Megan writes about health and wellness issues, among other topics.
What Is Turmeric?
Turmeric is a bright yellow spice made from grinding the root of the turmeric plant, a flowering plant native to India. It has an earthy, somewhat bitter taste. It gets its color from curcumin, the active compound in the root, which is also responsible for the medicinal benefits. Turmeric has long been used in India under the Ayurvedic medicinal system, one of the oldest medical systems on the planet. Ayurvedic medicine seeks to treat the body holistically through natural remedies mostly derived from plants. Of the 6,000 years or so that Ayurveda has been practiced turmeric has been used for over 4,000 years. It has long been used in India and surrounding areas as a spice for cooking and is what gives curry its deep golden color. Turmeric has been known to the Western world at least as far back as the 1700s, where it appeared in an English cookbook. Today, it is still widely used in many cuisines and has hit the spotlight in new takes on the classic herb as its benefits are becoming more widely known, such as in turmeric milk or turmeric lattes. It is also available in capsule form, or as a tea.
Potential Health Benefits of Turmeric
As a supplement or medicinal herb, turmeric has become best known for its anti-inflammatory properties in the treatment of chronic inflammatory conditions such as arthritis. It has also been touted for its benefits in easing digestion symptoms, including for inflammatory bowel conditions like ulcerative colitis. It's thought that turmeric can lessen symptoms of depression and is frequently used alongside another adaptogen herb, ashwagandha. Below are some of the medical benefits most strongly associated with turmeric:
- Anti-Inflammatory: In one study, turmeric supplements were found to be as effective as ibuprofen for knee arthritis. This was when turmeric was taken at doses of 1,500 daily, or 500 mg three times a day. Most supplement capsules contain about 450mg per capsule.
- Anti-cancer (may possibly stop cancer cell growth): Some studies show that turmeric may even inhibit or prevent cancer cell growth. Chemotherapy has been shown to possibly be more effective when done in conjunction with turmeric. Countries where people eat a moderate amount of turmeric daily (100–200mg) over much of their lives show lower incidences of some types of cancers than in countries where turmeric is less commonly concerned. Research in this area is only in beginning stages, however, and turmeric should never take the place of medical treatment for cancer.
- Ease joint pain: Many individuals who experience arthritis, including either arthritis from general aging or autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, report improvement in joint pain while taking turmeric consistently.
- Ease digestive pain: Individuals with digestive issues such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) might find relief from turmeric. Curcumin may help regulate intestine contractions, which may be responsible for the uncomfortable constipation or diarrhea associated with IBS.
- Lower blood sugar: Although it is controversial whether it really makes a difference with blood sugar, turmeric has been shown to help regulate insulin activity and thus lower blood sugar in some individuals with Type 2 diabetes.
- Boost mood: Turmeric is used often alongside adaptogen herbs like ashwagandha, which are purported to contribute to a sense of wellbeing and thus possibly reduce depression symptoms. Turmeric itself is sometimes considered an adaptogen because it helps to regulate the hormone cortisol, which plays an important role in stress.
- Help with seasonal allergies: Again because of its anti-inflammatory properties, turmeric may help reduce seasonal allergy symptoms because it reduces overall inflammation, including nasal passage inflammation triggered by allergies.
How to Consume Turmeric
Turmeric is a spice, and as noted above, can be used in cooking or in lattes. It is a staple in Southern Asian cuisine, being used daily in Indian cultures, and added to many dishes like curry, teas, and chutneys. The “golden latte” or “golden milk,” which is a latte made with milk or milk alternative and turmeric, has been made popular the past couple of years on social media, but really dates back thousands of years as a calming, immunity-boosting, anti-inflammatory drink and is known as Haldi Doodh in India. To reap the medical benefits to their maximum potential, however, you will most likely need to consume turmeric consistently in a capsule or supplement form, which will be a higher intake of the herb than if you use it in foods. In capsule form, the average recommended dose is 500–700mg daily to see any therapeutic benefit.
My Experience With Turmeric
The first time I considered taking turmeric as a supplement was about a year ago. I had heard of “golden milk” lattes made with turmeric and had tried them a couple of times, but it was not something I did on a regular basis for any medical benefit. A year ago, however, I was struggling with chronic tailbone pain, which to this day I am not sure if was from working from home in a different chair, or from running and working out. I was also having issues with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), made worse by pandemic stress. My tailbone pain got bad enough to go to the doctor for it, and when I told them about my digestive issues as well, I was surprised that instead of an NSAID or some other medication, he recommended turmeric. I had been taking over-the-counter ibuprofen or Alleve almost daily, and he said I would be surprised at the results I would see when I switched to turmeric. I bought turmeric capsules that day and started taking them daily. I also started a probiotic at the same time for the digestive issues, but within two weeks my tailbone pain was as controlled as it had been on daily NSAIDs, and my digestive issues had calmed down as well.
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After I ran out of the turmeric capsules, I didn’t buy more right away to see what would happen. The tailbone pain returned as bad as before after three weeks off of the turmeric! I started the turmeric again. While it has not completely healed my musculoskeletal pain or IBS, turmeric has helped control the flares, and I owe that to its anti-inflammatory benefits. I prefer to use the Whole Foods 365 brand turmeric and plan to maintain it as part of my daily routine.
Are There Risks to Taking Turmeric?
Individuals with gallbladder or liver problems should not take high levels of turmeric because of turmeric’s role in bile production, which could exacerbate these conditions. People taking blood thinners should also steer clear of excessive turmeric supplementation.
Check with your doctor about contraindications before taking turmeric for medical reasons.
Turmeric is a relatively low-risk herb with some proven medicinal properties, and a good overall anti-inflammatory that can be beneficial in alleviating and preventing certain conditions. Different people may respond to turmeric differently. While one person may have great results, another may notice little difference with taking turmeric. As with any supplement or medical condition, you should consult your doctor before taking it in supplement quantities, especially if you are experiencing medical symptoms.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on April 03, 2021:
Ravi Rajan I know exactly what you mean about Turmeric. I heard that Turmeric is the key supplement to curing Alzheimer. People use Turmeric for cooking for coloring of foods and for many ailments. Your information is accurate and informative. Turmeric is one of the best root to help with blemishes and for a healthy liver as well.
Ravi Rajan from Mumbai on April 03, 2021:
I am from India Megan and in my culture Turmeric has been around for the past 3000 years. The usage of turmeric from medicinal to skincare has been well documented in our various ancient texts and has been passed on from generation to generation. Thanks for sharing this wonderful article