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A spice to replace omeprazole
Health

A spice to replace omeprazole

Trials have shown that turmeric is a safe and effective alternative to drugs used to combat stomach ailments

Marta Fernández Vallejo

Madrid

Thursday, 28 March 2024, 11:29

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Turmeric has often been accredited with health benefits, but these 'super powers' had no scientific support - until now. For the first time a research study has revealed that it does help treat some stomach problems. This effect is due to the yellow compound called curcumin, which manages to reduce excess stomach acid as effectively as omeprazole, the most popular drug currently used to combat this common ailment.

The researchers studied 206 patients aged from 18 to 70 years old who were all suffering similar stomach issues such as gastroenteritis or acid reflux.

"They divided them into three groups. One took turmeric; one omeprazole (20mg capsule per day); and one turmeric plus omeprazole," explains Vicente Clemente, professor of Nutrition at the European University Institute. After 28 days of treatment, they assessed the condition of these patients and found that all three groups had improved similarly.

The results of the trial published in the British Journal of Medicine also revealed that curcumin taken orally was safe and well tolerated by patients. These findings "open the door to developing alternatives to omeprazole with fewer side effects".

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Omeprazole is one of the most used drugs in Spain for heartburn, acid reflux and as a stomach protector when taking meds that can damage the digestive tract, such as some anti-inflammatories. However, its prolonged use "can cause health problems," says Prof Clemente. In fact, many studies link its regular consumption to the increased risks of bone fractures (as it hinders the absorption of calcium), of contracting infections and of kidney problems.

How does it work?

The effect that curcumin has on the body is that "it speeds up the separation of gastric juices that aid digestion," explains the nutritionist. Thanks to this ability, "the food spends less time in the stomach and digestion is faster," he continues. "If taken in pill format, as was done in the study, it is possible to take more curcumin and control its intake, so the benefits are greater".

Regardless of how you take it, adding turmeric to food will certainly "aid digestion". The proper way is to add it to dishes along with black pepper, as the pepper "enhances" curcumin's stomach-protecting effects. Pure turmeric powder has the highest concentration of curcumin, about 3.14% by weight. As for fresh turmeric, there is around 150mg of curcumin per 100g – a teaspoon of grated or chopped fresh turmeric is about five grammes.

How to use it

In meals: Turmeric can be used in stir-fries with pulses, vegetables or pasta, in sauces like tomato, mayonnaise, or directly in salads, pureed foods and broths. It can also be sprinkld on meats (white or red) to season before cooking. It is a good substitute for saffron and combines very well with pepper and cumin.

In drinks: Infusions where one of its listed ingredients is turmeric. Natural yoghurt with a teaspoon of turmeric, a pinch of black pepper and a drizzle of olive oil or coconut oil is also fashionable. Another drink option instead of coffee would be to mix a non-dairy milk with turmeric, a touch of cinnamon and even a pinch of black pepper.

Antioxidant

Turmeric is a plant whose roots are rhizomes. The plant stem can grow in earth or shallow water, putting out several buds that grow horizontally, emitting roots and shoots from its nodes. It looks very similar to root ginger, but the colour of the rhizomes is orange.

"Although native to south-west India, it is grown in a lot of places, anywhere with a pretty warm and humid climate. It is also grown in Spain. In fact, in Castellón there are agricultural cooperatives that have planted turmeric and it grows very well in that area," says nutritionist and author Aitor Sánchez.

He points out that there is currently research underway to verify the "antioxidant" potential of curcumin and that, "to date, the few studies that exist suggest that it may be so". Anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties are also attributed to this spice that has a very peculiar flavour, which is not to everyone's taste.

E100 food colouring

Many consumers are strangers to this spice, and yet turmeric features often in the food industry. It is a natural food colouring of plant origin and is used in food processing (in cheese, butter and mustard products, to name but a few), although always in small quantities so that its bitter flavour is barely noticeable. It is the ingredient marked as E100 on the label.

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