The Many Health Benefits of Turmeric (and Curcumin)

Curcumin is one of multiple therapeutic compounds in turmeric

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Turmeric is a spice that has long been valued for its culinary uses and numerous health benefits. Derived from the rhizome (root) of the Curcuma longa plant, turmeric has a rich history in Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine as a natural remedy for healing wounds and skin disorders and promoting joint, digestive, and respiratory health.

More recently, research shows that curcumin—a compound found in turmeric—has anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, cardioprotective, anticancer, and antioxidant properties that benefit the brain, heart, digestive system, and more.

This article covers the health benefits of turmeric, possible side effects, and what to look for when buying turmeric to support your health. 

Turmeric powder and fresh turmeric root in bowl and spoon on wooden table.

manusapon kasosod / Getty Images

Are Turmeric and Curcumin the Same Thing?

The terms "turmeric" and "curcumin" are often used interchangeably but are technically different. Turmeric is a plant that belongs to the ginger family, while curcumin is the natural compound found in turmeric and that's responsible for many of its health benefits and therapeutic effects. So when you hear about turmeric's health benefits, you are really hearing about the advantages of curcumin within the turmeric plant.

Health Benefits

Turmeric and curcumin have been studied extensively for their potential therapeutic uses. Below are some key health benefits of turmeric and curcumin.

Joint Health 

Curcumin, the primary polyphenol (health-boosting) compound in turmeric, may benefit joint health and help manage symptoms of arthritis. Arthritis is characterized by inflammation, which causes pain and joint damage. Curcumin's anti-inflammatory effects help control inflammation and may reduce arthritis-related pain, swelling, and joint damage.

A 2016 research review found that curcumin may relieve joint pain as effectively as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) in people with rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.

A study exploring turmeric extract supplementation for knee osteoarthritis found that turmeric effectively reduces inflammation and relieves pain. Participants given the turmeric supplement reported a reduction in NSAID usage and improvements in symptoms and knee function.

Boosts Memory and Mood 

Curcumin has potential benefits for brain health and cognitive function. Thanks to its powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, curcumin may mitigate the effects of harmful free radicals—unstable molecules that can contribute to memory impairment, mood disorders, and age-related neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's disease.

A meta-analysis of nine studies found that curcumin may help boost mood and reduce depression and anxiety. A study exploring the effects of curcumin on brain health in older adults found that curcumin may help preserve cognitive function. Researchers observed significant improvements to study participants' working memory, and participants reported experiencing better moods and less fatigue.

Supports Heart Health

Heart disease is a leading cause of death globally, accounting for 1 in 5 deaths in the United States alone. When taken along with practicing healthy lifestyle habits like eating a balanced diet and regular exercise, curcumin may help maintain optimal heart health. 

Research shows that curcumin may lower the risk of cardiovascular disease by protecting against several risk factors, including inflammation, metabolic disorders, and high cholesterol.

One study found curcumin supplementation as effective as exercise in improving heart health in postmenopausal women. Another study found that curcumin can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease in people with type 2 diabetes.

The most significant impact curcumin has on heart health may be its positive effects on the function of the endothelium (the inner lining of blood vessels and the heart), which plays a crucial role in blood flow.

Endothelial dysfunction can lead to heart disease, blood clots, and high blood pressure. Evidence suggests that curcumin supports healthy endothelial function, helping lower the risk of heart disease.

May Protect Against Cancer

Early research exploring curcumin's potential uses for cancer prevention and treatment shows promising results. Small clinical trials investigating the effects of curcumin on certain cancers—including breast cancer, prostate cancer, and colon cancer—found that curcumin has several anticancer properties that can:

  • Regulate the immune system's response against cancer
  • Inhibit the growth of and spread of cancer cells
  • Induce apoptosis (death) in cancer cells 

A 2021 research review found that curcumin supplementation boosts the effectiveness of standard cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy, and may help increase survival rates and survival times of people with cancer.

Curcumin may also help reduce the side effects of cancer treatments and improve the quality of life of those undergoing treatment. 

While these findings are promising, more research is needed to understand how curcumin may help prevent and treat cancer.

May Help Prevent and Manage Metabolic Diseases

Curcumin may help regulate blood sugar (glucose) levels, which may help prevent and manage metabolic diseases like type 2 diabetes

Chronic inflammation and oxidative stress are two key contributors to the development of insulin resistance and metabolic dysfunction, which can lead to type 2 diabetes. Research shows that curcumin may help alleviate oxidative stress and reduce inflammation, lowering the risk of metabolic diseases.

Curcumin may help people with type 2 diabetes manage the condition. Research shows that curcumin improves insulin sensitivity and glucose metabolism in people with type 2 diabetes. It also helps lower cholesterol levels in people with the condition. This suggests that curcumin supplementation may help maintain healthy blood sugar levels and prevent type 2 diabetes complications such as heart disease. 

Possible Side Effects

Turmeric (curcumin) is generally considered safe in doses up to 4,000 to 8,000 milligrams (mg) a day. While curcumin is usually well-tolerated, some people may experience side effects such as:

  • Nausea 
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache 
  • Yellow stool 

Curcumin may have potential interactions with certain medications, such as blood thinners, antidepressants, antibiotics, antihistamines, and medications used to treat heart disease and cancer.

Pregnant and breastfeeding people should avoid taking high doses of turmeric and curcumin supplements, as there is limited information on their safety for a developing fetus and growing baby.

Talk to a healthcare provider before taking any new supplements to confirm they are safe and suitable for you.

Selection, Preparation, and Storage

Turmeric is a common spice often used in Indian and southeast Asian cuisines and dishes, such as curries, rice dishes, and marinades. Found in many spice cabinets in homes around the world, turmeric can also be used to make tea, smoothies, or golden milk

When buying fresh turmeric, looking for fresh and whole roots free of cuts, bruises, or mold is best. Fresh turmeric should be bright yellow or orange, and the roots should be firm and heavy. It can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks or frozen for up to six months.

When shopping for turmeric powder or supplements, look for an organic brand free of fillers or additives. Dried turmeric powder should be stored in a cool, dry place away from light and moisture. 

You can also buy turmeric as a dietary supplement in capsule or tea form. When selecting a turmeric supplement, look for a brand that uses a standardized curcumin extract, the most active turmeric compound. Check the label to ensure a third-party lab has tested the product for quality and purity. 

While fresh turmeric may be more potent than supplements, it may be harder to find and less convenient since the yellow color can easily stain clothing and countertops.

Turmeric Nutrition Facts

Turmeric is low in calories and an excellent source of several essential micronutrients. 

One teaspoon of dried turmeric powder contains:

  • 9 calories
  • 2 grams of carbohydrates
  • 0.7 grams of fiber
  • 0.3 grams of protein
  • 0.1 grams of fat

Turmeric contains several micronutrients, including manganese, iron, vitamin B6, and potassium. The nutritional value of turmeric varies based on its form. For example, fresh turmeric root has more nutritional value than dried turmeric powder. Turmeric supplements often contain dried turmeric powder, curcumin extract, or a combination. 


Turmeric and its primary compound, curcumin, offer several health benefits. Thanks to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, turmeric may help reduce joint pain, boost cognitive function and mood, and support heart health. Curcumin may also help protect against cancer and type 2 diabetes.  

To incorporate turmeric into your diet, add it to curries, soups, or smoothies, or take a turmeric supplement. As with any supplement, it is always best to consult your healthcare provider before taking turmeric.

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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