Fact Checked By Leah Goebel, MS, RDN
September 2, 2021
If you have ever eaten curry, chances are you have had turmeric.
Turmeric is a colorful, yellow spice that belongs to the ginger family.
It is found in Southeast Asia and is often used to color and flavor curries, cheeses, butters, and mustards.
While it is most often used for its flavoring, turmeric has also long been used for its medicinal properties in traditional Ayurvedic medicine.
The major, active component found in turmeric is curcumin (1).
Curcumin is a polyphenol with antioxidant properties.
Many studies have been performed looking at the wide array of potential health benefits turmeric can provide.
Among these areas studied are its anti-inflammatory effects, antioxidant effects, and potential benefits for brain and heart health.
This article will review all the potential health benefits of turmeric, as well as provide suggestions on how to best incorporate it into your diet.
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Turmeric vs. Curcumin
The words turmeric and curcumin are often used interchangeably.
So, what exactly is the difference between the two?
Turmeric contains many different plant compounds, including curcuminoids.
Curcumin is an active ingredient that is found within turmeric and is thought to have the most health benefits (2).
Some studies cited in this article used the turmeric plant as a whole, while others isolated the curcumin ingredient to view its effects.
Antioxidant & Anti-Inflammatory Effects
Most of the potential benefits that turmeric can provide are due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Oxidative stress is a term used to describe an imbalance of production and removal of oxygen reactive species in the body.
Oxidative damage is thought to be a contributing cause of many different diseases, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, arthritis, and a variety of neurological diseases (3).
Turmeric has shown to improve certain markers of oxidative stress (4).
The pathways of oxidative stress and inflammation in the body are closely related (5).
Many chronic diseases are associated with an increase in inflammation, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, cardiovascular disease, and metabolic syndrome.
Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, has shown to suppress inflammation through a number of mechanisms (6).
This suggests that it may be useful in treating different inflammatory diseases.
Arthritis is a disease associated with inflammation, tenderness, and swelling of the joints (7).
While the disease severity can range greatly, arthritis can cause serious pain and motility issues in people.
Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are the most common types of arthritis, with all types affecting over 250 million people worldwide.
Many studies have shown the anti-arthritic effects of curcumin on those with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
The positive effects of curcumin on arthritis sufferers included reducing pain and improving physical function in study participants.
One study found that curcumin may be even more effective than certain anti-inflammatory drugs (8).
While you may have never heard of brain-derived neutropenic factor protein, it is a protein that plays an important role in memory and learning (9).
Many brain-related diseases are associated with lower levels of brain-derived neutropenic factors, including Alzheimer’s disease (10).
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, contributing up to 70% of all cases (11).
Dementia is a syndrome in which there is deterioration in thinking, behavior, memory, and one’s ability to do their everyday activities.
Preliminary studies in animals have shown that curcumin may increase levels of this protein in the body (12).
While it is still unknown if this mechanism would be the same in humans, the initial results are promising.
As discussed before, curcumin may also be helpful in reducing the oxidative stress and inflammation that is associated with Alzheimer’s disease (13).
Heart disease continues to be the number one cause of death in people around the globe (14).
While it is a very complex disease progression with many different contributing factors, curcumin has been shown to play a potential protective role (15).
It is thought that this is due to its anti-inflammatory effects.
While many different areas have been studied, it is thought that the positive effects of curcumin on blood vessel health may be the most important (16).
In one study, people undergoing heart surgery that took four grams of curcumin a few days before and a few days after surgery had a 65 percent decreased risk of experiencing a heart attack in the hospital (17).
More research is needed to fully understand the relationship of turmeric and heart health.
How to Take Turmeric
Turmeric can be taken either in its natural occurring form (which is generally ground into a powder) or as a supplement.
Turmeric supplements are usually a more concentrated form of curcumin and are generally safe for healthy people to take.
For maximum absorption, you can look for supplements that contain black pepper.
Piperine, a compound that is found in black pepper, may help to increase the absorption of curcumin by up to 2,000 percent (18).
Look for a supplement that is from a trusted source, such as TC Relief Turmeric, which is packaged in FDA-certified facilities and only contains FDA-approved ingredients (19).
If you experience any gastrointestinal stress, like bloating or nausea, stop taking the turmeric supplements.
If you are taking any blood thinners, such as warfarin, or have liver or bile duct issues, talk to your doctor first before starting any turmeric supplements (20).
While you may think of turmeric as a household staple that lives in your spice cabinet, it has been an important part of Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years.
Turmeric contains many important plant compounds, but curcumin may be the most important, active compound for our health.
Turmeric has shown to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidative properties which may improve our health in a variety of areas.
It can be found in its natural state, or in a more potent form in supplements.
Whether you are trying to improve your heart health, joint health, or brain function, turmeric may be a safe, easy way to improve your health.
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