How this popular Jamu drink benefits Women’s Health

Home of 80% of the world’s medicinal plants… It’s not surprising that Indonesia became the birthplace of Jamu, the ancient herbal medicine which is said to have originated during the Mataram Kingdom in Java over 1000 years ago, and enjoys popularity to this day despite the prevalence of Western medicine.

While there is a wide variety of Jamu remedies and recipes, one particular concoction stands out for its across-the-board popularity and accessibility:  Jamu Kunyit Asem. Key ingredients in this bright orange, tangy-bitter concoction are Tamarind pulp and Turmeric (Curcuma Longa), a.k.a. “The Golden Goddess” in Sanksrit.

Traditionally prescribed to “cool the body” (probably pointing its anti-inflammatory benefits), to aid digestion and promote all-around good health, Kunyit Asem is also the go-to drink for women to help regulate your period and reduce menstrual cramping.  A closer look at the growing body of research regarding Turmeric, the key ingredient in Kunyit Asem, gives us a fascinating glimpse into why this drink might be so good for women’s health and wellbeing in particular.

Turmeric for Hormonal Balance

We are all affected by hormonal changes throughout our lives, but women in particular experience frequent and often dramatic fluctuations in their female hormones (namely estrogen and progesterone) and hence dramatic changes to their well-being and health.  Just think of what a women goes through month after month because of ovulation and menstruation, or how a woman’s body changes during and after pregnancy, or once she goes through menopause.

Healthy Liver – Healthy Hormones

Turmeric’s role in protecting liver function has been well established.  Most of us know that our liver plays a vital role in ridding the body of toxins (alcohol, medication) and regulating blood sugar.  But few associate our liver with regulating and balancing our hormones. Our liver flushes out excess hormones, including excess female hormones like estrogen which our own bodies produce, but which can also enter our bodies through the environment and can result in estrogen dominance with all its ill effects like a higher risk of breast-cancer, weight gain etc.  Just think of possible environmental hormone disrupters like BPA (in certain plastics) or Phthalates (personal care products) that have an estrogen-like effect.

Turmeric’s role in promoting hormonal balance does not stop there.  Curcumin, the component in Turmeric that gives it its signature orange color, has been shown to have both an estrogenic AND anti-estrogenic effect(2, 11).  This means it can act as a counter-balancing remedy when a woman experiences hormonal imbalance in either direction.

These balancing properties along with Curcumin’s numerous other benefits, including its well-documented anti-inflammatory action, might be what is behind its many benefits for women’s health, such as:

  • Reduce PMS  by improving brain chemistry.(1)
  • Inhibiting endometriosis.(2)
  • Reduce inflammation in women with PCOS (Polycystic ovary syndrome).(3)
  • Relieve symptoms of menopause such as mood swings and weight gain.(4, 5, 6)
  • Fight HPV-related and non-related cervical cancers.(7)
  • Reduce the risk & spread of breast cancer.(8, 9, 10)

The list of benefits of Turmeric and other Jamu ingredients is obviously impressive and growing.  Yet, it’s important to see them also in the larger context of a tradition that takes a holistic approach to health and prevention.  Rather than considered a miracle cure, Jamu is enjoying growing popularity in Indonesia and abroad as part of a lifestyle that emphasizes self-care, balance, mindfulness and community.

Drinking Jamu Kunyit Asem Daily – Is it Safe?

While long-term use of very high doses Turmeric can irritate your stomach, it is considered safe when consumed in conventional doses in food or drink, which is what traditional Jamu is.  Individuals may show sensitivity to certain herbs when they try a Jamu recipes for the first few time, but typically your digestive system will adjust unless an allergy is involved. If you are on any kind of medication, are pregnant or have health concerns, it’s always a good idea to ask a physician, if consuming Turmeric daily is safe for you.

References:

  1. Effect of curcumin on serum brain-derived neurotrophic factor levels in women with premenstrual syndrome: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26608718
  2. Curcumin inhibits endometriosis endometrial cells by reducing estradiol production. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24639774
  3. The Effect of Curcumin on TNF-α, IL-6 and CRP Expression in a Model of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome as an Inflammation State.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29201665
  4. Effect of Curcumin on the Diversity of Gut Microbiota in Ovariectomized Rats. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=Curcumin+microbiota+menopause
  5. Oral administration of curcumin relieves behavioral alterations and oxidative stress in the frontal cortex, hippocampus, and striatum of ovariectomized Wistar rats. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27142750
  6. Menopause: a review on the role of oxygen stress and favorable effects of dietary antioxidants. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16442644
  7. Curcumin as a multifaceted compound against human papilloma virus infection and cervical cancers: A review of chemistry, cellular, molecular, and preclinical features. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27896883
  8. Curcumin exerts multiple suppressive effects on human breast carcinoma cells. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11857414
  9. Protective role of curcumin in oxidative stress of breast cells. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21750867
  10. Curcumin and genistein, plant natural products, show synergistic inhibitory effects on the growth of human breast cancer MCF-7 cells induced by estrogenic pesticides.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9168916
  11. Reference profile correlation reveals estrogen-like trancriptional activity of Curcumin.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20798532