The Health Benefits of Turmeric

Turmeric powder in a bowl next to tumeric stems

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Turmeric is a common spice often used in Asian and Indian cooking. The brightly-colored orange-yellow powder is made from a flowering plant (Curcuma longa) that is grown in India, Asia, and parts of Central America. Turmeric is closely related to ginger and is a key ingredient in curry powder.

Turmeric is also available in supplement form and has long been used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat a wide range of illnesses. Medicinal turmeric is made from the underground stems (rhizomes) of the plant and is used for a number of pain-related conditions, as well as fatigue, respiratory problems, and other health concerns. Researchers have studied the health benefits of turmeric with mixed results.

Also Known As

This common spice goes by different names including

  • Turmeric root
  • Indian saffron

Do not confuse turmeric with Javanese turmeric root (Curcuma zedoaria or Curcuma xanthorrhiz) as that is a different plant with different health effects.

Health Benefits

Turmeric contains a chemical called curcumin. Many consumers and alternative health practitioners believe that this ingredient can treat inflammation and other conditions. Researchers have tested curcumin in clinical settings to investigate its potential as a natural health remedy but results have been inconsistent. Study authors often note that more independent, rigorous clinical trials are needed.

Arthritis

Most of the studies testing the pain-relieving effects of turmeric have focused on the treatment of osteoarthritis and/or rheumatoid arthritis.

One review of research conducted in 2016 and published in the Journal of Medicinal Food concluded that there was enough scientific evidence to support the use of turmeric extract (1000 mg/day of curcumin) in the treatment of arthritis. However, study authors also pointed out that the total number of clinical trials included in the analysis, the total sample size, and the methodological quality of the studies were not sufficient to draw definitive conclusions.

Another review published in 2017 concluded that using turmeric extracts (typically 1000 mg/day of curcumin) for 8–12 weeks provides benefits similar to using ibuprofen and other standard treatments in people with arthritis, especially osteoarthritis.

However, other published reports have questioned the integrity of turmeric studies and have called for more standardized testing methods. Independent agencies such as the National Institutes of Health still maintain that claims supporting the use of turmeric help to reduce inflammation aren’t supported by strong studies.

Premenstrual Syndrom (PMS)

Curcumin may help lessen the severity of symptoms associated with premenstrual syndrome (PMS), according to a study published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine in 2015. These symptoms include several forms of pain, such as backache, headache, breast tenderness, and abdominal pain.

For the study, 70 women with PMS were split into two groups. One group received two capsules of curcumin daily for seven days before menstruation and for three days after menstruation for three successive cycles, while the other group received a placebo for the same time period. By the study’s end, those given the turmeric compound showed a greater reduction in the severity of PMS symptoms.

Dental Pain

In a study published in the Journal of Oral Rehabilitation in 2018, scientists found that curcumin may help relieve the pain associated with post-surgical removal of impacted third molars (also called wisdom teeth).

The study involved 90 participants, each of whom received either curcumin or mefenamic acid (a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug) after undergoing surgery. When the two groups were compared, those given curcumin were found to have experienced significantly less pain than those treated with mefenamic acid.

Tendonitis

Curcumin shows promise in the treatment of tendonitis, a painful condition marked by inflammation or irritation of a tendon according to a study published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry in 2011.

Researchers examined curcumin’s effects on human tendon cells. Results revealed that curcumin may stave off pain by preventing the activation of certain inflammatory molecules.

However, the study is limited by the fact that it was performed on human cells, not human bodies. More research is needed to confirm this benefit.

People also use turmeric for a wide range of other conditions. There is limited evidence to support the use of turmeric for:

Ongoing research is investigating other popular uses for turmeric. There is not yet enough evidence to support the use of turmeric for other conditions including:

  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Colorectal cancers
  • Diabetes
  • Asthma
  • Crohns disease
  • Gingivitis
  • Psoriasis
  • Stress
  • Tuberculosis
  • Acne
  • Bruising
  • Diarrhea
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Headache
  • Hepatitis
  • Jaundice
  • Liver and gallbladder problems
  • Ringworm

Possible Side Effects

Although turmeric is generally considered safe, there’s some concern that high doses of turmeric or using turmeric for longer than 12 months may trigger gastrointestinal problems, such as nausea, dizziness, and diarrhea. There is one report of a person who took very high amounts of turmeric (over 1500 mg twice daily) who experienced a dangerous abnormal heart rhythm.

Furthermore, the use of turmeric may aggravate gallbladder problems, slow blood clotting, and/or lead to dangerously low blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.

If you are on medication, especially one that slows blood clotting, speak to your healthcare provider before taking turmeric. If you have a chronic health condition or if you’re planning to undergo surgery, it is also important to talk to your healthcare provider before using turmeric supplements.

If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, speak to a medical professional before the use of turmeric.

Lastly, it is possible to be allergic to spices, including turmeric. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology explains that you may experience mild symptoms such as skin rash, itching in the mouth, or a cough after ingesting certain spices. Stronger reactions are rare but possible.

Selection, Preparation & Storage

Turmeric is widely available in spice form and as a dietary supplement. To increase your turmeric intake without having to buy a supplement, try adding curry powder to your stir-fries, soups, and vegetable dishes. You can also consume turmeric in tea form.

Store turmeric (or a spice blend such as curry) in an airtight container away from heat and light. Experts do not advise keeping spices in the refrigerator as they need to be brought to room temperature before use. Your dried spices will lose flavor over time, but if you keep them in a cool dark place, they should stay fresh for two to three years.

When buying turmeric for medicinal use or health benefits, you'll find it in capsule, tablet, or extract form. When buying it as a supplement form it is important to read labels carefully. Many supplements contain more than one ingredient. These added ingredients may or may not be disclosed on the label. For example, turmeric is often combined with black pepper to help with absorption.

It's important to keep in mind that dietary supplements are largely unregulated by the FDA. It is, however, not legal to market a dietary supplement product as a treatment or cure for a specific disease, or to alleviate the symptoms of a disease.

When choosing a dietary supplement like turmeric, it's best to look for products that have been certified by ConsumerLabs, The U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention, or NSF International. These organizations don't guarantee that a product is safe or effective, but they do provide a certain level of testing for quality.

Common Questions

Does using turmeric as a spice provide the same benefits as taking turmeric as a supplement?

If you use turmeric for cooking it is unlikely that you will consume it in the amounts studied by researchers. Many studies investigating the health benefits of turmeric have used an extract—which is more potent.

According to some reports, fresh or ground turmeric contains about 200 milligrams of curcumin per teaspoon. Many studies investigating curcumin use 500 to 1,000 milligrams of curcumin per day.

How much curcumin is in curry powder?

Curry is a spice blend and there are different variations. One blend may contain a different amount of turmeric from another. The amount of curcumin in curry is likely to be minimal. One study investigating the curcumin concentration of curry spice blends found that it varied substantially but levels were relatively low as compared to turmeric powders sold as supplements.

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