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Curcumin Benefits? Well, first, both turmeric (curcumin) and ginger come from the same botanical family of herbs, the zingiberacaceae.
Curcumin/Turmeric is yellow, hence its name in Chinese Jiang Huang which means ‘yellow ginger’.
Ginger’s name in Chinese is Sheng Jiang, meaning ‘fresh ginger’.
In both cases, we use the root.
Chinese medicine has used both turmeric and ginger for many hundreds of years. The first Chinese recorded use of turmeric was in the 6th Century AD. Ginger’s use is even older. Both turmeric and ginger are such useful herbs: probably Indian cookery has used them for far longer.
Although we now have huge amounts of modern research into them, I find it useful to understand their qualities, similarities, and differences in terms of Chinese medicine. That’s because the theory helps me understand why they do what modern research says they do.
It helps me understand when to use them. Importantly, up to 2000 years of use also point to where we should be careful of using them, whatever modern research – mostly done in the last 20 years – has to say.
By the way, curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric (rhizome curcuma longae).
(There is another kind of turmeric, also used in Chinese herbal medicine and called ‘yu jin’. Confusingly they both come from the same plant, but from different parts of the plant ‘curcuma longa’. Yujin has different qualities, the main one being that unlike curcumin (jiang huang) – yu jin is cooling. Do not self-dose with this yu jin type. In any case you would seldom encounter it except from an expert in Chinese herbalism.)
Chinese medicine has a sophisticated theory on health and disease. It also applies to food and herbs. It uses concepts like yin and yang.
So, what about their qualities in relation to yin and yang?
Well, first of all they are both yang herbs, so we can for a while forget about their yin qualities. However when considering curcumin benefits we’ll need to come back to this further on below.
Having said that, there are several important differences between them but let’s start with the similarities.
There are many kinds of yang energy, but the two main energetic ones are warming and moving.
Cooks and herbalists worldwide use root ginger. Most people appreciate what it does! It warms you up, rather like a brandy but without the inebriation. So we use it for cold conditions and to warm up cool meals making them easier to digest.
Both these herbs are warming but ginger is the better one for our digestion and lungs – as in when we get phlegm during a cold, or when we feel nauseous during early pregnancy or after an unwise meal.
Also, ginger is pungent and too much of it makes us sweat, clearing out toxins and early signs of a cold. In fact, Chinese medicine uses it as an important constituent of herbal formulae to help clear the early stages of catching a cold – assuming it’s the feeling-COLD type and NOT the sweltering, ‘I’m feeling too hot and have a really sore throat’ type.
We’ve put a DIY suggestion containing ginger for the initial stages of catching a COLD-type cold on our page on Wind-Cold. (https://www.acupuncture-points.org/wind-cold.html)
Of course, too much perspiration eventually cools you so you need to be alert.
Turmeric is often used in Curries and other Indian food giving it the yellow colour and some of the spicy taste. It also helps digestion, but less effectively than ginger root.
So they both help digestion. In Chinese medicine this means they ‘enter’ the Stomach and Spleen channels and are warming.
Because Ginger enters the Lung channel as well as the Stomach and Spleen channels, ginger is the better for lung type problems, such as catching a cold, and increasing our ability to perspire. (To make sense of why should this be, click on Lung function.)
If we know what warming does, what about moving?
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This is where we get on to the differences between them.
Turmeric doesn’t enter the Lung channel. Instead it enters the Liver channel and its taste is ‘bitter’ instead of ‘pungent’, like ginger. Taste is another specialised area in Chinese medicine. The taste they ascribe to a food or herb tells you more about its properties. Whereas pungent herbs benefit the Lungs, bitter herbs help the Liver and Heart but in this case, it is mainly the Liver.
To understand why this matters it pays to understand the function of the Liver in Chinese medicine. Click here to read about Liver functions.
A herb or treatment that is moving doesn’t mean it makes your grandmother start skipping!
It means it helps to move Blood round within your body better. Blood is then able to nourish your bones, joints, flesh and skin – brain too! – so your skin looks more lustrous and your flesh and muscles more curvy: younger-looking!
Turmeric/curcumin is moving more than warming.
Turmeric contains curcumin, the active part which does most of the work. It is famous for moving Blood and for easing out qi movement where there has been qi stagnation.
How do you get qi stagnation? Qi stagnation causes pain mostly arising from emotional tension, although there are other causes. Prolonged Qi stagnation leads on to Blood stagnation. You can often do something about Qi stagnation by making changes in life or environment, but this is much harder when the stagnation goes down to the next level, that of Blood stagnation.
With Blood stagnation the pains are deeper, stabbing, and often worse for cold. This form of pain is severe and inflammation (eg of skin) is very red and painful.
There are many potential symptoms of Blood stagnation ranging from poor circulation to joint pain, varicose veins and skin problems.
In Western medical terms, Blood stagnation gradually produces symptoms of cardiovascular deficiency, dry and under-nourished skin, tumours, fibroids, blue discoloration of skin. Eventually this leads on to signs of mental problems like anxiety, insomnia and memory inexactitude, including dementia.
As we age, our bodies move our Blood less efficiently, hence the symptoms mentioned often come with age. Yes, you’ll get it, sooner or later! Read more about it under Blood stagnation.
However, there are dangers. These can be experienced as side-effects but every medicine and herb under the sun has good and bad sides to it.
Think about yang energy. It warms and moves. If your body has too much warmth already, neither herb will really help much and either of them may make it worse.
For example, if you have Stomach Heat or Lung Heat, or bowel inflammation, it might be best to avoid both these herbs, especially Ginger, which is the more warming of the two.
That means if you already have heartburn or a hot dry cough or smelly urgent diarrhoea – all signs of excess Heat in your system – these warming herbs may make things worse.
The same applies if you take too much of them. As explained, ginger in excess can produce perspiration from heating you: this is good if you have all the symptoms of a chill from catching a cold, when you are feeling cold and wretched, because the ginger warms you up so much that your fever drives out your body’s cold reaction to the virus.
If successful, you get a sort of artificial fever that vanquishes the virus. For more on the benefits of fever, read Cope With Fever.
Much the same goes for skin problems caused by too much Heat in your system. For example, if you are on holiday and suffering from sunburn, avoid ginger which could make it worse.
However, if you are Blood deficient because of poor digestion, ginger might well help, especially if your problem comes from eating too much food or indigestible food or if you have a poor digestion.
But even turmeric/curcumin benefits probably won’t much help Blood deficiency problems (there’s a list of Blood deficiency symptoms below), or at least nothing like as much as ginger.
To understand these symptoms from the point of view of Chinese medicine, and why taking a moving Blood herb may not work for Blood deficiency, think of a nearly empty riverbed, such as caused by drought.
Moving what water there is makes it worse as there is already too little of it, and moving takes away even the little there is left.
Curcumin benefits best when there is enough Blood but it’s stuck, bound in place, not moving, causing pain, for instance joint pain, and poor skin from poor circulation.
And how does the Blood get ‘stuck’ or ‘stagnant’?
Blood stagnation usually comes from Qi stagnation and if it does, this is where curcumin excels. This is exactly what it’s good for – Blood stagnation symptoms coming from earlier Qi stagnation.
Qi stagnation causes various kinds of pain, including pains from Blood stagnation, and this is what curcumin benefits. (That’s the fourth hint that you should read our page on Blood stagnation. Last chance!)
So Curcumin benefits are that it is less warming than ginger but more moving. Don’t’ take too much if you have Blood deficiency.
What does Blood deficiency mean? It includes the Western idea of anaemia but goes far beyond this.
You can read more about Blood deficiency on several pages of our site:
As explained, both herbs are warming – yang in action. If you take them regularly or think you may have over-dosed on them, make sure you eat enough yin-enhancing foods to compensate. Being yang, these herbs are drying, so can dry up your body’s yin fluids.
What’s the simplest way to do this?
Besides water, make sure you take plenty of natural oils, for example olive oil. Then there are vegetables. Most green vegetables benefit yin. Click here for some fish recipes to help yin. Also, consider Clogstoun Congee and Clogstoun Porridgee.
Also – important! – Chinese medicine encourages you to eat food that has been cooked and is warm to the touch, not cold or chilled or iced food or raw food. To understand why, read nutrition.
And chew well before swallowing!
The theory of Chinese medicine set out above helps me understand why modern research shows what curcumin helps. For example, as a Blood moving tonic, it may help:
Many Asian cultures make extensive use of both ginger and turmeric. They have time-tested their recipes! Pay attention to what they suggest. Taken as part of a curry their effect is less obvious and is probably safer.
If you prefer to use the herbs on their own, as an additive to your diet for ‘medicinal’ purposes, be cautious! You may not notice much after a single dose, except perhaps a slight warming action. Although the research I’ve read suggests that in low and medium dosages there is no possible harm, when you take a herb repeatedly over a long period of time it will have an effect which you may notice only much later – for good or ill!
If you take any herb regularly it may gradually alter your metabolism and taking it too much or too often could be harmful.
Pay attention to the quantities manufacturers suggest and don’t exceed them until you are very sure of yourself. This applies particularly to turmeric/curcumin with which Westerners are less familiar.
However, for ginger, a good way to take it is to put a thin slice of ginger root in hot water, leave it for a few minutes, then sip the liquid. Do this several times a day. You can also add a little chopped ginger to the dishes you cook. You’ll soon work out what is too much! A little can go a long way.
Remember, especially for curcumin benefits, to compensate for its moving qualities by increasing the foods you eat that build blood. (In addition to the foods and fats mentioned above we have some more suggestions here.)
Turmeric/curcumin and ginger can change your health for good or ill! Make sure it’s for good!