Fact Checked By Leah Goebel, MS, RDN
September 27, 2021
Inflammation is a natural process that helps to defend and protect the body from illness and injury.
When the body becomes inflamed chronically, though, it can cause serious health problems, like heart disease and obesity-related conditions (1).
Chronic inflammatory diseases are the main cause of death in the world, making it an extremely important health issue (2).
While there are different types of chronic inflammation, all cause inflammatory compounds to be released in the body, causing stress.
While it is not fully understood what causes chronic inflammation, diet is thought to play an important role.
Turmeric, a yellow spice from South Asia, has been used for thousands of years to try and combat inflammation.
It has long been used as a medicinal ingredient in ayurveda medicine, a holistic, health-lifestyle system that originated in India almost 5,000 years ago (3).
Modern medicine has started to recognize its positive effects on inflammation, as well, as it continues to become more widely studied (4).
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Studies have shown that turmeric contains more than 100 compounds within it (5).
The most important component of turmeric may be the curcuminoids, or curcumin.
Curcumin is thought to be the main bioactive component of turmeric that helps to provide anti-inflammatory benefits, helping to reduce the amount of inflammatory compounds in the body.
Unfortunately, curcumin is generally not well absorbed into the bloodstream in therapeutic amounts.
Consuming it with black pepper, though, can increase absorption by almost 2,000 percent (6).
It is thought that the compound piperine in black pepper is responsible for this.
Tumeric has been studied for its effects on multiple chronic inflammatory diseases and could be a useful part of treatment for individuals with these conditions.
A few larger areas of study have been cardiovascular disease, diabetes, arthritis, and allergy-related diseases, including asthma.
Heart disease is the number one cause of death for men and women in the United States, making it an important public health concern (7).
It is well studied that inflammation plays an important role in many cardiovascular diseases (8).
Atherosclerosis is defined as the thickening and hardening of your arteries and can lead to serious health complications.
Oxidative damage and pro-inflammatory compounds are involved in this process.
Curcumin has been studied showing its effects in improving the lining of blood vessels and protecting the heart against certain injuries (9).
One study also found that providing 4 grams of curcumin to people undergoing coronary artery bypass surgery was associated with a 65 percent decreased risk of experiencing a heart attack compared to the placebo group.
Diabetes occurs when your blood sugar levels are too high (10).
It is estimated that over 20 percent of people in the United States have undiagnosed diabetes.
The two main types of diabetes are type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes is due to an immune response in the body and is generally thought to be caused by genetics.
On the other hand, lifestyle factors are thought to play a large role in type 2 diabetes, including diet and exercise.
Both types of diabetes can be associated with inflammation (11).
Additionally, obesity, an inflammatory condition, increases one’s risk for developing type 2 diabetes.
Animal studies have shown that curcumin may be effective in reducing obesity-related inflammation, as well as helping to control blood sugar levels (12).
It may also be useful in preventing certain complications associated with uncontrolled diabetes, like retinopathy.
More research is needed to be able to draw useful conclusions on the possible effects and treatments this could serve in individuals with diabetes.
Potentially the most widely studied condition has been the effect of turmeric on people with arthritis.
While there are many different types of arthritis, most conditions involve serious inflammation of the joints (13).
The most common forms of arthritis are gout, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis.
The main focus of treatment for those with arthritis is to minimize pain and improve quality of life.
Since inflammation is the major cause of symptoms, anti-inflammatory medications and pain relievers are a common form of treatment for those with arthritis.
Studies have shown that curcumin may be more effective than ibuprofen or certain anti-inflammatory drugs that are often prescribed for arthritis (14).
This could mean that, in the future, curcumin could become an important part of the treatment plan for those with arthritis or related conditions.
Certain allergy-related conditions, as well as asthma, are pro-inflammatory conditions that are mediated by inflammatory compounds.
They are often treated with medications, like steroids, to reduce inflammation and any associated symptoms.
Studies have shown that curcumin may have potential therapeutic value in people with allergies and asthma, helping to reduce inflammation and allergic responses (15).
This suggests that curcumin may be an effective part of treatment for people with these conditions in the future.
While the research is not as developed as the other conditions mentioned above, the list of diseases that curcumin is being tested for continues to grow (16).
Some of these include neurodegenerative diseases, like Parkinson’s disease, psoriasis, inflammatory bowel disease, and acquired immunodeficiency disease, or AIDS.
More research will be needed to determine if curcumin can be part of an effective treatment plan for these conditions.
Potential Side Effects
Turmeric and curcumin are regarded as ‘generally recognized as safe,’ or GRAS, by the United States Food and Drug Administration (17).
While there have been some studies researching toxicity levels of turmeric in rats, there have been no long term studies identifying toxicity levels in humans or rodent models. Talk to your doctor or dietitian about the potential side effects and if turmeric or curcumin is right for you.
Inflammation is a serious health concern, with chronic inflammatory diseases being the leading cause of death in the world.
While turmeric has been traditionally used as an anti-inflammatory agent for thousands of years in India, modern medicine is also starting to acknowledge its potential benefits in preventing or treating inflammation.
Turmeric may be beneficial in treating inflammatory conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, asthma, allergies, and others.
More research is needed to determine the full effects and correct dosages to reap the full benefits of turmeric.
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