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Turmeric Benefits & Uses: Does This Herb Really Combat Disease?
May 23, 2023
Turmeric — the main spice in curry, a traditional Indian dish — is argued by many to be the most powerful herb on the planet. There are thousands of studies proving turmeric benefits, especially those related to its renowned healing compound called curcumin.
Curcumin is what makes turmeric a “functional food,” meaning one that has a positive effect on human health beyond basic nutrition.
This spice has a long history of use, particularly in Ayurvedic medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine, for helping manage various conditions and ailments. It’s been used for over 5,000 years to help manage pain, swelling, digestion, cholesterol, blood sugar and more.
Read on to find out all about turmeric and curcumin benefits for the brain, heart, joints, skin and other organs.
What Is Turmeric?
Turmeric comes from the root of the Curcuma longa plant, which grows in India and other Southeast Asian countries. It is a member of the ginger family, also called the Zingiberaceae family.
The dried root of the Curcuma longa plant is ground into a distinctive yellow powder, earning it the nickname “golden spice.” The taste of turmeric is described as being earthy, bitter, somewhat musky and with a bit of a peppery kick.
Why is turmeric good for you? There are several chemical compounds found in this herb, known as curcuminoids, which are types of polyphenols. The most active substance is curcumin, which is known to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and anticancer properties (among other positive effects).
Here are some of the uses and health benefits of turmeric and curcumin:
1. May Slow or Prevent Blood Clots
In both lab and animal studies, the use of turmeric has been shown to help reduce instances of platelet aggregation and potentially reduce the risk of blood clots forming.
Some evidence suggests that curcumin may be a preferable treatment method for people prone to vascular thrombosis who require antiarthritic therapy.
2. May Reduce Depression Symptoms
Turmeric may be able to help reduce depression symptoms due to the way that curcumin impacts neurotransmitter function through the brain-derived neurotrophic factor.
The journal Phytotherapy Research published the results of a study in 2014 involving 60 volunteers diagnosed with major depressive disorder. Participants were either treated with turmeric curcumin, the drug fluoxetine or a combination of the two. Curcumin was equally effective as fluoxetine in managing depression by the six-week mark.
A 2020 meta-analysis concluded that curcumin is generally well-tolerated by patients with depression, and it if added to standard care, it might improve depressive and anxiety symptoms. Two notable studies support this.
The first involved 56 individuals (male and female), and the second involved 108 male participants. Both used a placebo but did not compare curcumin to any antidepressant, and both studies found that curcumin effectively reduced depression symptoms more than placebo.
3. Fights Inflammation
Arguably, the most powerful aspect of curcumin is its ability to control inflammation. The journal Oncogene published the results of a study that evaluated several anti-inflammatory compounds and found that curcumin is among the most effective anti-inflammatory compounds in the world.
Several animal trials have been completed investigating the relationship of curcumin and Alzheimer’s disease. In mice, it seems that curcumin “reverses existing amyloid pathology and associated neurotoxicity,” a key feature of the progression of this neurological disease related to chronic inflammation. This study shows turmeric curcumin may help with Alzheimer’s symptoms.
4. Boosts Skin Health
Turmeric’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that have proven effective in treating multiple skin conditions, according to a 2021 systematic review.
This spice can help increase the “glow and luster” of the skin, speed up wound healing, calm the pores to decrease acne and acne scarring, and control psoriasis flares. It may also help heal pruritus, oral lichen planus, facial redness, as well as types of skin cancers.
One uncontrolled pilot study involving 814 participants even suggests that turmeric paste could clear up 97 percent of scabies cases within three to 15 days.
Try my turmeric face mask for glowing skin. Just keep in mind that this herb can stain your clothes.
To make sure you react well to it, first do a patch test by applying a dime-size amount to your forearm. Then, wait 24–48 hours to check for any reaction before applying turmeric to your face.
5. Helps Treat Arthritis Symptoms
Because curcumin is known for its strong anti-inflammatory and pain-reducing characteristics, a study was conducted on 45 rheumatoid arthritis patients to compare the health benefits of curcumin in turmeric to the arthritis drug diclofenac sodium (an NSAID).
The study split these volunteers into three groups: curcumin treatment alone, diclofenac sodium alone and a combination of the two. The results of the trial were eye-opening:
The curcumin group showed the highest percentage of improvement in overall [Disease Activity Score] scores and these scores were significantly better than the patients in the diclofenac sodium group. More importantly, curcumin treatment was found to be safe and did not relate with any adverse events.
A review of available randomized, controlled trials confirmed that, of the eight studies available fitting the criteria, “these [randomized clinical trials] provide scientific evidence that supports the efficacy of turmeric extract (about 1000 mg/day of curcumin) in the treatment of arthritis.”
6. May Help Treat or Prevent Certain Cancers
Of all the various topics scientists have tackled in regard to curcumin and disease reversal, cancer (of various types, including prostate cancer) is one of the most thoroughly researched topics. It may help with prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer and other forms of cancer.
In the words of global authorities like Cancer Research UK:
The main active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin or diferuloyl methane. Laboratory studies have shown curcumin has anti cancer effects on cancer cells. It seems to be able to kill cancer cells and prevent more from growing. It has the best effects on breast cancer, bowel cancer, stomach cancer and skin cancer cells.
A July 2017 animal study by researchers at Baylor Scott & White Research Institute found that curcumin may even be able to break through chemo-resistance in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC), an aggressive form of pancreatic cancer.
7. May Help Manage Diabetes
In 2009, Biochemistry and Biophysical Research Communications published a lab study out of Auburn University that explored the potential of curcuminoids to lower glucose levels. The study discovered that curcumin in turmeric is literally 400 times more potent than metformin (a common diabetes drug) in activating the enzyme AMPK (AMP-activated protein kinase).
One compound produced by fermentation of curcumin, tetrahydrocurcumin, activated AMPK up to 100,000 times more than metformin in certain cells. AMPK activation is considered by researchers to be a “therapeutic target” for type 2 diabetes, meaning that figuring out how to activate this enzyme has major potential for developing more effective treatments for reducing insulin resistance and reversing diabetes.
One of the most common complications of diabetes is damage to nerves known as diabetic neuropathy, which takes several forms and can cause serious symptoms throughout the body from muscle weakness to blindness.
A study conducted on rats found that supplementing with curcumin significantly reduced diabetic peripheral neuropathic pain (typically localized to feet, legs, arms and hands). Diabetic neuropathy can also lead to kidney failure.
A meta-analysis of randomized, controlled trials confirmed that, in animals, curcumin protects the kidneys of diabetic subjects from the damage of diabetic nephropathy.
8. Combats Obesity
A study published in the journal Biofactors showed that curcumin may help reduce proliferation (growth) of fat cells based on lab results.
The researchers found that the anti-inflammatory properties in curcumin were effective at suppressing the inflammatory processes of obesity, therefore helping reduce obesity and its “adverse health effects.”
9. Supports Management of Inflammatory Bowel Disease
An in-depth analysis of all the studies evaluating curcumin’s ability to manage ulcerative colitis found that one very well-designed trial tested curcumin plus mesalazine (the typical NSAID prescribed for this condition) against placebo plus mesalazine.
Patients taking only placebo and mesalazine were over four times more likely to experience a relapse or flare-up of ulcerative colitis during the six months of the study, suggesting that curcumin benefits may include helping maintain remission of this chronic disease.
One small pilot study investigated curcumin supplementation for patients with ulcerative colitis and patients with Crohn’s disease.
Although the sample size was very small, all of the ulcerative colitis patients and four out of five Crohn’s patients had marked improvements over two months, suggesting the need for additional research. It shows promise for irritable bowel syndrome and other inflammatory bowel disease symptoms.
10. May Regulate Cholesterol
A 2017 meta-analysis concluded that turmeric and curcumin may protect patients at risk of cardiovascular disease through improving serum lipid levels. Curcumin may be used as a well-tolerated dietary adjunct to conventional drugs.
In fact, one study published by Drugs in R&D found that curcumin was comparable to atorvastatin at reducing oxidative stress and inflammation in the treatment of high cholesterol in humans.
11. Works as a Natural Pain Reliever
One of the more widely accepted properties of curcumin in scientific communities is its ability to manage pain. Breakthrough studies and reviews have found that curcumin may be a beneficial natural painkiller for:
- Wound healing and burn pain
- Post-operative pain
- Inflammation-induced arthritic pain
- Neuropathic pain caused by constriction injury
- Orofacial pain (pertaining to mouth, jaws and face, most commonly related to dental issues)
- Sciatic nerve pain from chronic constrictive injury
- Arthritis/joint pain
12. Aids in Detoxification
Consumption of turmeric and curcumin is thought to help support the liver in efficiently detoxifying the body and fighting off some of the effects of dangerous carcinogens. For example, it may help defend against effects of environmental and dietary toxins known as xenobiotics.
This process operates in tandem with the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agents of turmeric, which together support various liver and immune functions.
13. Improves Joint Health
A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials published in the Journal of Medicinal Food reports that supplementing with turmeric can help alleviate symptoms of joint arthritis, such as joint tenderness, mobility and discomfort.
In addition, multiple studies have found that curcumin supplementation can decrease exercise-induced joint discomfort. This is due in part to its inflammation modulation abilities.
14. Enhances Muscle Recovery
Research published in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition examined curcumin’s effect on post-exercise recovery. What did researchers find?
Various curcumin-based interventions have improved self-perceived measures of pain and tenderness, reduced evidence of muscle damage, ameliorated inflammatory markers, increased markers of antioxidant capacity, diminished markers of oxidative stress, reduced markers of AGEs, and attenuated loss in mean power of single-leg sprints.
The authors did note that the “findings have not been consistently reported,” but more studies have revealed similar results.
For instance, curcumin and piperine supplementation was studied to see how it affected exercise-induced muscle damage. Researchers concluded: “Curcumin and piperine supplementation before and after exercise can attenuate some, but not all, aspects of muscle damage.”
Another study published in the American Journal of Physiology involved mice running downhill and uphill and how curcumin supplementation affected performance and recovery. It revealed that “curcumin can reduce inflammation and offset some of the performance deficits associated with eccentric exercise-induced muscle damage.”
One tablespoon (about nine grams) of ground turmeric contains approximately:
- 29 calories
- 6 grams carbohydrates
- 1 gram protein
- 0.3 gram fat
- 2 grams fiber
- 1.86 milligram manganese (26 percent DV)
- 5 milligrams iron (16 percent DV)
- 0.01 milligram vitamin B6 (6 percent DV)
- 196 milligrams potassium (5 percent DV)
- 19 milligrams magnesium (3 percent DV)
How to Use
What is the best way to take turmeric? This spice can be used in variety of Indian and Pakistani dishes, of course, and nearly always is part of a curry powder mixture.
One of my favorite recipes on the site is turmeric tea, sometimes referred to as liquid gold or golden milk. Be sure not to subscribe to the conventional idea that the fat from the coconut milk is unhealthy. In fact, that fat actually helps the body better absorb the turmeric.
Also, consuming turmeric eggs for breakfast and curried carrot soup is an excellent way to get more of this herb in your diet.
You can use coconut flakes, gluten-free flour and turmeric to bread chicken or sprinkle in your ground meat as well.
Do turmeric curcumin supplements have the same benefits as the powdered type? In most cases, yes. In fact, curcumin supplements may be even more powerful.
Although using turmeric frequently in your cooking is a great way to take advantage of the spice, turmeric only contains about 3 percent absorbable curcumin in the powdered form used in food. Therefore, you may also consider taking it or curcumin in supplement form — some high-quality turmeric pills contain up to 95 percent curcuminoids.
There are a few things to consider when purchasing a good turmeric curcumin supplement. For one, try to find one containing black pepper to get the maximum absorbability, as turmeric and black pepper work in tandem.
Second, consider a fermented turmeric pill, capsule or tablet — the pre-digestion process of fermentation helps you absorb it more effectively. Next, look for a turmeric supplement with other supporting ingredients, like ashwagandha, milk thistle, dandelion and peppermint.
The ideal combination comprises turmeric tablets that are organic, fermented and also contain black pepper fruit. This type of turmeric tablet unlocks the full potential — since a compound in black pepper called piperine helps the spice’s nutrients become more bioavailable while the fermentation provides it in its optimal form.
Piperine/black pepper has been shown to increase bioavailability of curcumin by up to 2,000%!
Last, make sure that the product you get is made from organic turmeric if at all possible, with no GMOs. Note that turmeric dosage recommendations vary depending on a number of factors.
How much should you take? Studies have found that curcumin is safe at doses up to six grams per day taken by mouth for four to seven weeks.
However, some adverse effects, such as digestive issues, can sometimes occur when taking this amount. Supplements containing curcumin are safe for humans at doses of 500 milligrams taken two times daily for several months.
Always read dosage directions since products vary, and if you have additional concerns over dosing, speak with your doctor for advice.
When is the best time of day to take these supplements? Research varies, but it’s believed that taking antioxidant supplements at bedtime may be most effective.
Is it good to take turmeric every day? Most people can benefit from consuming turmeric daily, although it’s important to stick to recommended doses to avoid potential reactions (more on those below).
Turmeric Essential Oil:
Turmeric is also available as an essential oil, which can be used alongside turmeric in food and supplement form. I personally prefer consuming a CO2-extracted form of turmeric essential oil.
Quality is key here, particularly if you’re going to use turmeric essential oil internally. Always dilute in water or other liquids. For example, you can put one drop in a smoothie in the morning.
Risks and Side Effects
What are the negative effects of turmeric? While it’s generally very safe to consume, rarely turmeric has been shown to cause allergies, especially after skin exposure. Typically this is experienced as a mild, itchy rash.
In addition, high doses of turmeric (usually in supplement form) have been observed to cause potential side effects, such as:
- Increased risk of bleeding
- Increased liver function tests
- Hyperactive gallbladder contractions
- Hypotension (lowered blood pressure)
- Uterine contractions in pregnant women
- Increased menstrual flow
If you experience these symptoms, stop using turmeric, and speak with your doctor before beginning to supplement again.
- Whether we’re talking about turmeric powder, extract or pills, this is one of the most powerful herbs in the world. It has a long history of use, particularly in Ayurvedic medicine, for managing pain, inflammation and more.
- What is turmeric good for? It can help prevent blood clots and depression, combat joint pain, regulate cholesterol, and much more.
- Try using turmeric in recipes daily and/or purchasing it in supplement form to take advantage of the benefits.
- Make sure to use only a high-quality curcumin supplement made from organic turmeric, coupled with black pepper and preferably prepared by fermentation, to help with absorption.