The health benefits of turmeric have been known for a long time by traditional practitioners in its native land. In the western part of the world, turmeric was viewed for a long time merely as the spice that gave curry its bright color. Then, it shot to popularity as a super-spice practically overnight.
It can be hard to separate fact from fiction with all the hype surrounding superfoods, but turmeric has real, time-tested benefits. It's been used for thousands of years in herbal medicine and is now one of the most researched herbal supplements.
Here's more about the health benefits of turmeric and how to use it in the best way.
All About Turmeric
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is closely related to another powerful spice: ginger. It's native to India and South Asia with India being the world's largest grower and supplier.
The turmeric plant has large, tropical-looking leaves and bright red flowers, but it's the rhizomes that are prized medicinally. They have a similar appearance to ginger root but with a distinctive bright orange-yellow color.
Much of the turmeric harvested is dried and ground into powder, but you can also find the whole roots at certain grocery stores. Besides its health benefits, turmeric is used as a clothing dye, food colorant, and central spice in Indian and Asian cooking.
The main active ingredient identified in turmeric is curcumin. Curcumin alone has been the center of multiple studies, but many of the positive effects of turmeric come from consuming the whole herb, not just a single compound.
Health Benefits of Turmeric
One of the most studied health benefits of turmeric is its ability to fight inflammation. Inflammation is part of your body's natural response to things like stress and infection, but chronic inflammation has a very negative impact on your health. (1)(2)
Turmeric has long been used in Ayurveda and other traditional medicinal practices to fight inflammatory diseases. Research done on curcumin has confirmed its anti-inflammatory nature and found that it's comparable to anti-inflammatory drugs without any of the side effects. (3)(4)
One study found that it was just as effective as a corticosteroid for treating a chronic inflammatory disease with no reported side effects. (5)
To get the effects of turmeric, you can take the powder daily or try a tincture like this Inflamma Response extract.
Relieves Arthritis & Other Types of Pain
While turmeric can help with inflammation in general, it's been shown to be especially beneficial for arthritis-related symptoms.
One small study found that curcumin was more effective than a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) at relieving tenderness, swelling, and other symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. Other curcumin-based treatments have shown similar results. (6)(7)
Turmeric can also benefit other types musculoskeletal pain and even support your body post-surgery.
An often overlooked benefit of turmeric is its ability to boost your immune system. Herbs like elderberry and echinacea are popular immune supporters and often take over the spotlight, but turmeric is just as powerful.
Turmeric appears to stimulate your immune system and enhance its ability to fight off diseases. The warming and drying nature of turmeric also makes it a good herb to use when you have a chest cold or a "wet" cough. (8)
Strongly Promotes Liver and Digestive Health
Turmeric has been used as a liver-supporting herb for thousands of years. It's considered a cholagogue, meaning an herb that stimulates bile production in the liver. Bile is important for your digestive system, especially for the breakdown of fats and oils. A healthy liver is also important for getting toxins out of your body. (9)
Taking turmeric regularly can also be a great overall digestive aid. As a warming herb, it has a stimulating effect and can help with a sluggish digestion. There's some indication that curcumin may even help inflammatory bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis. (10)
For liver (and digestive) support, try turmeric in these Daily Liver Formula capsules.
Benefits Heart Health
Along with its anti-inflammatory effects, turmeric has other health benefits for lowering your risk of getting heart disease. Curcumin, especially, has shown heart-protective properties, in part because of its strong antioxidant effect. (11)
It has also been shown to improve the function of your endothelium (the lining of your blood vessels). This better helps your body to regulate blood pressure and prevent blood clotting, among other things. (12)(13)
Finally, there are some indications that curcumin can lower cholesterol levels, although human studies haven't confirmed this yet. (14)
May Reduce or Treat Depression Symptoms
Turmeric (or more specifically, curcumin) has shown some major potential for treating the symptoms of depression. One breakthrough study found that curcumin was just as effective at managing depression after six weeks as a common drug for depression, fluoxetine (common brand name: Prozac). (15)
Boosts Skin Health
Turmeric face masks have become immensely popular but aren't a new thing. This bright orange spice has a long history of being used for both skin health and to treat wounds.
The powdered root can help stop bleeding when applied to a wound, but it's more often used for skin issues like acne, eczema, and psoriasis. The anti-inflammatory nature of turmeric is useful for redness and can help revive your skin.
Don't forget that turmeric stains, so apply your face mask carefully!
Could Help Fight Cancer
It seems like the next possible cure for cancer is always being brought up, but turmeric has shown real potential for this use. Multiple studies have shown that it can reduce the growth of cancer cells and inhibit tumor growth. (18)(19)
It may also make conventional cancer treatments like chemotherapy work more effectively or prevent cancer in the first place. More research is needed, but there's no doubt that turmeric is a powerful herb. (20)(21)
Getting the Most Out of Turmeric
One of the most popular ways to take turmeric is as a powder. Unless you frequently eat curry or other meals with large amounts of turmeric, you'll want to find another way to take it regularly.
Golden milk is a great way to get your daily dose. It's made by heating turmeric and other spices with coconut milk and honey. The fat from the coconut milk actually helps your body absorb the turmeric better. Or try a simple turmeric tea with other spices.
If you don't like the taste of turmeric, you can make your own capsules by adding the powder to empty vegetable or gelatin capsules.
The fresh root can also be used to make a tincture (also known as an extract) if you prefer to take herbs that way. By now, turmeric is widely available for sale as a powder, capsule, extract, and more.
Pepper Makes it Better
Even though turmeric contains the very powerful substance, curcumin, it doesn't get absorbed very well into your body. Taking turmeric with a meal or beverage that contains fat will help with this, but black pepper appears to be the best way to help it absorb more effectively.
According to one study, adding piperine (the active compound in black pepper) increases the bioavailability of curcumin by 2000%. (22)
If you're cooking with turmeric, adding a few grinds of pepper can do the trick. If you're making your own capsules, make freshly ground black pepper 3% of your mix to increase the bioavailability of curcumin.
Typically, there are no side effects with turmeric and it can be consumed in food-like quantities. Some herbalists recommend avoiding large doses during pregnancy (cooking with it is fine).
However, it's important to understand that turmeric is a warming and drying herb. It can be aggravating if your constitution already tends towards dryness. Taking it with a fat like ghee, butter, or vegetable oil or a moistening herb like marshmallow root can offset its drying nature.
Taking very large quantities of turmeric can cause nausea and upset stomach. It can slow blood clotting and isn't recommended if you are taking blood thinners, have a blood clotting disorder, or are about to have surgery.
Finally, don't forget that turmeric stains everything it comes into contact with! Try rubbing alcohol to get out stains on countertops, cutting boards, etc.
The Mighty Health Benefits of Turmeric
As you can see, the health benefits of turmeric are many. It's a great spice to add to your diet on a daily basis. Turmeric can boost your immune system, decrease chronic inflammation, support digestion, and much more. It's also a very safe herb that rarely has negative effects.
Finding a way to incorporate turmeric into your natural health plan can really give you a boost!