Turmeric has its historical roots in ancient Southeast Asia. For more than 4000 years the spice has been used in foods, for religious ceremonies, and for medicinal purposes. Its brilliant yellow color gives it its nickname, “Indian Saffron”, although the compound is referred to by dozens of different names in various regions around the world. Turmeric has also been heralded as a great healer in traditional Eastern medicine. Over the past 25 years much has been written in the West about its anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, and antioxidant curative properties.
Foods Containing Turmeric and Curcumin
Manufactured food products such as canned beverages, dairy, baked goods, cereals and sauces often contain turmeric as an additive, as well as the majority of commercial grade curry powders. Foods such as butter and cheese are often colored with turmeric as well. Native to South Asia, turmeric is produced by the plant, Curcuma longa, an herbaceous perennial belonging to the ginger family. Curcumin is the bright yellow chemical compound that gives turmeric its bold color. It’s often used in natural cosmetics and supplements, and as a drink flavoring in Southeast Asia.
Benefits of Turmeric and Curcumin
The uses for turmeric and curcumin go far beyond taste and color. For thousands of years ancient cultures have utilized the bright yellow plant for a number of preventive and restorative treatments. It is only in the past couple of decades that Western medicine has recognized the herb’s therapeutic role in complementary healthcare.
Turmeric and curcumin may be useful for the following:
While medical research has yet to uncover the exact medical reasons for osteoarthritis they do know it is associated with inflammation in articular cartilage. This leads to a painful abnormality in joint structure. An 8-12 week study confirms that 1000 mg daily of curcumin reduces pain and inflammation as well as ibuprofen and diclofenac sodium. While further studies are needed to corroborate scientific evidence, results are encouraging for arthritis sufferers who cannot tolerate ibuprofen and its side effects.
2. Weight loss
In one Tufts University study, curcumin was found to suppress fat tissue production and reduce weight gain in laboratory mice fed with a diet high in fat. The major polyphenol may act as a fat blocker. “Weight gain is the result of the growth and expansion of fat tissue, which cannot happen unless new blood vessels form, a process known as angiogenesis”, said senior author Mohsen Meydani, DVM, PhD, director of the Vascular Biology Laboratory at the USDA HNRCA. “Based on our data, curcumin appears to suppress angiogenic activity in the fat tissue of mice fed high fat diets.”
3. Skin Care
Turmeric helps to promote healthy skin as it contains natural anti-inflammatory properties that that help cuts and minor skin irritations heal. The curcumin in turmeric also acts an antiseptic that inhibits bacteria growth and helps keep skin clean and pimple free. Turmeric also limits oil secretion from sebaceous glands that contribute to acne and boils on the skin. Antioxidants work to keep skin from aging as quickly and fight free radicals that may cause damage.
4. Gastrointestinal Issues
Turmeric and curcumin help sooth the stomach and ease many digestive disorders including Irritable Bowel syndrome, Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Crohn’s Disease, cramps and constipation. The dietary fiber found in turmeric is thought to aid digestion. Anti-inflammatory properties combined with dietary fiber help to heal the gut.
5. Lowers Cholesterol
In one randomized double blind controlled study designed to evaluate escalating doses of curcumin in acute coronary syndrome patients, low doses of curcumin yielded an overall reduction in total cholesterol levels, as well as “bad” LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol. The 75-person study did not show positive correlation between healthier cholesterol levels and higher doses of curcumin however. Further research does establish the overall cardio-protective value of “regular” dosing with turmeric and curcumin though.
6. Helps Treat Ulcers
Turmeric may be beneficial in treating peptic ulcers according to medical research. In a study of 45 patients with ulcers, 300 mg of turmeric was administered to participants five times a day for 12 weeks. After four weeks, 48% of the ulcers had been eliminated from the body. After 12 weeks of treatment 76% of patients were totally ulcer free.
7. Protection From Alzheimer’s Disease
The disease process associated with AD involves macrophages that scavenge foreign proteins and amyloid plaques found in the brain. These plaques disrupt cell signals and are partially responsible for the debilitating symptoms and impairment that follow.
In one UCLA study Alzheimer’s patients given curcumin treatment responded favorably to the regimen. It was also found that a greater number of amyloid proteins were ingested and eliminated from the body by macrophages in these individuals. This leads researchers to believe that curcumin may support the immune system in clearing the proteins that directly contribute to Alzheimer’s Disease. Curcumin’s anti-inflammatory properties also play a role in AD symptoms and disease progression by inhibiting chronic nerve cell inflammation associated with the condition.
The Australian University of Queensland Diamantina Institute finds new hope for type 2 diabetes sufferers through its research involving the curcumin compound. Scientists have known for a long time that insulin resistance, or the inability to use insulin effectively to transport sugar to cells for energy, creates the dangerous diabetic condition…and misguided inflammation signals from fat tissue and the liver cause the body to mishandle insulin. “Curcumin, which is the yellow compound that you see in curries, has been used as a herbal remedy for diabetes for centuries,” explains Dr. Brendan O’Sullivan, a Senior Research Officer at UQDI. “By encapsulating curcumin in microscopic lipid droplets, they can be delivered to the liver and adipose tissue to prevent the production of diabetes-inducing inflammatory compounds,” he adds.
9. Cancer Therapy
As early as 1987, scientists have conducted studies on the effects of curcumin on various forms of cancer. Initially found to reduce lesions in skin cancer patients, curcumin has demonstrated potential for treatment of colorectal cancer, cancer of the pancreas, breast cancer, cancer of the prostate, multiple myeloma, lung cancer, oral cancers, and head and neck carcinomas. Since swelling and inflammation appear to play a role in many cancer conditions, curcumin’s natural anti-inflammatory properties may lead to new treatments. Turmeric and curcumin also provide antioxidant protection from damaging free radicals that contribute to the disease process.
10. Treats Depression
Curcumin may help to elevate mood according to Murdoch University’s, Dr. Adrian Lopresti, School of Psychology and Exercise Science. In a double- blind placebo-controlled study of 56 participants with a major depressive disorder curcumin was found to be effective in decreasing depressive symptoms. Dr. Lopresti states that previous studies have found a strong association between depression and inflammation in the body. “The findings from this study suggest that depression can be treated with an agent that has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties,” he adds.
Turmeric and curcumin are available in many different forms including vegi-caps, tablets, drink powders, with one-a-day vitamins etc. Many topical creams and ointments contain turmeric and curcumin as well and are available online and over-the-counter. Sometimes other compounds are combined with turmeric and curcumin for better absorption.
Turmeric Side Effects
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) Turmeric is safe to take by mouth and presents no known negative side effects when used as a topical agent. Very large doses of curcumin taken orally could cause stomach upset for some individuals, but generally the compound is well tolerated. The NCCIH provides science-based public information regarding complementary and integrative wellness approaches to treatment.
Turmeric and curcumin have proven to be effective for both preventive and therapeutic treatments. The 4000-year-old spice has shown significant promise as a potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimutagenic, antimicrobial, and anticancer agent earning a place in the complementary, alternative health and wellness landscape.
1Alwi, I, et al. “The effect of curcumin on lipid level in patients with acute coronary syndrome.” Acta medica Indonesiana., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Oct. 2008, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19151449.
2Daily, James W., et al. “Efficacy of Turmeric Extracts and Curcumin for Alleviating the Symptoms of Joint Arthritis: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Clinical Trials.” Journal of Medicinal Food, Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., 1 Aug. 2016, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5003001/.
3Gupta, Subash C., et al. “Therapeutic Roles of Curcumin: Lessons Learned from Clinical Trials.” The AAPS Journal, Springer US, Jan. 2013, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3535097/.
4Prasad, Sahdeo. “Turmeric, the Golden Spice.” Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd edition., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 Jan. 1970, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92752/.
5“Spice enhances mood in depression research trial.” Murdoch University in Perth Australia, media.murdoch.edu.au/spice-enhances-mood-in-depression-research-trial.
6“Turmeric.” National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 16 Dec. 2016, nccih.nih.gov/health/turmeric/ataglance.htm.
7“Turmeric could be the link to treating type 2 diabetes.” Diamantina Institute, 31 Jan. 2017, di.uq.edu.au/article/2017/02/turmeric-could-be-link-treating-type-2-diabetes.
8“Turmeric Extract Suppresses Fat Tissue Growth in Rodent Models.” Tufts Now, 29 Aug. 2012, now.tufts.edu/news-releases/turmeric-extract-suppresses-fat-tissue-growth.