The Top 4 Health Benefits of Golden Milk

by Amylee Amos MS, RDN, IFMCPRecipes

Golden milk is a traditional Ayurvedic beverage that has been used for centuries in India for its potent health benefits. While recipes vary, the main ingredient in golden milk is turmeric, which gives this beverage its signature golden, orange color. This warming, spiced drink packs a phytonutrient-filled punch! Phytonutrients are natural, bioactive compounds in plants that have health-promoting properties. The many phytonutrients in each of the ingredients used in this golden milk recipe, along with the healthy fat from the coconut milk make it an excellent choice to promote cognitive health and mild ketosis. There are countless health benefits to drinking golden milk. We have outlined the top four health benefits below. 

Strong Anti-Inflammatory Effect

Turmeric is best known as an anti-inflammatory culinary ingredient. Inflammation is perhaps the best studied driver of chronic disease, affecting all cellular pathways and contributing to the breakdown in structure and function that results in disease pathology. Thus, anything and everything that helps attenuate this pathologic inflammation should be considered. Turmeric contains active polyphenols called curcuminoids that have over 100 different molecular targets. These curcuminoids have been  shown  to modify genomic, epigenetic, and cell-signaling pathways. Some of the major anti-inflammatory mechanisms include downregulation of Nfkb, inhibited production of inflammatory cytokines, and upregulation of the anti-inflammatory signaling pathway Nrf2 (1-4). This means that turmeric acts on inflammation in multiple ways, which is perhaps why it gets so much (warranted) attention as a potent anti-inflammatory compound. As mentioned, inflammation is at the root of all of the chronic diseases of aging. Thus, by reducing inflammation we reduce the risk of dementia, heart disease, cancer, and more. 

Black pepper is added to this recipe because it improves the absorption of turmeric. Without the black pepper, very little of the curcuminoids are absorbed systemically. While we want the absorption for the systemic anti-inflammatory benefit, if you choose to leave the black pepper out, you will get a localized anti-inflammatory benefit in the gut, which can be preferable depending on your current health status. 

Improves Insulin Resistance

Golden milk contains cinnamon, which may be a useful complementary therapy for promoting glucose homeostasis. This is a significant benefit, especially for those looking to prevent or reverse cognitive decline, as one of the primary root causes of Alzheimer’s disease is insulin resistance, especially for those who have or are at risk of the subtype 1.5, Glycotoxic Alzheimer's disease. Specifically, Ceylon cinnamon has been shown to improve insulin resistance by reducing blood glucose levels (5). While research has been conducted using multiple types of cinnamon, Ceylon cinnamon is the preferred type of cinnamon to be used in large quantities or as an herbal medicine because it contains lower levels of coumarin, a naturally occurring compound found in cinnamon that has toxic effects on the liver (6).

Promotes Gastric Motility

A sluggish GI tract is the underlying cause of many health issues, including some that are extremely challenging to treat, such as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. For optimal gastrointestinal function, we need the foods we eat to move effectively through the GI tract without becoming slowed down in any area. Certain foods are helpful in modulating the time that it takes for complete movement through the GI tract, neither too fast, nor too slow. The ginger in golden milk acts as a prokinetic, meaning that it promotes gastric motility. Ginger has been shown to modulate transit time in the bowel by facilitating the pumping of the stomach (7). Additionally, ginger alleviates symptoms of gastrointestinal distress including nausea, vomiting, and indigestion. 

Potent Antimicrobial Effect

Multiple ingredients found in golden milk have an antimicrobial effect. Cardamom works as an antifungal. It has specifically been studied for its ability to inhibit several Candida species, which are known for causing opportunistic fungal infections (8). Additionally, the curcumin in turmeric has documented antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, and antiparasitic action (9). As a result, these compounds can help modulate the environment of the microbiome. This benefit has far reaching effects and can improve the health of all body systems. 

The full fat coconut milk in this recipe not only makes it indulgent and deliciously creamy, but also helps promote mild ketosis. Mild ketosis is metabolically preferable for those with cognitive decline or who carry the genetic variant ApoE4. If needed, feel free to add a tablespoon of coconut oil as well to make this beverage even higher in brain healthy fats. 

Ingredients: 

  • 2 cups unsweetened, full fat coconut milk
  • 1 cup filtered water
  • 1 Ceylon cinnamon stick (or ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon) 
  • 1 1-inch piece turmeric, peeled, thinly sliced (or ½ teaspoon ground turmeric)
  • 1 ½ -inch piece ginger, peeled, thinly sliced (or ¼ teaspoon ground ginger)
  • 2 cardamom pods (or ⅛ teaspoon ground cardamom)
  • ¼ teaspoon whole black peppercorns

Directions: 

  1. Whisk coconut milk, cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, cardamom, peppercorns, and water in a small saucepan, then bring to a boil. 
  2. Reduce heat and simmer until flavors have melded, about 10 minutes. 
  3. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into mugs and top with a dash of cinnamon.
  4. Enjoy warm. 

References: 

  1. Jurenka, J. S. Anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin, a major constituent of Curcuma longa: a review of preclinical and clinical research. Altern Med Rev 2009;14(2):141-153 
  2. Aggarwal, B. B. and Sung, B. Pharmacological basis for the role of curcumin in chronic diseases: an age-old spice with modern targets. Trends Pharmacol Sci. 2009;30(2):85-94. 
  3. Aggarwal, B. B. and Harikumar, K. B. Potential therapeutic effects of curcumin, the anti-inflammatory agent, against neurodegenerative, cardiovascular, pulmonary, metabolic, autoimmune and neoplastic diseases. Int J Biochem Cell Biol. 2009;41(1):40-59. 
  4. Satoskar, R. R., Shah, S. J., and Shenoy, S. G. Evaluation of anti-inflammatory property of curcumin (diferuloyl methane) in patients with postoperative inflammation. Int J Clin Pharmacol Ther Toxicol. 1986;24(12):651-654. 
  5. Magistrelli, A. & Chezem, J.C. (2012). Effect of ground cinnamon on post prandial blood glucose concentration in normal weight and obese subjects. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 112(11), 1806-1809. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2012.07.037
  6. Natural Medicines (2021, March). Cinnamon. https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/databases/food,-herbs-supplements/professional.aspx?productid=1002
  7. Wu KL, Rayner CK, Chuah SK, Changchien CS, Lu SN, Chiu YC, Chiu KW, Lee CM. Effects of ginger on gastric emptying and motility in healthy humans. Eur J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2008 May;20(5):436-40. doi: 10.1097/MEG.0b013e3282f4b224. PMID: 18403946.
  8. Vijayalakshmi P, Thenmozhi S, Rajeswari P. The Evaluation of the virulence factors of clinical Candida isolates and the anti-biofilm activity of Elettaria cardamomum against multi-drug resistant Candida albicans. Curr Med Mycol. 2016 Jun;2(2):8-15. doi: 10.18869/acadpub.cmm.2.2.3. PMID: 28681014; PMCID: PMC5490299.
  9. Moghadamtousi, S. Z., Kadir, H. A., Hassandarvish, P., Tajik, H., Abubakar, S., & Zandi, K. (2014). A review on antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal activity of curcumin. BioMed research international, 2014, 186864. https://doi.org/10.1155/2014/186864