6 Health Benefits of Turmeric

6 Health Benefits of Turmeric


Turmeric is a vibrantly colored spice, sometimes called Indian saffron, which grows naturally in southeastern Asia and has been used medicinally and in Indian cuisine for centuries. Turmeric’s “claim to fame” is that it contains a powerful antioxidant called curcumin, which gives it anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. 

Curcumin might reduce the risk of several diseases, like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. The majority of studies have been done in animals or in vitro (human cells in Petri dishes). Few studies have been conducted in humans, so the health benefits of turmeric are still uncertain.

Turmeric spices and supplements are made from the rhizome (root) of the plant, which are ground up. Read on to learn about turmeric, including its possible health benefits, side effects, and more.

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Metabolic syndrome, also called insulin resistance syndrome, is a condition that increases your risk for type 2 diabetes, stroke, and heart disease. It’s characterized by having three or more risk factors, such as high blood sugar, triglycerides, and blood pressure. Other risk factors include having abdominal obesity and low HDL (“good”) cholesterol. One in three adults has metabolic syndrome.

A small study published in 2016 examined the effects of supplementing with curcumin in people with metabolic syndrome. The researchers tested pro-inflammatory cytokines, or proteins associated with metabolic syndrome.

The study authors found that curcumin significantly reduced cytokines in the participants’ blood samples over eight weeks. This study was small, so larger ones are needed to confirm this benefit.

Depression is a common and serious mental health condition that causes feelings of sadness, low energy, low appetite, and loss of pleasure. Nearly 17% of people will experience depression in their life, usually during their late teens or early 20s.

A review published in 2020 of nine studies looked at the effects turmeric may have on depression and anxiety. The researchers found that people supplementing with turmeric saw significant improvements in symptoms. The study authors concluded that the studies were too small to base any medical decisions, and further studies are needed.

Inflammation is part of the immune system’s defenses. The immune system sends out inflammatory cells and chemicals, like cytokines, to protect and heal your body when you encounter germs or injure yourself. Chronic inflammation means your immune system may be sending out this response all the time, even when it’s not needed. This can lead to pain, fatigue, depression, weight gain, infections, acid reflux, and other issues.

A review published in 2015 of seven clinical trials looked at turmeric and oxidative stress (an imbalance between harmful chemicals and antioxidants). The researchers found that taking turmeric supplements for more than six weeks resulted in fewer oxidative stress markers and increased antioxidants.

It’s worth noting that these clinical trials were small. The study authors said larger studies are needed before any benefits can be fully understood.

Renal disease, or kidney disease, affects one-third of all people with diabetes. Excess sugar in the blood can damage the kidney’s blood vessels over time if diabetes goes untreated. Kidney disease usually develops slowly over the course of many years.

Research has found that supplementing with turmeric can lead to improvements in tests that measure markers of kidney damage. Turmeric might lower levels of albumin in the urine. Albumin is a muscle-building protein that’s normally in your blood but shows up in urine when there’s kidney damage.

Cancer refers to a number of diseases that all have one thing in common: cells begin to grow abnormally and spread and harm nearby body tissues. Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States, exceeded only by deaths due to heart disease.

Many studies have been conducted on turmeric and cancer. Most have only looked at animals or in vitro. Few studies have been conducted on humans, but some evidence suggests that curcumin nanoparticles may slow the growth of cancer cells. Curcumin may even shrink tumor size and weight. Larger studies done on humans are needed before anything can be definitively proven.

Arthritis is inflammation of the joints, or where two bones meet, like your knee or elbow. There are many types of arthritis, each with its own cause and treatment. Symptoms of arthritis include joint pain, swelling, and stiffness. One in four adults in the United States has arthritis, and it’s a leading cause of disability.

Turmeric is known to have anti-inflammatory properties, which can be helpful with inflammatory diseases like arthritis. Some evidence suggests that turmeric can modify pro-inflammatory cells called cytokines. This can reduce inflammation in people with osteoarthritis (OA), the most common type of arthritis. The studies that have looked at turmeric’s effects on arthritis are too small to allow for a definite recommendation for its use.

Turmeric is a spice used in cooking in many parts of the world. The spice is used in India in curries, in Japan in tea, and in the United States as a supplement and a spice. The curcumin in turmeric is also available in creams, energy drinks, cosmetics, and soap. Many grocery stores sell fresh turmeric in their produce section and as a dried spice in the aisle with other seasonings.

The body poorly absorbs curcumin unless black pepper is added to it. If you use turmeric in cooking, try adding black pepper to get the most health benefits. Turmeric is also a fat-soluble substance, so you need to eat it with a source of fat for your body to absorb it well. Pair turmeric with fat sources, such as avocado or cheese.

Dosage

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved curcuminoids (anything isolated from turmeric) and calls them “generally recognized as safe.” Supplements from turmeric with 4,000–8,000 milligrams (mg) per day are recognized as safe.

Turmeric is considered safe if eaten in foods or beverages or applied to the skin. It’s unknown if turmeric is safe for people who are pregnant or breastfeeding, as it has not been thoroughly studied in these groups.

Some companies are developing turmeric or curcumin products that have increased bioavailability so the body absorbs them better. It’s important to remember that reformulated herbs may increase the harmful effects of the supplement. 

Potential Drug Interactions

Herbs and supplements, like regular medications, are capable of causing negative interactions if taken with other drugs or supplements. Turmeric is known to decrease the body’s ability to absorb certain drugs, like medications for cancer or heart disease. The spice may also increase your risk for adverse effects when taken with antidepressants, antibiotics, diabetes medications, or allergy medications.

The available evidence does not provide enough conclusions to make any hard-and-fast rule. It’s important to speak with a healthcare provider before starting turmeric supplements.

Where To Find It

Turmeric is a supplement available in capsule form in most grocery stores or pharmacies. The FDA does not regulate supplements to the same extent as medications. 

Supplement manufacturers are responsible for testing the safety of their products. The FDA, in contrast, controls what types of claims the product labels can have. The FDA has the authority to act against any adulterated or mislabeled product after it reaches the market. Make sure you find a brand that’s been third-party tested to ensure you get a pure formulation of the correct supplement.

Can You Take Too Much?

It’s possible to take too much turmeric, but it’s not likely. A study published in 2017 found that heavy doses may be toxic to cells. Other research has shown that supplements of less than 8,000 mg daily are safe. More research is needed to find the best dose of turmeric. 

Turmeric is complex and difficult to study because it easily changes in your body and reaches your bloodstream. Some manufacturers have produced turmeric or curcumin products that have better absorption rates. It’s important to read the label clearly and speak with a healthcare provider about the amount of turmeric you take if you choose to take it.

Although rare, turmeric supplementation may cause side effects in some people. These side effects may include:

  • Diarrhea or other gastrointestinal (GI) discomfort
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Skin rash

Turmeric shows promise as an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. The spice has possible beneficial effects for people with cancer, metabolic syndrome, depression, arthritis, or other inflammatory conditions. More research is needed to understand turmeric’s full effects on human health.

Try using turmeric as a spice in your cooking if you like the flavor. Speak with a healthcare provider, especially if you are taking other medications, if you choose to supplement with turmeric or curcumin.

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