Turmeric is a popular herb known for its anti-inflammatory and joint-supporting properties. It has been widely used throughout history as a culinary spice, cosmetic ingredient, and medicinal herb.
In traditional Ayurvedic and Unani medicine, turmeric was used to strengthen the body’s overall energy and relieve arthritis. It was also used to relieve gas and improve digestion.
Modern research shows that turmeric and its active constituents may be helpful for arthritis, blood sugar stabilization, and reducing inflammation.
In this article, we will look at the health benefits of turmeric, its safety, and its history.
Table of Contents
- What is Turmeric?
- Health Benefits of Turmeric:
- Turmeric Safety:
- Naming & Taxonomy:
- History & Traditional Use:
- Turmeric vs. Other Herbs:
What is Turmeric?
Turmeric is a perennial plant that thrives in tropical regions. It belongs to the ginger family, Zingiberaceae, and is native to Southeastern Asia.
Turmeric’s Latin name is Curcuma longa.
While turmeric has the appearance of a root, the part of the plant that is used is a rhizome. A rhizome is an extension of the stem that lives underground, providing both the stem and roots with nutrients.
There are over 100 Curcuma species that have been identified. Many of these varieties are used medicinally as they share some of the same active constituents as Curcuma Longa.
The turmeric rhizome has a warming, stimulating effect on the body, which is beneficial in supporting the heart and gastrointestinal tract. It is also commonly used to reduce inflammation and balance blood sugar.
Modern research supports the traditional claims that turmeric helps with joint health. It’s also been shown to have anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and cardioprotective effects. Research also shows that turmeric can also help protect the liver and support skin conditions.
These various health benefits of turmeric are attributed to the curcuminoids and volatile oils present in the rhizome, including:
- Curcumin (diferuloylmethane)
Turmeric is one of the most well-researched herbs with many human clinical trials backing its claims. Many of its traditional uses have been scientifically tested via human, animal, and in vitro trials and show promising results.
Health Benefits of Turmeric:
Below are the top researched-backed turmeric benefits for health.
1. May Reduce Arthritic Symptoms
Traditional usage, as well as new research, shows that turmeric is one of the most beneficial herbs for individuals with arthritis.
Arthritis is defined as inflammation of the joints, as well as the increasing loss of cartilage in the joints. Symptoms include stiffness, joint pain, joint deformities, and limited range of motion. Arthritis is typically caused by genetics, lifestyle factors, and various environmental triggers.
In a study observing knee osteoarthritis patients, researchers discovered that Curcuma domestica extract was able to reduce pain during different activities, such as walking and moving up and down stairs. The results showed that C. domestica extract was as effective as ibuprofen in reducing pain.
In another trial involving knee osteoarthritis, participants came to the conclusion that curcuminoid (the active constituents in turmeric) therapy significantly improves physical function and reduces pain. Although patients were permitted to use an anti-inflammatory drug during the trial, 84% of subjects taking curcuminoids stopped using the drug by the end of the study.
In an 8-week trial, water-soluble curcumin was administered to patients with mild-to-moderate knee osteoarthritis. By week 8, those in the curcumin group were experiencing significantly less pain than the placebo group. The curcumin group was given 180mg per day and asked to perform tasks to evaluate joint swelling, pain levels during walking, range of motion exercises, and climbing stairs.
Researchers found that 500mg of Curcuma longa extract 2x/day has the ability to reduce pain and increase the mobility of patients with knee osteoarthritis. The study showed that those taking the extract were less likely to use “rescue medication” than the placebo group.
A comparison study observing subjects with active rheumatoid arthritis found that 500mg of curcumin daily has the ability to improve inflammation, tenderness, and reduce the level of swelling in joints. The curcumin alone achieved the highest effectiveness in comparison to a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) and both curcumin and the NSAID together.
Summary:Research indicates that turmeric can help to reduce arthritic symptoms.
2. May Help Stabilize Blood Sugar
The health benefits of turmeric have shown promise towards supporting individuals with diabetes. Turmeric is an important herb for balancing blood sugar.
Diabetes is considered a chronic metabolic disorder characterized by persistently high blood glucose levels. Diabetic symptoms occur due to the body’s impaired relationship with insulin. Long-term complications with diabetes can cause organ damage and lead to kidney, retina, nerve, and cardiovascular disease.
In a 2010 study, researchers found that Curcuma longa capsules affect the level of insulin secretion in healthy subjects after a meal. Insulin levels rose after the administration of C. longa capsules supporting the breakdown of sugars. Those with diabetes often have trouble breaking down sugars due to inconsistent insulin levels.
A 9-month trial observing prediabetic patients found that curcumin extract significantly reduced diabetes markers such as fasting blood glucose levels and average blood glucose levels after 3 months. No participants in the curcumin group were diagnosed with type II diabetes mellitus (T2DM), whereas 16.4% of subjects in the placebo group were diagnosed with T2DM.
Researchers discovered that turmeric supplementation can decrease symptoms involved with type II diabetes kidney degeneration. Patients received 3 capsules of 500mg turmeric per day for 2 months.
In a comparison study involving diabetes patients, curcumin capsules had a comparable effect to the drug atorvastatin, which is used to balance blood lipid levels.
Summary:Studies show that turmeric may be useful in blood sugar stabilization.
3. May Reduce Inflammation
Historical accounts, as well as new research, show that turmeric is beneficial for reducing inflammation and is one of the best herbs for minimizing pain associated with inflammation.
Inflammation plays a role in supporting the body’s immune system when exposed to trauma, infection, toxins, and physical overuse. Short-term inflammation is necessary and beneficial for physiological recovery. However, chronic inflammation can lead to a variety of painful symptoms and health complications over time.
In a 22-month study, the administration of 375mg of curcumin, 3x/day showed significant promise for treating inflammatory eye disease. Out of the 5 patients who completed the study, 4 were completely cured and 1 only had some limitation of movement.
Further research suggests that turmeric may be a helpful herb for inflammatory bowel disease.
In a trial involving participants with dormant ulcerative colitis, curcumin capsules significantly reduced bowel inflammations. In doing so, curcumin reduced the risk of relapse.
A study observing patients with ulcerative proctitis and Crohn’s disease discovered that curcumin administration for 3 months reduces the inflammation severity of both diseases. Patients showed improvement in various health markers, including the formation of stools, the frequency of bowel movements, as well as reducing abdominal pain and cramping.
Summary:Small-scale trials show that turmeric may be able to reduce inflammation. Larger-scale human clinical trials are needed to verify these findings.
4. May have Anti-Cancer Effects
In various studies, the active constituents found in turmeric have been shown to reduce cancer markers. Cancer is one of the leading causes of death worldwide.
Researchers have found that a daily oral dose of 3.6g of curcumin is able to decrease carcinogenic biomarkers in blood samples. These results suggest that curcumin may be helpful for preventing cancer outside the gastrointestinal tract.
A study proved curcumin capsules to be effective for patients suffering from colorectal cancer. Curcumin supplementation increased the body weight, the death rate of tumorous cells, and the overall general health of subjects.
In a 2005 study observing patients with colorectal cancer, researchers found that curcumin administration reduced biomarkers in cancerous tissue. 3,600mg of curcumin was given to patients for 7 days.
Summary:Lab research shows that curcumin may have anti-cancer properties. Human clinical trials are needed to verify these findings.
5. May Protect the Heart
Various clinical trials have shown that turmeric benefits heart health.
In a trial measuring the impact of increased doses of curcumin in patients with acute coronary syndrome, researchers found that lower levels of curcumin were more effective in lowering LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and total cholesterol.
A study involving healthy volunteers discovered that curcumin capsules have the ability to reduce LDL cholesterol and increase HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol). The researchers mentioned a curcumin supplement could be effective for preventative heart disease therapy.
Summary:A handful of studies show that turmeric may be helpful for heart health, especially in lowering LDL cholesterol. Large-scale human clinical trials are needed to verify these findings.
6. May Help with Allergies
A research review found that patients who took turmeric experienced anti-allergic effects that inhibited the release of histamine from mast cells. Further animal research also demonstrated marked inhibition of the allergic response using turmeric. These findings suggest that turmeric may be an effective herb for seasonal allergies
One study found that curcumin, a bioactive compound found in turmeric, had the ability to reduce symptoms of common allergies, such as sneezing and nasal congestion. Curcumin was also able to improve nasal airflow and stimulate immune responses in the study’s participants.
Summary:Turmeric shows evidence of being able to inhibit and reduce various allergic symptoms, however, additonal human studies are needed for verification.
7. Antimicrobial Properties
In one comparison trial involving 50 adult participants with an oral fungal infection, topical treatment of a curcumin ointment helped reduce the size of the fungal colony and was found to be as effective as clotrimazole, an antifungal pharmaceutical.
One in vitro trial investigating turmeric’s antifungal properties found that this herb was effective in inhibiting various strains of the fungus, Candida albicans.
An in vitro study observing turmeric’s antifungal ability in combination with common antifungal drugs noted that the addition of turmeric was found to be more effective against fungal strains of Candida than the antifungal drugs alone.
In a review of in vivo and in vitro studies involving turmeric’s main active constituent, curcumin, it was found that turmeric juice displayed strong antifungal ability. It was also observed that turmeric was able to eliminate dermatophytes, or ringworms, making this herb a possible natural remedy for ringworm infections.
Summary:Various trials demonstrate turmeric’s ability to fight microbes. Human clinical research is needed to further confirm these findings.
8. Other Benefits
Other purported turmeric benefits include:
Hepatoprotective Properties: A study showed that Curcuma longa and Tinospora cordifolia supplementation significantly reduced the risk of liver disease in patients taking medication for tuberculosis. Tuberculosis medication is commonly known to cause hepatotoxicity.
Antioxidant Properties: In a study observing patients with pancreatitis, curcumin with piperine (Piper nigrum) was able to reduce markers associated with oxidative stress.
Skin Health: Researchers found that topically applied curcuminoid cream supported repigmentation in subjects with vitiligo. It should be noted that this curcuminoid therapy was conducted alongside UVB phototherapy.
While these various other health benefits of turmeric are interesting, in-depth human clinical trials are needed to corroborate these findings.
Summary:Turmeric has been tied to a wide variety of health benefits. Human clinical trials are needed to verify these findings.
Safety Class: 1
Interaction Class: A
Turmeric is “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Research has concluded that turmeric and curcumin are safe and do not elicit toxic effects even in high doses (up to 8g).
The European Medicines Agency notes that turmeric should only be used medicinally by adults.
The American Botancial Council deems turmeric as a safe and effective alternative to the medications Celebrex®, Vioxx®, as well as ibuprofen, and aspirin.
Due to turmeric’s ability to potentially stimulate gallbladder contractions, medicinal use of the herb is not recommended for those with gallstones or biliary obstruction.
All in all, safety studies show that turmeric and curcumin appear to be extremely safe and well-tolerated, even at high doses (up to 8g), without toxic effects.
Pregnancy & Lactation:
Turmeric has been shown to cause uterine stimulation and thus may stimulate menstruation onset. Despite the fact that curcumin intake does not affect fetal development, turmeric use is not recommended during pregnancy and breastfeeding, and precautions should be taken due to the lack of clinical studies.
Historically, turmeric is considered safe to use as a culinary spice during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Consult your doctor if you are thinking about using turmeric while breastfeeding as there have been individual cases where curcumin has crossed into breast milk (BSH, 2013).
Standard dosing for turmeric is as follows:
Infusion: Add 1 tsp of turmeric root to 1 cup of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 10-15 mins.
Golden Milk: A combination of turmeric with milk. Drink 1 cup per day. Click here for a golden milk recipe.
Tincture (1:1): 5-14 ml/day
Dietary Supplement (curcumin capsule): 400-600mg (equivalent to 8-60g of turmeric)
Turmeric is not on the United Plant Saver’s “at-risk” list.
India produces nearly all global turmeric crops and consumes around 80% of them. However, as a plant, turmeric has a high disease risk, which makes it difficult to grow. This has caused turmeric-product countries to consider trade policies that support the growers.
Because of this, it’s important to ensure the source you are getting turmeric from somewhere that uses sustainable growing practices.
Naming & Taxonomy:
Turmeric’s scientific name is Curcuma longa. It belongs to the ginger family, Zingiberaceae, and is a perennial plant. It prefers to grow in humid, tropical conditions.
The turmeric plant is rhizomatous, meaning it produces a “swollen stem” just below the surface of the ground. This section of the plant, called the rhizome, is the part of the plant used for cuisine, cosmetics, and medicine. It has an earthy, slightly bitter, peppery taste.
Both the fresh and dried rhizome are used in dyes, and for culinary and medicinal purposes.
Other common names include: haldi, Indian Saffron, Curcuma, terre merite (French), turmeric root, yellow root, Jiang Huang (TCM), Uqdah safra (Arabic).
Some turmeric varieties used for food, cosmetics, and medicine include:
- Curcuma aromatica
- Curcuma domestica
- Curcuma euchroma
- Curcuma tinctoria
The turmeric plant grows to about 1 meter tall and has “sword-shaped” leaves. It needs warm, humid weather with adequate rainfall each year. The turmeric rhizome contains a light brown, firm, knotty skin.
Inside the skin, the turmeric rhizome has an iconic orange color. When ground, the flesh turns into a powdered yellow giving it the timeless name, “herb of the sun.”
To harvest turmeric, the rhizome is dug up with the entire plant around at the end of the growing season.
History & Traditional Use:
Turmeric has been used in Ayurvedic medicine, as food, and for religious purposes, for nearly 4,000 years. Records of turmeric oil appear in the Compendium (250 BC), which was written by the Indian physician, Susruta, and is one of the foundational Ayurvedic texts.
The plant’s reputation spread throughout China and Africa from AD 700 to AD 1200 and grew to be in high demand. In AD 1280, Marco Polo raved about its valuable qualities and mentioned that he was surprised a “vegetable” could have similar qualities to saffron.
Evidence shows that turmeric has long been used as a natural dye and as the main powder component for the Indian dish, curry. The beautiful yellow powder was and is still used to color paper, wood, food (cheese, butter, etc.), fabrics, cosmetics, and famously, the golden robes worn by Thai Buddhist monks.
Presently, turmeric has been approved for medicinal use by Commission E. The European Medicines Agency and Health Canada have also published monographs on this herb.
Turmeric has been traditionally used for digestive health, diabetes mellitus, anti-inflammation, and arthritis.
Turmeric vs. Other Herbs:
Turmeric is often compared with many other herbs. We have put together helpful guides going over the most common herbal comparisons.
Turmeric is a highly versatile food, coloring agent, and medicine. It supports a number of inflammatory and gastrointestinal issues, such as ulcers, arthritis, and inflammatory bowel disease.
In addition to these health benefits, turmeric has a strong potential for supporting blood sugar levels and providing cardioprotection.
It is worth checking into turmeric if you are experiencing any of the above indications.
As always, make sure to consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet or adding a new supplement.
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