Golden Milk: Nondairy, Powerfully Healthy, Tasty Drink

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Do you start your day with coffee and end it with tea? Consider tempting your taste buds with a warm cup of golden milk instead. And, as the summer months approach, you can enjoy it as a tasty cold treat as well.

Golden milk is not made with a dairy product but, rather, with coconut milk. You'll find other recipes using other nondairy products, but I recommend coconut milk for the health benefits and the superior taste.

The high number of antioxidants in the drink contribute to the prodigious array of benefits for your health and wellness. The drink is a combination of coconut milk, with or without a splash of coconut oil, and turmeric, ginger, black pepper and cinnamon. Some recipes call for adding a taste of local raw honey as well.

Turmeric has been valued for medicinal purposes for centuries. It is the ingredient in curry powder that adds the rich yellow coloring.1 However, the flavor is comparatively mild to its relative, ginger. The flavor increases the more you use but becomes bitter if too much is added.

Let’s Talk Turmeric

The herb is grown throughout southwestern Asia and often used as a spice in foods from Iran, China, India and Thailand.2 In India and China it’s also been used to treat skin diseases, infections and depression.

Since it does resemble curry, you might expect golden milk to have a curry flavor. But turmeric has a more subtle citrus taste that blends well with cinnamon and ginger. The distinct difference in flavor means you shouldn't add curry to golden milk because the taste will not be the same. Similarly, turmeric will not flavor a curry dish as you would expect.

Turmeric tea may be one of the secrets of the high number of centenarians living on the Japanese island of Okinawa.3 In combination with a healthy lifestyle, the people on the island enjoy much lower rates of chronic diseases that plague the rest of the world, such as heart disease, cancer, stroke and Alzheimer's. Instead of adding the spice to their cooked dishes, most drink turmeric tea daily.

One of the bioactive compounds in turmeric is curcumin, important in Ayurvedic medicine for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Unfortunately, since curcumin isn’t bioavailable, it’s often quickly metabolized and rapidly eliminated.4

You can boost the bioavailability by up to 2,000% by consuming it with piperine, an ingredient found in black pepper. While the list of benefits attributed to golden milk is considerable, here are several you may find interesting.

Lowers Inflammation and Blood Sugar

Chronic inflammation is linked to several chronic conditions, including heart disease, stroke, depression and Alzheimer’s disease.5 An inflammatory response is the body’s first reaction to infections, toxins and injuries. This is a state of emergency in the body. However, when it becomes chronic, prolonged inflammation can damage the heart and other organs.

The effects of turmeric on inflammation are significant and may even help reduce post-exercise inflammation and soreness, aiding in recovery. A diet high in anti-inflammatory compounds can help reduce your risk of diseases that result from chronic inflammation.

While studies have shown turmeric is a potent anti-inflammatory agent, ginger6 and cinnamon7 — other ingredients in golden milk — have similar properties. The authors of some studies have also suggested the effects of curcumin on inflammation may be comparable to some drugs, but without side effects.8,9

In one 12-week study of 120 people with osteoarthritis, researchers found using a standardized ginger supplement, the participants had a statistically significant reduction in inflammatory markers. Ginger also has a good safety profile.10

In another study researchers compared curcumin in participants with active rheumatoid arthritis taking diclofenac sodium and those taking both. While all three groups improved their scores, those in the curcumin group had the highest percentage of improvement without side effects.11

The ginger and cinnamon in golden milk have demonstrated the ability to help lower blood sugar levels. Cinnamon demonstrates a protective effect against metabolic syndrome, including insulin resistance, high blood pressure and increased weight gain.12 Ginger can help lower your A1C level, a long-term marker of blood sugar control.13

May Improve Cognitive Health, Memory and Mood

There are several strategies to help improve your memory and mood, but none is quite as delicious as golden milk. Curcumin may help increase your levels of brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is a compound your body uses to help build new connections in your neurological system.14

This means drinking a cup of golden milk may reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease associated with lower levels of BDNF.15 Cinnamon plays a part in reducing tau proteins commonly found in Alzheimer’s16 and may reduce symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.17

It is important to begin protecting your cognitive health before your body experiences changes, which is long before you might suffer symptoms. However, it’s never too late to begin taking care of your body and brain.

Adding ginger to your golden milk may help improve your reaction time and your memory,18 both of which are important to remaining independent as you grow older. Reducing inflammation helps reduce your risk of depression. But, beyond this, researchers know there is a link between your levels of BDNF and a positive mood.19 So, as curcumin increases BDNF, it helps improve your mood.

Evidence Suggests Trifecta of Heart Protective Factors

Heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the U.S.20 You potentially can affect your risk by consistently drinking golden milk since three ingredients — turmeric, ginger and cinnamon — have all been linked to cardio protection using different pathways.

Let’s begin with cinnamon. One meta-analysis21 of 10 random controlled trials with a total of 543 participants showed cinnamon could affect fasting plasma glucose and cholesterol levels. The participants took between 120 mg a day and 6 grams a day for four to 18 weeks.

While there was a reduction in blood sugar, which helps reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome leading to blood vessel damage, there was no significant effect on the participants’ hemoglobin A1C (a long-term measure of blood sugar control). However, the participants enjoyed a reduction in their triglyceride levels and improvement in their HDL-C levels.

In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study,22 researchers found that ginger had a positive effect on fasting blood sugar and hemoglobin A1C levels, which they concluded “may have a role in alleviating the risk of some chronic complications of diabetes.”

The third ingredient in the trifecta is curcumin. This bioactive ingredient in turmeric has demonstrated effects on the heart in human and animal trials. In one human study,23 121 consecutive patients undergoing a coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG) received either curcumin or a placebo for three days before and five days after the procedure. The researchers believe the results:24

“… demonstrated that curcuminoids significantly decreased MI associated with CABG. The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of curcuminoids may account for their cardioprotective effects shown in this study.”

In animal studies the results also indicated that curcumin had a cardioprotective effect on the tissue of the heart muscle. One group of researchers found a combination of curcumin and piperine protected against induced cardiotoxicity.25 Another found26 it could reduce damage to the heart after a myocardial infarction.

Leverage the Antiviral, Antibacterial and Antifungal Assets

In a time when bacterial resistance is growing27 and viral fear is spreading, it only makes sense to protect your health and reduce the chances of getting sick or needing antibiotics. Although nothing is guaranteed, by taking certain steps you may lower your risk.

In India, golden milk is known as “haldi ka doodh,” and is frequently used to treat colds.28 Putting the cultural belief to the test, the leaders of some test tube studies found that curcumin is active against bacteria, viruses and fungi.29

Tests involving ginger30,31 and cinnamon32,33 revealed similar results against viruses and bacteria. As with the effect of golden milk on cardiovascular health and inflammation, it may be the high levels of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties that help keep you feeling good.

Golden Milk Is an Easy and Tasty Way to Get Turmeric

There are turmeric supplements you could consider, but they will not have the added benefits of ginger, coconut milk and other spices you add to your drink. Instead, consider making it at home. You’ll find a recipe for golden milk and one for golden paste, which acts as a starter for a perfect cup, in “What is Golden Milk?

Although some recipes call for using a dairy base or other nondairy milk products, I believe the health benefits of coconut milk help boost the overall benefits of golden milk. I think you’ll find the added benefits of lowering inflammation and weight management will be helpful too.

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