Kim is an RN and author of the book "360 Health: Your Guide to Cancer Prevention, Healing Foods, & Total Body Wellness."
What Is Turmeric?
Turmeric is a tall root plant (Curcuma longa) that grows in India and Southeast Asia. It's sometimes called Indian saffron because of its deep golden color. Ground turmeric is often used as a spice in curry recipes.
The natural chemical compounds in turmeric are called curcuminoids. These curcuminoids are responsible for turmeric's amazing health benefits. Curcumin, the name of the bioactive ingredient in turmeric, has powerful anti-inflammatory properties. For centuries Ayurvedic medicine (a traditional Indian treatment system) has used turmeric for pain relief and healing.
Turmeric powder can be found in grocery and health-food stores. In addition to curry recipes, turmeric is used in Caribbean cooking, chutneys, soups, teas, and much more.
While cooking with turmeric offers great taste and does provide some curcuminoid benefit, to enjoy truly potent anti-inflammatory effects, it's best to supplement with turmeric curcumin capsules or extract. (For the purposes of this article, turmeric and curcumin will be used interchangeably.)
1) Contains Potent Antioxidants
In the body, antioxidants work to decrease free radical damage. Free radicals are a natural part of cellular metabolism. However, they are also generated by inflammation, illness, aging, and toxins in our food and environment. When our bodies have too many free radicals, our DNA can become damaged and this can lead to disease. Curcumin, as a powerful antioxidant, can help to reverse some of this damage.
Cancer is one terrible consequence of free radical attack on the body. Curcumin has the added bonus of decreasing angiogenesis. Angiogenesis is the formation of blood vessels and vasculature to abnormal cells or tumors. Thus, curcumin shuts off the blood supply to potentially cancerous cells. It also plays a role in apoptosis (cancer cell death). So, it helps stop cancer from forming and/or from growing any further once present in the body.
One study, which looked at medications' effects on TNF (tumor necrosis factor) found that curcumin was about as effective as tamoxifen in stopping cancer cell proliferation. Curcumin also appears to help "re-sensitize" patients to chemotherapy when their traditional treatments appear to no longer be working by themselves.
2) Reduces Pain and Inflammation
Turmeric has a remarkable ability to reduce the joint pain associated with arthritis, even rheumatoid arthritis. Turmeric curcumin activates the innate opioid, pain-relieving system in our bodies. It is so effective that, in studies, it performed better than aspirin and ibuprofen in reducing pain. It actually rivaled things like high-dose resveratrol and celecoxib in its ability to stop inflammation. The U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research goes so far as to suggest that curcumin be used in the treatment of severe burns to reduce pain and improve wound healing.
Fighting overall inflammation is also essential because it's thought that chronic inflammation is at the root of most diseases. It can be inconspicuous, and many of us may be inflamed in various ways unbeknownst to us.
3) Promotes Better Digestion and Gut Health
In Ayurvedic medicine, turmeric is used as a digestive healing agent. Due to its anti-inflammatory nature, curcumin helps to reduce the symptoms of IBS and other digestive ailments. In fact, many IBS sufferers may be able to stop taking corticosteroids which are strong anti-inflammatory medications but with numerous deleterious side effects.
Curcumin can not only stop inflammation but can also help decrease bowel cramping and constipation by relaxing the smooth muscles of the digestive tract. It's thought to help reverse a "leaky gut" (intestinal permeability) as well. It does so by contracting the proteins in the bowel lining, squeezing the spaces between the cells so that food particles and toxins cannot enter the bloodstream.
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Curcumin also helps good intestinal bacteria thrive. It has the unique mechanism of disrupting the growth of harmful organisms and eradicating them from the body while helping to repair the stomach lining.
4) Improves Brain Function
Curcumin has been studied in Alzheimer's research. Amazingly, supplementing with curcumin reduces oxidized protein in the brain and can actually help prevent amyloid plaque formation. Plaque damages the brain and appears to be the root cause of Alzheimer's. Curcumin, unlike many other substances, crosses the blood/brain barrier, thus majorly helping to reduce inflammation and oxidation in the brain. Curcumin also increases Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor which is a hormone that allows neurons to make new connections in the brain, improving memory.
Another brain benefit is that curcumin helps to increase serotonin and dopamine levels . . . those feel-good, happy neurotransmitters. A study in Phytotherapy Research showed that it was as effective as fluoxetine (Prozac) in reducing depression. And even better, it had none of the unpleasant side effects.
5) Aids in Detoxification and Weight Loss
Liver functioning is improved in those supplementing with curcumin, and when the liver is functioning optimally, our body's natural detoxification processes are on point. Our livers help to remove toxins from our bloodstream. Curcumin also helps to stimulate the lymphatic system, further removing unwanted toxins and waste from the body.
Turmeric can also help to boost metabolism. This is useful in reducing fat mass and further stimulating the liver in detoxification. One study in the journal Biofactors stated,
"With the discovery that obesity is characterized by chronic low-grade metabolic inflammation, phytochemicals like curcumin which have anti-inflammatory activity are being intensely investigated. Recent scientific research reveals that curcumin directly interacts with white adipose tissue to suppress chronic inflammation... Through these diverse mechanisms curcumin reduces obesity and curtails the adverse health effects of obesity."
So, it appears weight loss is a great corollary response to taking curcumin!
6) Decreases Risk for Heart Disease
Curcumin has the ability to lower LDL, that "bad" cholesterol doctors worry about. Curcumin improves endothelial (blood vessel wall) function, helping to make vessels more pliable. This decreases blood pressure which, in turn, decreases the damage to vessel linings and limits the amount of cholesterol plaque in the arteries. (Cholesterol rushes to damaged arteries to "wall off" areas of injury.)
Curcumin also has blood "thinning" properties. It may slow the clotting process of blood. This "side effect" is good for those at potential risk for heart disease or high blood pressure. However, it is important to make note of this if you are taking a blood-thinner such as warfarin (Coumadin) or even aspirin, as turmeric may be counter-indicated in those circumstances.
What to Look for in a Turmeric Curcumin Supplement
How much turmeric curcumin should you take and what kind should you look for?
To experience the most bang for your buck, you'll want to make sure you're taking the correct dosage with the right ingredients/additives.
Dosage: You need at least 1,000 - 1,800 mg per day to get the desired anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effects. Most supplement brands will direct you to this on their label and recommend at least this amount. (In one study which looked at heart disease, researchers used 4,000 mg per day and saw a 65% decreased risk of heart attack with this dosage.)
Ingredients: This is important: You want a brand that contains BioPerine or black pepper extract. This increases the absorption of the curcuminoids by 2000% (yes TWO-THOUSAND percent)! The ingredient list on the bottle of the brand I'm currently using states:
- Turmeric (Curcuma longa root) 1350 mg
- Turmeric Extract 95% standardized curcuminoids 150 mg
- Black Pepper Fruit (BioPerine) 10 mg
If you're unable to find turmeric curcumin at your local grocer or vitamin store, Amazon has a huge collection of options. Try to look for those made without fillers and are organic, if possible.
Daniluk, Julie. "Healing Turmeric: Not Just For Curry!" 2013, https://www.juliedaniluk.com/blog/turmeric.
Gunnars, Kris. "10 Proven Health Benefits of Turmeric and Curcumin," 9 June 2017, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/top-10-evidence-based-health-benefits-of-turmeric.
"12 Turmeric Benefits: Superior to Medications?" 2017, Dr. Axe, https://draxe.com/turmeric-benefits/. (No longer available.)
Ware, Megan. "Turmeric: Health Benefits, Nutritional Information," 8 March 2016, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/306981.php.
"9 Surprising Benefits of Turmeric and Curcumin," 2017, Organic Information Services, https://www.organicfacts.net/health-benefits/herbs-and-spices/turmeric.html.
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.
© 2017 Kim Maravich
Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on October 06, 2017:
Thank you for sharing this valuable information on the nutritional benefits of turmeric curcumin. I learned a lot from your article.