Turmeric for Health

turmeric root and powder
Turmeric root and powder. Maximilian Stock Ltd/Photolibrary/Getty Images

In traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda (the traditional medicine of India), turmeric (Curcuma longa) has long been used to treat a range of health problems. A key ingredient in curry, turmeric contains curcumin (a compound with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory properties).

Uses for Turmeric

In alternative medicine, turmeric is said to help with certain conditions:

Turmeric is also used to stimulate digestion, boost liver function, and regulate menstruation. Additionally, some proponents suggest that turmeric can help prevent cancer.

Health Benefits of Turmeric

While a number of animal-based and test-tube studies have shown that turmeric may offer a host of health benefits, few studies have explored turmeric's effects on human health. Here's a look at some key findings from the available research on turmeric:

1) Cancer

Curcumin shows promise as a means of reducing breast cancer risk among women undergoing hormone replacement therapy during menopause, according to an animal study published in 2009. In tests on rats, researchers found that treatment with curcumin inhibited the growth of progestin-accelerated tumors (a common health risk for women receiving combined estrogen and progestin hormone replacement therapy).

If you're considering the use of any natural remedies in combination with hormone replacement therapy, make sure to consult your health-care provider before beginning treatment.

2) Alzheimer's Disease

When paired with vitamin D, curcumin may help protect against Alzheimer's disease. In a 2009 study of nine Alzheimer's patients and four people without the disease, investigators determined that a combination of curcumin and vitamin D may prompt the immune system to clear the brain of amyloid beta (a substance that forms the brain plaques associated with Alzheimer's disease).

3) Diabetes

Tests on mice indicate that curcumin may help keep blood sugar in check and, in turn, reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. In their 2008 study, scientists also found that turmeric may help tame obesity-related inflammation.

4) Liver Health

In a 2007 study on rats, scientists discovered that curcumin can protect against liver damage. Study results suggest that curcumin can help curb the production of certain proteins known to promote inflammation.


Although turmeric is generally considered safe, high-doses or long-term use may cause indigestion. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine advises people with gallbladder disease to avoid using turmeric supplements, as they may worsen this condition.

Supplements haven't been tested for safety and due to the fact that dietary supplements are largely unregulated, the content of some products may differ from what is specified on the product label. Also keep in mind that the safety of supplements in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications have not been established. 

Using Turmeric for Health

Turmeric is widely available in supplement form. Curcumin or turmeric supplements aren't well-absorbed orally unless taken with piperine, a black pepper constituent responsible for its pungency. 

You can also increase your curcumin intake by using turmeric or curry powder in your cooking—just be sure to add black pepper to increase the absorption. 

Since few clinical trials have studied turmeric's health effects, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine cautions against using turmeric to treat any health condition. If you're considering the use of turmeric supplements for health purposes, make sure to consult your physician before starting your supplement regimen. Self-treating a condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences.

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Article Sources

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