The golden spice turmeric, native to Southeast Asia has been used for centuries for more than just cooking.
Ancient medicine has lauded its beneficial effects for a long time.
And now, research is verifying that this common spice can in fact help with many health conditions.
The main antioxidant in turmeric, a chemical called curcumin, is extremely anti-inflammatory.
Could it be that the secret to good health is in our spice cabinets? Before you start adding turmeric to everything, take note of what turmeric can help with… and when it may cause unwanted side effects.
What Is Turmeric?
Turmeric is part of the ginger family, and like ginger, is a rhizome. A rhizome is an underground stem.
In fact, turmeric looks similar to ginger in the grocery store. This beautiful flowering plant shows much promise for our health through its antioxidant abilities.
Turmeric has a distinct yellow color and a slightly bitter taste.
It is used as a dye, or in many cuisines, especially throughout Southeast Asia.
It has long been valued for its health-benefitting properties, particularly in alternative therapy, traditional Chinese medicine, and Ayurvedic medicine, a traditional Indian system of treatment.
Turmeric can be consumed raw or as a powder.
The powder is made from the ground roots of the plant and is then used in cooking, or in capsules and tablets.
It is golden yellow in color and is most notably found in curry powders.
In fact, traditional yellow mustard that you put on burgers and bratwursts uses turmeric powder to get that bright yellow color.
It is also used in some cosmetics.
Turmeric, as well as curcumin, a powerful compound found in turmeric, may improve a variety of health conditions.
Turmeric or curcumin can also be called Curcuma longa.
What Is Turmeric Good For?
Turmeric is dried and can be made into tea, extracts, or powdered. This can then be turned into tablets, capsules, or pastes.
Turmeric contains many plant compounds called curcuminoids. Most research has focused on curcumin.
The turmeric plant has antioxidant, antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory abilities.
Turmeric also contains vitamins B3, C, E, and K, as well as calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, potassium, and zinc.
Turmeric includes different plant compounds called curcuminoids: curcumin, bisdemethoxycurcumin, and demethoxycurcumin.
Turmeric also contains the oils turmerone, atlantaone, and zingiberone.
All of these compounds have been found to have certain health benefits, but the most studied are the curcumin group.
This spice has long been used in Ayurvedic medicine and traditional medicine for gastrointestinal disease, liver issues, blood ailments, and infectious diseases. (1)
Can Help Curb Inflammation
Inflammation can be caused by a number of things, but generally is not good for the body over the long term.
Chronic inflammation can lead to a host of problems and has been tied to diabetes and heart disease.
Turmeric may be a natural way to tamp down inflammation.
The anti-inflammatory components found in turmeric may also help with inflammatory conditions like osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis (or RA).
Turmeric’s abundance of antioxidants also fights free radicals that damage cells in the body and reduce oxidative stress and oxidative damage (1).
Many believe that fighting inflammation can be the first place to address illnesses tied to chronic inflammation.
May Lower Your Cancer Risk
There is some good news when it comes to this yellow spice and cancer!
Certain compounds found in turmeric may fight against certain types of cancer, such as colon, breast, and prostate cancer, as well as certain forms of leukemia.
The curcumin found in turmeric has been found to help stop the formation and spread of cancer cells and may help cut off the blood supply to cancer tumors.
It is important to know that this is very early research and more research is needed about the use of turmeric for cancer treatment.
If you have a family history of colon, breast, or prostate cancer, you may consider the addition of more turmeric to your diet.
However, some studies have found that turmeric may help promote tumor growth, so more research is needed (2, 3).
Cancer patients should consult with a healthcare provider before taking large amounts of turmeric, especially during cancer treatment.
Benefits for Your Brain
If you have a family history of Alzheimer’s disease, you may want to look more closely at turmeric.
The curcuminoids in turmeric may help fight Alzheimer’s disease.
Several cell and animal studies have found that curcumin may help prevent the formation of amyloid plaques which is a sign of Alzheimer’s disease. (4,5)
One study found that older adults without dementia who took curcumin twice daily for 18 months showed an improvement in their memory and cognitive function (6).
It is important to note that this was a relatively small study with only 40 participants.
Ease Symptoms of Arthritis
If you suffer from painful joints and stiffness, keep reading!
Turmeric may be useful as pain relief, instead of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like acetaminophen.
The anti-inflammatory properties of this spice may play an important role in managing arthritis.
In a 2019 study, osteoarthritis patients were either given an anti-inflammatory medication, diclofenac twice per day, or took curcumin three times per day.
Both groups found relief from joint pain by taking either the medication or curcumin.
However, those who took the curcumin reported fewer side effects, and in particular, complained less of an upset stomach (7).
Another study from 2016 found that taking turmeric extract reduced the swelling, inflammation, and arthritis pain reported by subjects.
Participants took the extract for 8-12 weeks and found it performed similarly to diclofenac or ibuprofen (the active ingredient in Advil) (8).
Another review study found that the curcumin found in turmeric worked as an anti-inflammatory agent and provided relief for osteoarthritis to participants (9).
In fact, the Arthritis Foundation lists turmeric as a supplement that may help both rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and osteoarthritis (OA).
Protect Your Heart
We all know how important it is to take care of your heart, including cholesterol levels and blood pressure.
Heart disease is one of the top killers in the world.
Turmeric has shown some promise in treating high cholesterol and may have a protective effect on your ticker.
A study published in 2012 compared how turmeric impacted heart health as compared to exercise.
Both exercise and taking curcumin were found to increase blood flow and help dilate blood vessels.
It is thought that the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects of curcumin are responsible for this (10).
Another study found that patients who had bypass surgery and took curcumin had a significant decrease in the risk of a heart attack while still in the hospital. (11)
In addition, a recent study confirmed that curcumin may have anti-inflammatory effects, and may also help to lower cholesterol but more research is needed (12).
If you have hyperlipidemia, also called high cholesterol, or if you are at an increased risk of heart disease, you may want to talk with your healthcare team about taking turmeric.
Lower Your Risk of Diabetes
Recent research has found that turmeric may moderate insulin levels and help improve blood sugar control in diabetic patients.
A 2012 study found that curcumin can help our beta cells, which makes insulin in our body, work better.
And people who took curcumin had a long time between being classified as pre-diabetic to being diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes, so it may delay the onset of diabetes. (13)
Another study reported that curcumin displayed the development of diabetes mellitus by disrupting the progression of high blood sugar and insulin resistance (14).
A recent study in 2018 found that taking curcumin could lower blood sugar levels after eating meals and improve the response to insulin. (15)
A study in 2013 found that curcumin may improve Type 1 diabetes in rats, but more studies are needed to confirm these findings in humans (16).
When combined with anti-diabetic medication, it can cause low blood sugar.
Curcumin could improve many aspects of diabetes, such as rising blood sugar and insulin response, but more research is needed.
Less Sore After Workouts
In addition to helping with joint pain, this spice may help your muscles after a workout.
Feeling sore after a workout is a common feeling, often highlighting that the exercise worked muscle fibers that are now repairing and growing.
But turmeric may help relieve that soreness and act as a pain reliever.
A recent study gave 59 human volunteers either a placebo or 200 milligrams or mg of curcumin after a workout.
Those that took the curcumin reported less soreness and pain over the eight-week study, compared to the control group (17)
Beat Those Symptoms of PMS
Many women suffer from PMS or Pre-Menstrual Syndrome, and it can be almost debilitating for some.
Common symptoms of PMS include cramping, exhaustion, headaches, back pain, and mood changes.
A recent study published in Complementary Theories in Medicine reported that curcumin may reduce many of the common symptoms women experience before or during their period.
The anti-inflammatory properties of the curcumin found in turmeric are thought to help provide relief.
Some women may take a turmeric supplement daily for the week before their period starts and a few days into menstruation (18, 19).
Relieve Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Turmeric has been used for centuries in traditional medicine for digestive health.
And recent research seems to confirm that this golden spice may be beneficial for people’s digestion.
For those that suffer from irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, the cramping, diarrhea, and constipation can be miserable.
A study published in 2004 found that IBS patients that took turmeric every day for 2 months reported less stomach upset and more regularity. (20)
Additionally, it may help those who suffer from inflammatory bowel disease.
A study found that patients that suffer from ulcerative colitis showed improvement when they took turmeric regularly (21).
This may be due to tamping down gut inflammation.
Additionally, a 2018 study reported that curcumin altered the good bacteria in the gut in a beneficial way, which may help digestive health (22).
Other studies have found that turmeric improves bile production. Bile helps our body digest fats and promotes healthy digestion (23).
That said, too much turmeric or curcumin can have the opposite effect and can make digestive issues worse and hinder digestion.
Consult with a doctor or healthcare provider about taking turmeric supplements if you suffer from gastrointestinal conditions.
If you suffer regularly from headaches or migraines, this next bit of information is for you.
A recent study found that migraine sufferers that took a combination of curcumin and coQ10 reported fewer headaches, and reduced their length and severity as well (24).
Another study looked at how a combination of curcumin and omega-3 fatty acids impacted migraines.
Participants that took the combination supplement reported fewer migraines than those that took nothing or took either the curcumin or the omega-3 fatty acids alone. (25)
Help with Skin Conditions
For centuries, turmeric has been used for its healing properties, and that includes the face.
This age-old beauty treatment is now dominating social media, with photos of turmeric mixed with yogurt, honey, or aloe gel to make a homemade mask that has a bright yellow color.
Many people believe that the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties found in turmeric will help heal acne or eczema.
However, there is little clinical data to support these uses.
However, there is research about turmeric, its active compound curcumin, and other skin disorders.
One study reported that a topical gel that contained curcumin improved plaque psoriasis.
Other reviews have found that oral and topical turmeric use may benefit a variety of skin conditions, but more research is needed.
Another study did find that applying turmeric topically to the skin can cause a rash called contact dermatitis, so be careful of using this spice on your skin if you have sensitive skin (26, 27).
Might Help with Weight Loss
It seems like everyone is looking for a magic pill to lose weight.
And while this isn’t the same thing, there is some research regarding turmeric aiding in weight loss.
Research has found that curcumin may help to fight off the inflammation that is associated with obesity.
And it has been found that curcumin interacts with white adipose tissue, the unhealthy fat stores in our bodies. (28)
A 2015 human study reported that curcumin aided with the loss of body fat and overall weight loss, and also correlated with a lower waist circumference in those that had already lose weight with exercise and a healthy diet (29).
Turmeric Side Effects
While turmeric is generally considered to be safe when used in cooking, applied topically, or taken as a supplement.
It can be consumed raw and is usually grated or ground from its stem form.
Otherwise, most people use ground turmeric as a spice in cooking.
Consuming turmeric with a source of fat like oil, avocado, nuts or butter may increase the bioavailability of turmeric.
Long-term studies have not been done on the safety of curcumin or turmeric, so more research is needed.
Some studies have found that taking high doses for long-term use may cause negative side effects like nausea, gastrointestinal distress, or contact dermatitis.
Some studies have found that taking turmeric or curcumin supplements for over a month may result in abnormal liver function.
Pregnant women should speak with their doctor before taking turmeric supplements.
People with gallbladder disease should avoid turmeric, as it can make the condition worse.
If you get gallstones or suffer from bile duct obstructions, do not take turmeric.
Drug and Medication Interactions
If you are taking any of the following types of medications, speak with your physician or healthcare provider before taking turmeric or curcumin, as it may cause adverse effects when combined with medication:
- Blood Thinners: Turmeric may increase the effects of blood-thinning medications, which in turn increases the risk of bleeding. Warfarin (Coumadin), clopidogrel (Plavix), and aspirin are some of the blood thinners that are often prescribed. If you take these, avoid large doses of turmeric.
- Stomach Acid: Turmeric may increase the production of stomach acid and therefore should be avoided if taking Famotidine (Pepcid), Cimetidine (Tagamet), Ranitidine (Zantac), Omeprazole, Esomeprazole (Nexium), and Lansoprazole (Prevacid).
- Antidiabetic medication: Turmeric and curcumin may also lower blood sugar levels, so diabetic patients should consult with their doctor or pharmacist if taking diabetes medication before they start taking turmeric supplements.
There are many potential health benefits to using more turmeric. It has potent anti-inflammatory properties.
The antioxidant effect of turmeric may help with diabetes, cognitive function, chronic pain, and soreness, as well as prevent breast, prostate, and colorectal cancer.
While the research results are promising, more clinical studies are needed.
It is important to note that many claims found on the internet are not yet backed by research.
For example, some sites claim that turmeric may help treat a major depressive disorder, but there is not enough evidence that this would work better than an antidepressant or a placebo.
Using turmeric powder or root in cooking is generally seen as safe when done in moderate amounts.
Always take turmeric with fat to increase its bioavailability, or how its efficient absorption into the bloodstream.
Turmeric and black pepper taken together may also be helpful, as the piperine in black pepper may enhance the benefits of curcumin.
Curry pastes and powders often contain turmeric as a major ingredient. Additionally, you can find turmeric teas to sip on to relieve stress. Another recent trend is adding turmeric to warmed milk as a healthy morning beverage. Some people will add raw turmeric root to their smoothies.
Turmeric can be added to a variety of dishes including lentils, cooked grains, chicken salad, salad dressings, or marinades. Keep turmeric in a cool, dark place like a pantry, or on one of your shelves away from the stove. There are several turmeric products available on the market including dietary supplements.
Turmeric has a number of health benefits that may make it worth adding to your regular diet. It has been used in integrative health for many years.
There is some promising early research about this spice and its benefits. More research is needed about its safety, efficacy, and long-term usage. Always seek professional medical advice about adding a dietary supplement to your regular routine.
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