What Is Turmeric?

This aromatic spice may ease inflammation and pain

Turmeric capsules, powdered spice, spice, tinctures

Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak

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

  • Turmeric root
  • Indian saffron

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

What Is Turmeric Used For?

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.


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 milligrams (mg) per 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 eight to 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 like the National Institutes of Health (NIH) maintain that claims that turmeric helps reduce inflammation aren’t supported by strong studies.

Premenstrual Syndrome (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 on the same schedule. 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 (better known as 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, as ascertained from ratings of their pain on a numeric scale


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.

Other Conditions

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, but more evidence is needed to support these indications:

Spice vs. Supplement

Fresh or ground turmeric contains about 200 mg of curcumin per teaspoon. Many studies investigating the compound use 500 to 1,000 mg of curcumin per day (often from turmeric extract, which is more potent than the powdered spice).

While a worthwhile addition to your meals, it is unlikely that you will consume curcumin in the amounts studied by researchers by using the spice in your cooking.

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) experiencing a dangerously 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 notes 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.

Turmeric powder
Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak

Selection, Preparation, and Storage

Turmeric is widely available in spice form; you can also consume turmeric tea.

If you purchase the spice, store it in an airtight container away from heat and light. Avoid keeping it in the refrigerator, as it can lead to condensation build-up. 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.

Turmeric supplements are available in capsule, tablet, and extract forms. Read labels carefully, as many products contain more than one ingredient. For example, turmeric is often combined with black pepper to help with absorption. That may not be of concern to you, but other ingredients might.

It's important to keep in mind that dietary supplements are largely unregulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Products are not tested for safety and labels are not reviewed for accuracy (meaning, for example, that a supplement might contain an ingredient that's not listed).

It is, however, illegal to market a dietary supplement product as a treatment or cure for a specific disease, or to alleviate the symptoms of a disease. Any product that makes such claims should be considered questionable.

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

Common Questions

Do all curry powders have the same amount of turmeric?
Curry is a spice blend and there are different variations. One blend may contain a different amount of turmeric than another. Still, the amount of curcumin in curry is likely to be minimal.

What dishes can I add turmeric to?
For starters, try adding it to your stir-fries, soups, and vegetable dishes. If you're doing this without the guidance of a recipe, start with a small amount. The flavor is potent.

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16 Sources
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