There may be a thousand different health claims about curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, but what are the facts?
We did our homework and read through the research.
There are thousands of articles on all the benefits of turmeric and we wanted to know the truth. Does turmeric really help joint aches and pains? Can it help with arthritis? Does turmeric relieve inflammation?
You’re about to find out.
Like many spices, turmeric (Curcuma longa) has a long history of use in traditional medicine. This flavor-filled spice is primarily cultivated from the rhizomes, or roots, of a flowering plant in India and other parts of Southeast Asia, and aside from giving curry its vibrant yellow color, turmeric is also known for having potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, according to a past review.
The primary active component of turmeric — and the one that gives the spice its characteristic yellow color — is curcumin.
In fact, you can credit curcumin as the compound responsible for most of turmeric’s potential health benefits. “Curcumin is a natural antioxidant that has anti-inflammatory benefits, as well as [possible] benefits related to slowing the aging process and preventing Alzheimer’s disease and potentially depression,” says San Diego, California–based Elizabeth Ann Shaw, RDN, owner of Shaw’s Simple Swaps Consulting.
Unfortunately, turmeric (and curcumin on its own) doesn’t absorb well into the bloodstream, and having it in curry once a month is unlikely to give you the desired anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits, says Dana Angelo White, RD, owner of Dana White Nutrition. To reach the amounts of turmeric and curcumin shown to offer benefits in research studies, you’ll have to turn to supplements.
Still, you may be able to reap benefits by adding black pepper anytime you use turmeric, and/or taking a turmeric supplement that incorporates black pepper. “There is a compound in black pepper called piperine that actually helps to make turmeric more bioavailable,” White explains. Bioavailability refers to the amount of a substance that’s absorbed or able to be used by the body. (2) For instance, a past study found that consuming 20 milligrams (mg) of piperine along with 2 grams (g) of curcumin increased bioavailability by 2,000 percent.
1. Curcumin Is an Anti-Inflammatory
One of turmeric’s main claims to fame is that it’s commonly used to fight inflammation, and the bulk of turmeric’s inflammation-fighting powers can be credited to curcumin. In fact, in the right dose, curcumin may be a more effective anti-inflammatory treatment than common inflammation-fighting medications such as Advil (ibuprofen) and aspirin, according to a past study.
As chronic inflammation contributes to many chronic diseases, curcumin may help treat conditions like inflammatory bowel disease, pancreatitis, and arthritis. (5,1) We’ll get into some of those specific benefits later.
2. Curcumin May Protect Against Heart Disease
A past study shows that curcumin may improve endothelial function, or the health of the thin membrane that covers the inside of the heart and blood vessels. This membrane plays a key role in regulating blood pressure.
Lower endothelial function is associated with aging and an increased risk of heart disease. Thus, curcumin may help protect against age-related loss of function and reduce your likelihood of developing heart disease.
3. Curcumin May Help Ease Symptoms of Osteoarthritis
Thanks to its potent anti-inflammatory properties, curcumin may be a safe and effective long-term treatment option for people with osteoarthritis (OA). In a past study, people with osteoarthritis who took 1,000 mg/day of Meriva experienced significant improvements in stiffness and physical function after eight months, whereas the control group saw no improvements. Meriva is a proprietary treatment made up of a natural curcuminoid mixture (75 percent curcumin; 15 percent demethoxycurcumin; and 10 percent bisdemethoxycurcumin), phosphatidylcholine (a chemical found in eggs, soybeans, and other foods), and microcrystalline cellulose (a refined wood pulp commonly used by the pharmaceutical and food industries).
4. Curcumin May Help Treat or Prevent Diabetes
According to a past review of studies, curcumin may help treat and prevent diabetes, as well as associated disorders like diabetic nephropathy (also called diabetic kidney disease), which affects people with type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes. (16,17) One drawback: Many of the studies have been done only in animals, not humans.
For example, one study found that feeding 80 mg of tetrahydrocurcumin (one of the main substances of curcumin) per kg body weight to rats with type 2 diabetes for 45 days led to a significant decrease in blood sugar, as well as an increase in plasma insulin.
5. Turmeric May Help Delay or Reverse Alzheimer’s Disease
Turmeric may even protect your brain against common degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. How? By increasing levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein found in the brain and spinal cord that plays a key role in keeping nerve cells (neurons) healthy, as well as regulating communication between nerve cells, which is critical for learning and memory. (21) As common brain disorders like Alzheimer’s are associated with lower levels of BDNF, turmeric (curcumin in particular) may help delay or reverse brain degeneration
6. Turmeric Protects Your Body From Free Radicals
Antioxidants help protect your body against damage caused by free radicals, a class of highly reactive atoms that are generated in our bodies, as well as in environmental pollutants like cigarette smoke and industrial chemicals. (34) Too much exposure to free radicals can mess with the fats, proteins, and even DNA in your body, which may lead to a number of common diseases and health conditions, including cancer, arthritis, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s. (34) Therefore, antioxidant-rich spices like turmeric may play a role in protecting you from free radical damage.
7. Turmeric May Work As an Anti-Aging Supplement
Currently, there’s no evidence that turmeric or curcumin directly influence longevity, but thanks to their ability to fight inflammation, protect your body against free radicals, and potentially delay brain degeneration and other age-related diseases, turmeric and curcumin may be effective anti-aging supplements, according to past research.
These were are top seven benefits we liked in our summary of research.