If you are a fan of Indian cuisine, you’re probably familiar with a spice called turmeric and the sharp flavor it can add to a dish. But did you know that turmeric has many more benefits than simply being a tasty ingredient?
Turmeric has been used for years as a staple in Ayurvedic medicine because it is believed to have powerful medicinal qualities. When taken as a health supplement, turmeric may help improve numerous aspects of your wellbeing.
What is turmeric?
Turmeric is a golden-colored root in the same family as ginger. It is most well-known for its inclusion in culinary dishes and can be found in powdered and whole root form in the supermarket.
Although turmeric is most often considered a spice, it can also be a powerful health supplement, aiding a variety of bodily systems. The root contains many nutrients, including protein, fiber and carbohydrates, as well as manganese, iron and potassium.
Turmeric also contains other compounds called curcuminoids that work together to provide health benefits. One of the reasons turmeric is so special is due to its active ingredient, curcumin. This compound makes up approximately 77 percent of the curcuminoid family, and it’s the main component of turmeric that makes this root such a powerful supplement.
Curcumin is a fantastic antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound. Because the curcumin content in turmeric is relatively low, you can now find curcumin supplements on their own, extracted from turmeric. Experts believe taking these supplements may provide heightened benefits due to the curcumin concentration.
However, other experts believe that curcumin works in tandem with turmeric’s other compounds, potentially providing additional benefits.
How turmeric could change your health for the better
Turmeric has been found in many studies to have positive effects for the brain and body. Curcumin, as well as turmeric’s other curcuminoids, may have powerful benefits for the following ailments.
- Reduced inflammation: Chronic inflammation is believed to play a role in a wide variety of serious diseases and health conditions, including heart disease, mood disorders and malignant cellular growth. Curcumin, in particular, is a strong anti-inflammatory—so strong, in fact, it may be able to work as effectively as anti-inflammatory medications. This benefit is particularly useful for people with chronic joint pain, since inflammation reduction can improve mobility and comfort in inflamed joints.
- Protection from oxidative stress: Curcumin and other compounds in turmeric are strong antioxidants. This is beneficial because antioxidants target and remove reactive and dangerous molecules called free radicals in the body. Free radicals cause oxidative stress, which weakens healthy cells and makes them susceptible to mutation. Turmeric lowers oxidative stress and protects cells from becoming harmful to the body. Additionally, curcumin is believed to stimulate the body’s natural antioxidant enzymes, providing even more protection from free radical damage.
- Insulin management: Experts believe turmeric may be useful in managing insulin resistance thanks to its potential for blood sugar control and inflammation reduction. People who display the risk factors associated with insulin resistance may reduce their risk of this health condition by taking concentrated curcumin supplements. Curcumin lowers blood sugar levels by encouraging the body to increase insulin production. The compound can also repair beta cells in the pancreas, the main organ responsible for producing and sending insulin into the bloodstream.
- Neurological health: Turmeric and curcumin are believed to be helpful in delaying or preventing the onset of neurological diseases and mood disorders because of their brain-health-boosting benefits. Their compounds can increase the levels of a growth hormone that aids in neuron reproduction in the brain, potentially providing lasting protection as well as improving memory and cognitive function. Turmeric may also be useful in slowing down or reversing neurodegeneration by reducing inflammation in the brain.
- Skin conditions: Thanks to the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant components of turmeric, it is believed to be useful in alleviating skin problems, such as dryness, blemishes and uneven skin tone. Turmeric possesses antimicrobial properties that can fight the most common strains of bacteria. It neutralizes bacteria like Propionibacterium acnes to prevent breakouts and promote smooth, flawless skin. Some skincare products skillfully incorporate turmeric to provide these benefits without staining the skin.
- Malignant cellular growth: Studies are even suggesting that curcumin may be useful in fortifying the body against various diseases that stem from malignant cellular growth. The compound may help limit the growth and spread of dangerous, mutated cells. Additional studies and human trials are necessary, but lab and animal research has appeared promising.
Implementing turmeric into your daily life
If you want to give the healing power of turmeric a try, there are many ways to get more of it in your daily diet. Brewing turmeric tea and adding turmeric spice into your food or smoothies are easy ways to increase the quantity of turmeric you’re ingesting.
However, it’s important to remember that the concentration of turmeric’s active ingredient, curcumin, in turmeric powder is relatively low. Therefore, adding a mere tablespoon of turmeric to your food each day is unlikely to make drastic changes in your health. If you want to harness more of the power of curcumin, you may want to consider taking a specialized curcumin supplement.
When adding a supplement to your routine, make sure you speak with your healthcare provider to ensure you won’t suffer from any major side effects or drug interactions. Speak with a doctor if you experience nausea, headaches, skin problems or loose stool while taking curcumin supplements. Discontinue use if these symptoms appear. People who are on blood-thinning medications should also avoid curcumin supplements because this drug interaction can make it difficult for blood clots to form on damaged skin tissue.
Although more research is needed to prove the long-lasting health benefits of turmeric in humans, the research thus far does indicate that turmeric and curcumin may have widespread health effects.
Editor’s note: This blog was originally published in September 2019. It has been updated to include more relevant and comprehensive information.