pathways, hence why it gets the big “anti-inflammatory” stamp of approval.
What exactly is inflammation?
Inflammation is the body’s natural response to infection or injury - stub your toe and it might swell and turn bright red for a bit. This process is necessary for healing because it brings extra blood, nutrients, and immune cells to heal the wound or fight off infection. The inflammatory response becomes a problem when it happens repeatedly without resolution. In fact, it can lead to the development of cancer, central nervous system disorders, and autoimmune diseases. (3) To avoid chronic inflammation, we can move our bodies, eat whole foods (especially from plants, like turmeric!), and decrease stress.
There is an analogy I’ve heard that really helps me understand inflammation and how we can address it before it becomes problematic.
Picture a cup, half full of water. That water is your (normal) level of inflammation. Each time we get injured, experience great stress, or build up toxins in the body, we pour more water into the cup. Eventually, it will overflow if we keep pouring water in without ever dumping some out. This is chronic inflammation.
Each time we eat anti-inflammatory foods, support detoxification, and decrease our stress, we pour a little water out of the cup, bringing it a bit closer to half full. A much more manageable and normal amount of inflammation.
How does inflammation affect our menstrual cycle?
When it comes to periods, most females experience the greatest amount of inflammation during the latter portion of the luteal phase (days 21-28 in a 28-day cycle) as well as the first couple days of bleeding. This window is often filled with bloating, acne, breast tenderness, cramping, and mood swings – a whole lot of pain, redness, and fiery energy.
The cause of these symptoms is complex and not fully understood. But we do know that cells lining the uterus create compounds called prostaglandins, which promote inflammation. (4) As the uterine lining begins to shed, the prostaglandins are released into the bloodstream and can cause diarrhea, uterine cramping, vomiting, and headaches. (4)
It turns out that mild PMS affects around 75% of women who regularly menstruate. (5) Somewhere between 45% and 95% of these females experience painful menstrual cramps. (4) It’s a really common issue.
Cue turmeric and anti-inflammatory foods. Adding these into the diet may help reduce the severity of these pesky symptoms and bring down overall inflammation, but it is not a quick fix like popping a painkiller to relieve menstrual cramps.
Turmeric and liver support
The liver is an amazing organ with a wide variety of functions from bile production to detoxification, which is crucial for a healthy menstrual cycle.
When the liver is unable to detoxify properly, harmful substances such as alcohol, environmental toxins, and excess hormones begin to build up. This abundance can lead to hormonal imbalances that come with many symptoms ranging from PCOS, irregular or absent periods, PMS, period pain, and more. We want our livers in tip-top shape, and evidence suggests that turmeric can help.
One study found that turmeric significantly decreased elevated alanine transaminase (ALT) levels after 12-weeks, indicating improved liver function. (6) Consuming turmeric and supporting optimal liver function may aid in detoxifying excess hormones, leading toward hormone balance and a happy, healthy period.
Supporting our health and bodies through food is an ongoing, love-filled process.
For me, it’s not about meeting quotas or checking boxes to ensure I ate the “right” nutrients. It’s about choosing foods that light me up with joy and make me close my eyes as I breathe a sigh of relief. Which is exactly how I felt when I ate the sunshine cookie we just released in partnership with Live 24K. Bursting with brilliant colors of an Arizona sunset, the cookie tastes just as warm and inviting as it looks.
You can find a delicious, in-house recipe using turmeric here.
I suggest incorporating turmeric into your life by putting it in smoothies, lattes, soups, sauces, hummus, and curry for extra flavor and warmth. Choosing to eat such a delicious and beautiful spice is how I express love for myself and my body. Plus, it doesn’t hurt to know that turmeric is hard at work supporting my liver and cooling down inflammation. Yellow-stained fingers and all.
1. Jirsa A. Herbal Goddess: Discover the Amazing Spirit of 12 Healing Herbs. North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing; 2015.
2. Biswas SK, McClure D, Jimenez LA, Megson IL, Rahman I. Curcumin Induces Glutathione Biosynthesis and Inhibits NF-κB Activation and Interleukin-8 Release in Alveolar Epithelial Cells: Mechanism of Free Radical Scavenging Activity. Antioxid Redox Signal. 2004;7(1-2):32-41. doi:10.1089/ars.2005.7.32
3. Hunter P. The inflammation theory of disease. EMBO Rep. 2012;13(11):968-970. doi:10.1038/embor.2012.142
4. Proctor M, Farquhar C. Diagnosis and management of dysmenorrhoea. BMJ. 2006;332(7550):1134-1138. doi:10.1136/bmj.332.7550.1134
5. Yonkers KA, Casper RF. Epidemiology and pathogenesis of premenstrual syndrome and premenstrual dysphoric disorder - UpToDate. https://www-uptodate-com.nunm.idm.oclc.org/contents/epidemiology-and-pathogenesis-of-premenstrual-syndrome-and-premenstrual-dysphoric-disorder?source=search_result&search=pathophysiology%20of%20pms&selectedTitle=1~150. Accessed November 10, 2017.
6. Kim S-W, Ha K-C, Choi E-K, et al. The effectiveness of fermented turmeric powder in subjects with elevated alanine transaminase levels: a randomised controlled study. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2013;13:58. doi:10.1186/1472-6882-13-58