Turmeric does not actually appear in Frank Herbert’s beloved novel, Dune.
But in that novel something called “the spice” is apparently the coolest thing the galaxy has to offer. It’s kind of like the ultimate nootropic combined with MDMA, giving its users the wisdom of Solomon, the grooviness of the Beatles, and the soul of James Brown. (All with no hangover.)
No such spice exists on Earth, unfortunately. But as spices go, our world is not totally out of luck. We have turmeric: a readily-available plant that has been a mainstay of Indian and Asian cooking for millenia. Turmeric root is chock-full of bioactive curcuminoid compounds that have been shown to provide benefits from reducing oxidative stress to reducing psychological stress.
Turmeric can even reduce the stress of knowing how to make a tasty dinner. Rare among the compounds we talk about on Smart Drug Smarts, turmeric tastes amazing.
It’s a spice that much of the world eats on a daily basis, and after hearing this interview with Australian naturopath Matthew Legge (chief scientist at ATPscience.com), don’t be surprised to find yourself picking up turmeric powder on your next visit to the grocery store, if it’s not on your spice rack already.
Get Matt’s Recipe for Antioxidant Adaptogenic Therapeutic Turmeric Tea
Matt started out in clinical practice, treating the unwell, but then moved into the athletic performance realm – which included a period of treating racehorses! (His current practice is built around two-legged clients.)
Matt gained his knowledge of adaptogen plants out of necessity. In the early days of his practice, he found that when he prescribed compounds documented in the literature, the achieved results didn’t measure up to the hype. Cutting out the middle man, he began importing his own products and even growing some of his own herbs. As his knowledge grew and his supply-chain shortened, his clients began seeing the benefits that he’d read were possible, but not seen first-hand.
Matt has used his new know-how to create a line of products at ATP Science (where he also co-hosts a weekly podcast!).
You’ve likely heard of the benefits of turmeric, also known as curcumin. It’s been the subject of considerable research and is hitting the mainstream media as a reliable, non-pharmacological method of reducing inflammation. Read about it here and here.
You may also have heard that turmeric is a powerful immune regulator. But recent research shows that it has anti-depressant, anti-anxiety and stress regulation effects as well – making it almost a one-plant medicine cabinet – especially since it can do all these things without creating sedative effects.
How does it do so darned many amazing things?
Adaptogens – Spookily “Smart” Plants
“Adaptogen” is a name given to a class of plants and fungus — so this is a group without any common biological heritage — that can do amazing things. When eaten in effective doses, adaptogens tend to normalize physiology regardless of the direction of change.
In other words, they can bring you down if you’re too far up, and bring you up if you’re too far down. Adaptogens provide a stimulating or relaxing effect depending on the individual’s current physiology. Sounds pretty great, right?
Adaptogens work primarily through neuroendocrine and immune systems. Secondary sites of action for adaptogens include the liver, cardiovascular system, kidneys, and pancreas.
Turmeric, in therapeutic doses, takes the burden off the body by dampening the amount of stress signals that go into the body, thus maintaining a more balanced effect.
From Golden Yellow to Red
Another of Matt’s favorite adaptogenic herbs is schizandra – a berry from China with a dark red hue. This little beauty you may need to order online if you live in the West — but once you do, you could brew it into a tasty tea, or grind it into food to receive its benefits.
Schizandra, Matt explains, works differently than turmeric. Instead of modulating the body’s stress response, it makes it more efficient. So, if cortisol levels are low, schizandra will raise them. If they are high, it will lower them, as appropriate.
Schisandra has also been shown to improve focus by getting rid of excessive neuroendocrinal activity, which then allows the acetylcholine and dopamine neurotransmitters to work and be felt.
Sage words from Matt Legge: The stuff people take works better than the stuff they don’t take.
Whichever of these herbs you use, it’s important to recognize that the natural synergistic cofactors in adaptogens might be more easily attained when used in the whole plant source and then prepared with food as in a traditional recipe. The “preparation” may be the as-yet-unrecognized ingredient to getting maximum therapeutic benefits.
For example, turmeric in purely supplemental form is not readily absorbable by the body. Taking a cue from Ayurvedic Indian food preparation, cooking up a teaspoon of turmeric with a fat (such as ghee) could make your kitchen cabinet spice more potent, cost effective and therapeutic than something you take as a capsule.
There’s much to be learned about how you can improve your health right in your own kitchen.
Listen in to Episode #118 learn more about turmeric’s neuroprotective effects, the cognition-enhancing qualities of schizandra, the therapeutic doses of both plants, and why all of Matt’s kitchen tools are golden yellow.
PS: Didn’t have a pen handy to write down Matt’s recipes for his therapeutic, memory enhancing teas or the recommended doses for turmeric, both in the kitchen and out? Sign up for our newsletter and get all the details in our next issue – cognitive enhancing therapy right to your inbox.