Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a popular spice in Asian cuisine but it is also known for many health benefits (1).
Turmeric belongs to the ginger family which also includes another culinary herb called cardamom (2).
Unfortunately, most of its bioactive compounds (curcuminoids) are unavailable due to poor absorption in the body (5).
For this reason, many Turmeric supplements use piperine, a black pepper bioactive compound that increases Turmeric absorption by up to 2000% (6).
So, if you plan to use turmeric, it is better to use it in combination with black pepper.
Other methods to increase better absorption include nanoparticle delivery and the use of fat molecules (7).
1) Turmeric Has Strong Anti-inflammatory & Antioxidant Activity
Oxidative stress and inflammatory processes in the body are closely related.
Many inflamed cells release reactive compounds that lead to oxidative stress (8).
Both inflammation and oxidative stress are often found together in many of the disease conditions.
Inflammation is at the center of many diseases such as cardiovascular and bowel diseases, diabetes, arthritis, and cancer (9).
Most turmeric health benefits come from its anti-inflammation and antioxidant activity.
Curcumin reduces inflammation by suppressing the mechanisms that promote inflammation.
For example, Curcumin suppresses NF-Kb whose activity promotes inflammation (13).
Finally, curcumin used showed better results in decreasing blood glucose and HbA1c levels in diabetes type 2 patients (DMT2) in addition to reducing inflammatory signals (14).
Thus, curcumin can be used as adjuvant therapy for diabetes type 2.
The gist: Curcumin decreases the pro-inflammatory mechanisms in the body to promote anti-inflammation and antioxidant activity.
2) Turmeric Has a Pain-Relieving Effect
Turmeric can have pain-relieving properties.
A study with 400mg of curcumin showed a decrease in pain that was as good as the treatment with 1g of acetaminophen in patients with chronic pain symptoms (15).
The topical application of turmeric has shown to reduce the cancer lesion size and pain associated with it (16).
A study on osteoarthritis reduced the pain after consumption of curcumin dose at 200mg/day (17).
The pain symptoms in patients with recent inguinal hernia surgery improved with both curcumin and commercial drug phenylbutazone (18). Indicating the pain-relieving property of curcumin is comparable to this available analgesic.
The gist: Curcumin is useful for pain management in chronic pain, arthritis, and lesions.
3) Turmeric Protects Liver Through its Antioxidant Activity
The animal studies show a protective function of curcumin in preventing lipid accumulation in the liver (19).
Toxic effects of alcohol injury and oxidative stress on the liver can be minimized in rats by Curcumin (20).
However, it must be noted that higher doses of curcumin were associated with liver damage (21).
Therefore, excess use of curcumin in high quantities can have negative effects on the liver.
In humans, randomized control studies in patients with Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) showed a decrease in fat accumulation in the liver and other related markers of this liver disease with a curcumin dose of 1000mg/day for 8 weeks (22).
The gist: Curcumin has liver health benefits however, large quantities of curcumin may have liver-damaging effects.
4) Turmeric minimizes the development of atherosclerosis
In the western world, Atherosclerosis is the underlying cause of almost 50% of deaths (23).
In atherosclerosis, the walls of arteries become thickened due to the accumulation of fats (24). The fat accumulation and thicking lead to the clogging of arteries that lead to severe health issues.
Curcumin also reduced the LDL oxidation which is important to prevent the development of atherosclerosis (28).
In animals, curcumin also reduces oxidative stress which could help in mitigating atherosclerosis (29).
A study described experiments in postmenopausal women with curcumin, aerobic exercise and, no intervention. Only aerobic and curcumin improved blood vessel health (30). Therefore, curcumin can be helpful in protecting the heart and blood vessels.
The gist: Overall, curcumin can improve arteries’ health by reducing the accumulation of fats in the arteries.
5) Turmeric also help you lose weight
Turmeric may also help you shed extra pounds around your waist.
Turmeric supplement is well tolerated as no dropout was reported in a study. Moreover, the supplement helped in reducing weight, waist circumference and body mass index (MBI) (31).
In a double-blind randomized trial, the patients were given Curcumin at 500mg/day for 8 weeks. They showed an improvement in Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease in addition to reducing BMI and waist circumference compared to no curcumin treatment group (32).
Thus, curcumin not only protected the liver it also helped patients lose weight.
Finally, a meta-analysis of 21 randomized control research studies that included 1,604 patients with metabolic syndrome and related conditions, showed a significant decrease in body mass index BMI, waist circumference, weight and leptin (33).
So, a plethora of studies indicate that curcumin can help in weight loss.
The gist: Curcumin, can help to reduce body fat, weight, and waist circumference.
6) Turmeric May Help Protect Against Cardiovascular Disease
Another study showed that heart inflammation and injury caused by parasite Trypanosoma cruzi were protected by curcumin (38).
So far human studies are not conclusive about curcumin heart-protective function.
The gist: Since Turmeric has an antioxidant function, it may also protect from cardiovascular diseases. Animal studies await confirmation in humans.
7) Turmeric Can Remedy Stomach Diseases
Turmeric is a natural bacteria killer and it has been used in Asia to treat infection and wounds for centuries.
Helicobacter pylori can cause stomach ulcers. Research in humans with doses of 30mg to 120 mg/day showed a marked decrease in symptoms with long term use, however, complete eradication was not possible with curcumin alone (39,40).
In other research, ulcer patients were given a total of 3gm of turmeric capsules around mealtime. There was an improvement in ulcer profile in patients (41).
The use of moderate doses of Curcumin on Crohns’ disease and Proctitis in a small number of patients positively affected the related symptoms (42).
Turmeric could also aid in relieving symptoms of Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) in patients who received turmeric tablets, however, this study did not include a control group of individuals and the use of turmeric in reducing irritable bowel symptoms is still not confirmed (43).
The gist: Turmeric could provide benefits of protection against ulcers and bacterial infection of the digestive system.
8) Turmeric is good for Joint Health
A randomized double-blind study showed that curcumin (500mg/day with 5mg piperine) administration for 6 weeks improved physical function and reduced pain perception with improvement in stiffness compared to placebo (46).
A study on osteoarthritis patients showed that the use of 1000mg turmeric extract alone for 42 days showed improvement in osteoarthritis symptoms compared to placebo or combination with glucosamine (47).
Clinical studies with commercially available curcumin supplement Flexofytol®, which is optimized for enhanced curcumin absorption in the body were conducted in humans (48).
The administration of 6 capsules of Flexofytol® (equivalent to 252 mg curcumin) for 3 months showed a reduction in markers that promote collagen degradation.
A similar study with Flexofytol® improved mobility, pain, and quality of life in osteoarthritis patients (49).
The gist: Curcumin with enhanced absorption can be a good adjuvant therapy method for arthritis and related joint conditions.
9) Turmeric helps lower blood glucose level and could be beneficial in Diabetes
Diabetes is a major metabolic disease in which glucose is not properly managed by the body.
Diabetes leads to complications such as cardiovascular, kidney, and eyes.
Curcumins are studied for its benefits in diabetes type 2 with promising results.
In a randomized study, diabetes type 2 patients were given (300mg) bioactive turmeric compounds (curcuminoid) for 3 months. Compared to control, patients who received the turmeric compounds had lower fasting glucose levels (50).
Another randomized double-blind study that focused on prediabetic individuals showed better diabetes type 2 results with 250mg of curcuminoids compared to control for a period of 12 months (51).
The gist: Turmeric’s bioactive compounds can be beneficial in lowering the occurrence of type 2 diabetes.
10) Turmeric May Slow Down Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s disease is a brain disorder that slowly and progressively affects memory and brain functions.
Turmeric’s bioactive compounds could improve neuron cell functions that were confirmed by studies on human brain cells (52). In the study, Curcumin protected human cells functioning after damage.
Animal research indicates curcumin is effective in improving Alzheimer’s related brain deficiencies by increasing the BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor) which is a protein required for the protection and survival of nerve cells (55).
Human studies on Alzheimer’s’ have not given similar results. This could be due to high doses of curcumin required to harness the benefits of curcumin or difference in study design (58).
The gist: Curcumin by its antioxidant property has Alzheimer’s protective function but in humans, the studies are not conclusive. More studies that improve curcumin dosage and absorption will be useful to understand its use in Alzheimer’s disease.
11) Turmeric Can Help You Fight Depression
Major Depressive disorder is a clinical condition of intense sadness over an extended period of time. It is a life-debilitating condition with a reduction in interests and cognitive function (59).
A randomized double-blind study found that 1mg/day use for 8 weeks had better outcomes in patients with the major depressive disorder compared to patients with control treatment (60) and the safety of curcumin was confirmed by another study (61).
Similar research found that curcumin improves depressive biomarkers by affecting different molecules at the cellular level (62).
In a study on patients with obesity, the use of curcumin improved anti-anxiety (63).
The gist: Curcumin is a safe and effective agent to alleviate the depression symptom in humans.
12) Turmeric is useful in a variety of skin diseases
Skin conditions such as psoriasis vitiligo and dermatitis can have an adverse effect on the quality of life. Psoriasis can also increase the chance of heart disease (64).
In a randomized double-blind study, commercially available curcumin formulation called Meriva was tested for its anti-Psoriatic ability.
The use of the curcumin formulation with topical steroid therapy improved the benefits of treatment (65).
A study in breast cancer patients with radiation dermatitis showed marked improvement after receiving 6g/day curcumin treatment (66).
The gist: The use of curcumin can provide skin protective benefits.
There a number of studies, showing improvement in health conditions with curcumin use at different extracts and preparation and thus it is difficult to compare them all for an overall conclusion.
However, the research has shown that the bioactive compounds, primarily, Curcumin in turmeric affects many functions in our bodies mentioned above.
Most of the benefits come from Curcumin’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidative properties.
Research has shown that a low dose of curcumin( 80mg/day) compared to control can give several health benefits of lowered triglycerides, increase anti-inflammation and antioxidant activity in healthy individuals (67).
Moreover, a better mood and memory were seen with a similar curcumin treatment on old healthy individuals (68).
Thus, adding turmeric (with black pepper for better absorption) to your diet can provide long term health benefits.
Frequently Asked Questions(FAQs)
What are the negative effects of turmeric?
Turmeric is considered a safe herb and itis recommended to be used on a regular basis. Bioactive compounds in Turmeric are listed in “Generally Recognized As Safe” (GRAS) category by the Food and Drug Administration (69). Turmeric can be tolerated up to 6g/day orally for up to 4-7 weeks. Some people may experience gastric discomfort, upset stomach and other minor side effects (70).
Other studies have shown that doses up to 12g/day of 95% concentration of three curcuminoids: curcumin, bisdemethoxycurcumin, and demethoxycurcumin are tolerable (71). However, if you are taking medication for any condition, you should consult your physician before taking any curcumin supplement.
How much turmeric should you take a day?
Turmeric with even low quantities has shown health benefits. For example, in healthy people, 80mg/day of curcumin has shown antioxidative and anti-inflammation benefits.
The big challenge is the curcumin availability and absorption in the body. curcumin does not absorbs well in the body. The use of black pepper with turmeric enhances curcumin absorption. To achieve this, include an appropriate amount of ground turmeric with black pepper.
You can use commercially available tablets/capsules but taking turmeric via food preparations regularly is the best way.
However, if you choose to go for pills/capsules, there are several commercial curcumin preparations available with an improved delivery system. For example, Meriva has developed a capsule with improved absorption (72).
Other known supplements that have been shown to increase curcumin absorption include Flexofytol®, Theracurmin and BCM-95.
Can turmeric help you lose weight?
Turmeric alone may not cause weight loss but with lifestyle intervention and adding turmeric in your diet can help. A review of research studies notes that turmeric can help in reducing BMI, waist circumference and reduction in leptin levels (73).
Thus, turmeric intake is positively correlated with weight loss.