If you enjoy cooking and all things culinary then there is a good chance that you have a bottle of golden spice lying about somewhere in your kitchen. However, many are unaware that the popular spice taking up real estate in the pantry offers far more than just flavor.
Turmeric has a rich history, not only as a culinary spice, but also because of its many medicinal purposes. This bright and vibrant spice adds more than just peppery and bitter flavor to dishes, it has been used for thousands of years as an ingredient for health and wellness.
What is Turmeric?
Turmeric, or if you prefer the fancy name — curcuma longa, is a rhizome; which for all practical purposes means it is a type of stem or rootstalk; though technically it is not a root. It gets stuck with the root label because it grows beneath the ground. This “root” is first cousins to some other well-known culinary rhizomes like ginger, galangal, and lotus root.
The active ingredient in turmeric is a bioactive substance known as curcumin — this is what gives turmeric that yellowish, golden color.
Although it is better known in its powdered form, as the golden spice, it can still be found in root form in many groceries stores today. But before it hit the grocery aisles, turmeric had a long history that stretches back centuries.
Turmeric and History
This rich flavor has a rich history. Turmeric hails from Southeast Asia originally; specifically, southern India and Indonesia. It is still widely cultivated within the area as well as in many islands of the Indian Ocean. The use of turmeric dates back roughly 4000 years. Although known widely as a culinary spice, turmeric had far more importance than simply a favorite flavor.
Turmeric was well-known and well used as a healing and cosmetic agent in the ancient world. Furthermore, it also carried religious significance in the Land of Spices. In Hindu culture, turmeric carries symbolic significance because of its vibrant colors and healing properties. Turmeric, or haldi in Hindi, is used in religious arts and celebrations; such as wedding rituals and other observances.
In time, it’s popularity reached even further; to China, East and West Africa, and across the Atlantic. It is even said that the Venetian traveler Marco Polo marveled at the qualities of the golden spice.
Turmeric and Cuisine
The use of turmeric in Indian cuisine cannot be overstated. It’s curry-ish flavor is a foundation in many Indian dishes and recipes, from ice cream to salad dressings. In fact, the average turmeric consumption in Asian countries ranges from 200 – 1000mg/day. However, this spice has gained popularity on other continents for its flavor, its medicinal properties, and as a coloring agent.
Turmeric and Ancient Medicinal Use
Turmeric is also popular for its medicinal use in history. Historically, turmeric was widely used in traditional Indian and Eastern Asian medicine. For example, in Indian turmeric was often used for skin disorders, disorders of the upper respiratory tract, for joint health, and digestive problems. These uses, and more, have carried it into the modern world as a dietary supplement.
Turmeric and Modern Medicinal Use
As noted, traditionally turmeric was used for the prevention and therapy of many ailments in many ancient civilizations.
However, modern studies have also found medicinal health benefits from turmeric — as an antioxidant, natural soother, and cleanser.
For example, one study, linking its culinary uses to health benefits, found significant antioxidant properties in turmeric that is consumed in sufficient quantities via curry.
The health advantages are largely due to the bioactive substance found in turmeric, curcumin; as noted above. This substance plays key roles within the body:
- Soothing – Curcumin has soothing properties, which could ease discomfort and support joint health.
- Antioxidant – Curcumin also has the ability to increase the number of antioxidants that the body makes, which helps protect cells from damaging free radicals that can cause cellular damage.
15 Benefits of Turmeric Vitamins
Whether consumed in your dish or taken as a supplement or vitamin, the medicinal and health benefits from turmeric are quite numerous; especially for something thought of as merely a culinary spice. But the soothing and antioxidant properties are just the tip of the iceberg.
Let’s look at 15 benefits of turmeric vitamins, some benefits you may be familiar with, but others might surprise you.
1. Turmeric has natural soothing properties
As mentioned above, turmeric is best known, in the ancient and modern world, for its natural anti-inflammatory properties. Thanks for these soothing properties can be given to its most active ingredient; curcumin.
Inflammation is actually a normal and necessary process in the body as it plays a vital role for your immune system, helping to ward off infections and foreign pathogens. It also helps to repair damage wrought by bacteria. However, the issue is not inflammation per se, because it has its benefits in the short-term. The issue is extended or chronic inflammation.
Chronic inflammation occurs when the immune response lingers longer than needed. Over time, this extended inflammation could have a negative impact on the body, particularly tissues and organs. It has been linked to other chronic conditions such as heart disease.
Many people run to over the counter pharmaceuticals to help fight chronic inflammation, however, turmeric offers a natural alternative. The active ingredient, curcumin, has proven anti-inflammatory properties.
In brief, curcumin helps suppress a protein complex known as NF-kB, an immune response regulator; which is beneficial when working properly. However, deregulated NF-kB activation has been linked to inflammatory diseases. Curcumin has been shown to suppress and inhibit this activation. It is all rather complex, but needless to say, turmeric helps fight chronic inflammation at a molecular level.
These anti-inflammatory properties have positive implications for fighting many common maladies.
2. Turmeric helps fight joint inflammation
The anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric, thanks to curcumin, make it a formidable supplement against chronic joint inflammation. It has been shown to ease the symptoms that are associated with these joint discomforts, such as arthritis inflammation and pain.
A recent study of turmeric and relief of joint inflammation
A recent medical study suggests that turmeric (curcumin) could aid in the relief of joint inflammation. In short, subjects were given either curcumin (500mg, 3x daily) or an over-the-counter pain reliever over one month. 94 percent of the subjects taking curcumin reported 50 percent improvement of associated symptoms; with fewer side effects.
The active ingredient in turmeric (curcumin) acts as a COX enzyme inhibitor, specifically COX-2. This enzyme promotes inflammation, pain, and fever. By inhibiting the COX-2 enzyme, the chemical properties of curcumin can help provide modest pain relief brought on by inflammation in the joints.
3. Turmeric has powerful antioxidant properties
Many foods and drinks claim to have antioxidants, yet many people have no clue what that means, only that it’s supposed to be a good thing. Antioxidants are a good thing. In brief, antioxidants are molecules that canvas the body looking for free radicals. No need to visit a chemistry classroom, it can be explained simply enough.
Free radicals and oxidative stress
Free radicals are basically unstable molecules that can damage cells, causing illness and disease. Recent studies also link free radicals to the symptoms of aging. Another name for this is oxidative stress.
When oxygen molecules in the body split into single atoms they are left with unpaired electrons; basically, a waste substance. But electrons don’t like being unpaired so these free radicals roam about the body seeking other electrons to bond with — this process can cause damage to cells, proteins, and DNA; contributing to various diseases.
Antioxidants and turmeric
Antioxidants are molecules that help slow down or prevent the damage wrought by free radicals — such as inflammation. Antioxidants, found in many foods, can neutralize these roamers. Research suggests that they can do this by donating hydrogen and electrons to unpaired electrons and by inhibiting certain enzymes.
The active ingredient in turmeric, curcumin, acts as a powerful antioxidant — by neutralizing the process of free radicals and even helping to boost the body’s activity of its own antioxidant enzymes. This has positive implications in terms of helping to fight chronic inflammation, which is a contributor to heart disease, and other maladies linked to free radicals.
4. Turmeric and skin health
For all of its well-deserved claim to fame as an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, turmeric boasts other advantages for your health. Skin health is another element of wellness that turmeric has shown promise in. Of course, this is due largely to its wonderful qualities stated above.
The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of turmeric can also help to promote skin health, making it a good ally against symptoms of various skin conditions — such as eczema and psoriasis.
Psoriasis and turmeric
Psoriasis is an autoimmune skin condition that affects the life cycle of skin cells. These faulty immune system changes in the skin cause skin cells to build up quickly on the surface, resulting in red, itchy, scaly patches; usually around the elbows, knees and scalp. This condition can be chronic and usually occurs in cycles and flare ups.
Various studies have researched the therapeutic efficacy of curcumin for psoriasis treatment, both topically and orally. Some report that curcumin reduces the oxidative stress of psoriatic lesions. A more striking study showed how curcumin inhibited the proliferation of psoriatic cells by down regulating certain inflammatory responses.
Eczema and turmeric
Eczema (atopic dermatitis) is another chronic inflammatory skin condition that causes dryness, redness, and itchiness to the skin. It typically comes in periodic flare ups. Traditionally, turmeric has been used to manage eczema symptoms in many Asians countries, though the studies for medicinal use are still developing.
5. Turmeric and heart health
According to the World Health Organization, heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide. In fact, the CDC reports that heart disease is responsible for 1 out of every 4 deaths in the U.S. The most common type of heart disease is coronary artery disease, which affects proper blood flow to the heart, this restriction can lead to a heart attack.
Heart disease can have many factors, though it is usually a set of cofactors — such as chronic high blood pressure and high cholesterol. However, these factors can also trigger other bodily responses like inflammation. As stated earlier, short-term inflammation to fight infections is good, chronic inflammation is not.
Turmeric and its anti-inflammation properties for blood vessels
Inflammation can irritate blood vessels and promote the growth of dangerous plaques within the arteries. This plaque can lead to blood clots that can block blood flow and lead to heart attacks and stroke.
The anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric may help reduce this dangerous buildup of inflammation which can contribute to cardiovascular disease. But how? Well, without getting too far into the biology class weeds, curcumin works to support normal endothelial (blood vessel lining) function through reducing blood vessel inflammation.
Oxidative stress from free radicals can cause strain on the circulatory system, like increasing platelet activity — not good for blood cells as it contributes to clotting issues. However, the reduction of oxidative stress from turmeric’s antioxidants properties have positive implications even for the circulatory system.
While it is not meant to replace heart disease medications or supplant advice from your physician, the properties of turmeric can add to the fight to keep your heart healthy.
A surprising corollary of heart disease (artery narrowing and inflammation) is erectile dysfunction. When artery disease is found within the vessels of the heart it is normally found in other areas of the body as well. In theory, due to its anti-inflammatory properties and benefits described above, turmeric could prove useful in erectile dysfunction. At this point, research to that end is limited, but future research is pending.
6. Turmeric and brain health
Neurological and cognitive health is just as important as heart health. Thankfully, turmeric has some surprising benefits for these as well. A definitive research study looked at the cognitive benefits of curcumin, exploring how this golden spice could protect the brain against neurodegeneration; which is the common cause of Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.
Study on curcumin and effects on memory
It was found that the anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric could have positive impacts on brain health. The double-blind, placebo controlled trial took place over 18 months. Forty non-demented adult subjects, over the age of 50, were randomized and given 90mg of curcumin twice daily to study the effects of curcumin on memory.
Various memory tests were given and certain cognitive markers were tracked and measured at varying intervals throughout the study. In short, the researchers found improved long-term memory retrieval with the curcumin controlled group; including visual memory.
In addition, conclusions suggest that a daily oral supplement of turmeric (curcumin) lead to improved cognition; both in memory and attention in non-demented adults. Furthermore, the study noted a decrease in the accumulation of beta-amyloid proteins within certain parts of the brain.
Implications for Alzheimer’s disease
The implications of this study in terms of Alzheimer’s disease cannot be overstated. Beta-amyloid is a soluble molecule found within the brain. Normally, it travels freely within the brain. However, at times it tends to cluster up, building plaques. These plaques have been linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
As beta-amyloids cluster, they can bind to nerve cell receptors, which in time can erode nerve synapses (which is important for memory, processing, etc.) and lead to cognitive degeneration disorders, such as Alzheimer’s.
Needless to say, the implications of these findings are important. These, coupled with the lower rate of Alzheimer’s disease in India where high amounts of turmeric are common (curry), makes the findings even more promising.
7. Turmeric and depression
One of the most surprising benefits associated with turmeric is its potential role in helping the battle against depression. While depression often presents with a feeling of sadness and a loss of interest in beloved activities, its onset can be due to non-bereavement situations as well.
Brain chemistry is complex and depression symptoms have been linked to other factors, including vitamin deficiencies, thyroid problems, and low levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factors (BDNF). This molecule is involved in plastic changes within the brain, including learning, memory, and overall healthy brain pathology.
Efficacy of turmeric use for those with depression
Low levels of BDNF have been linked to depression. For this reason, many antidepressants seek to promote the uptake of BDNF within the brain. Some research studies have shown that turmeric complements this upstart in BDNF when taken with an effective antidepressant.
One research study looked at the efficacy of turmeric use for depression; patients with major depressive disorder (MDD). Sixty MDD patients were randomized into three groups for a six-week study. One group was given a single dose of an antidepressant daily, another 1000mg of curcumin, and the last group received both.
While each group showed a marked improvement in depression symptoms, the group who received curcumin in addition to the daily dosage of the antidepressant reported the highest levels of improvements. Leading researchers to conclude the positive efficacy of curcumin use for depression patients when used alongside their prescribed antidepressants.
8. Turmeric and signs of aging
We have already seen some of the numerous qualities and properties that turmeric brings to the discussion about chronic illnesses and diseases. If it isn’t already apparent, the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of turmeric have far reaching implications for overall wellness.
Fighting free radicals, inflammation, and degenerative disorders of the brain are all pursuit of anti-aging, in one sense. Of course, no claims to longevity can be made and the fountain of youth is yet to be found, but turmeric does shed some promising light on a popular theory of aging.
Telomeres and aging
One theory of the causes of aging has to do with telomeres; specifically, telomere length. Telomeres are an important part of the human cell, and they have a correlative effect on how our cells age. Telomeres are little protective caps in our DNA that help shield our chromosomes. Overtime, these telomeres shorten as we age and each time cells are repaired due to negative lifestyle factors. If they get too short, the cell can’t function properly.
Turmeric’s antioxidant properties
Telomere research has shown that an intake of antioxidants could reduce the rate of telomere shortening, especially with antioxidants rich in vitamin C. The good news is, turmeric contains vitamin C. Furthermore, free radicals can be a damaging agent to the DNA. So, turmeric’s fight against oxidative damage is another advantage.
Of course, that is all internal. However, antioxidants also offer skin protection from damaging UV radiation, which has implications for the visible signs of aging.
9. Turmeric and anticancer properties
Sadly, cancer affects 1 in 3 people in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society. It is often characterized as the development of abnormal cells that have the ability to divide uncontrollably. As these cancer cells grow they spread within the body, crowding out and attacking normal cells. Experts divide cancer into two main categories: Blood cancers (cancer of the blood cells) and solid tumor cancers.
Although botanical supplements, such as turmeric, are not meant to replace cancer treatment or advice, research on the efficacy of its potentially anti-cancerous properties are worth noting. In fact, the effects of its active ingredient, curcumin, on cancer has been the subject of numerous research studies over the years, nearly 5,000 papers since 1983.
Immune system and curcumin
Many researchers believe that the inflammation of certain pathways play a key role in the development of cancer. As a component of immunity, the inflammatory process helps to induce and increase certain proinflammatory molecules within the body that play a vital role in immunity. This process affects multiple cell signaling pathways that are associated with inflammation and cancer progression.
As discussed earlier, a protein complex known as NF-kB is an immune response regulator, but when overreaction of this regulator can lead to inflammatory disease. Research suggests that this proinflammatory factor plays a key role in developing cancer cells. Furthermore, compounds that are shown to inhibit NF-kB are often used in cancer therapy.
Curcumin and NF-kB
The same research reports that curcumin has shown the ability to affect breast cancer cell proliferation by interfering with certain cell signaling pathways and downregulating the genes that induce NF-kB. Also, it has shown to downregulate NF-kB in some human lung cancer cells.
Of course, the findings are much more complex, but promising nonetheless. Again, these in no way are meant to replace cancer treatment. But it may shed light on the ability to use curcumin alongside other cancer therapies.
10. Turmeric and liver function
Another surprising benefit of turmeric is its potential role in liver function. If you have not noticed the pattern yet, let me remind you. Turmeric’s properties as an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant agent have far reaching potential in addressing many issues that develop within the body, much of which is a result of the inflammatory processes and oxidative stress.
Liver damage and oxidative stress
Experts have considered oxidative stress to be a contributing factor in liver damage; common factors being drug use and alcohol, environmental pollutants, and dietary components. A systematic review that looked at this oxidative stress and the role of curcumin in liver disease found encouraging results.
Results showed that curcumin had many protective and therapeutic effects on liver disease, specifically, oxidative effects. Furthermore, curcumin was helpful in suppressing proinflammatory agents within liver cells as well as promoting cellular responses to oxidative stress such as the response of NRF2. NRF2 is a protein that works to regulate other antioxidant proteins.
Turmeric and the reduction of liver enzymes
A study from the BCM Complementary Medicine and Therapies looked at the effectiveness of turmeric for patients with elevated liver enzymes; specifically, the ALT and AST enzymes. Alanine aminotransferase (ALT) and aspartate aminotransferase (AST) are enzymes found mainly in the liver, used by your body to help break down food into energy. Normally, these levels of ALT and AST are low. However, high levels of ALT and AST may indicate liver damage.
Researchers chose 60 participants for a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial to look at the effectiveness of turmeric in people with elevated ALT levels. One group received turmeric capsules (3g per day), while the others received the placebo.
After 12 weeks, the turmeric group showed significant reductions in ALT levels as compared to the placebo group. Furthermore, AST levels were also reduced in the turmeric group.
11. Turmeric and its antibacterial properties
As stated, turmeric has long been used for medicinal purposes throughout its ancient history. It has even been used as a natural insect repellent. Curcumin has been mixed with other antimicrobial agents to be used in antimicrobial skin gels — found in various skin protections and wound dressings. However, many recent studies have sought to investigate the effectiveness of turmeric as a potential antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal agent. Yes, that’s a lot of anti’s. But, here is one example.
Once again, the main ingredient of turmeric, curcumin, has taken center stage. The Journal of Tropical Medicine reports that curcumin is found to be effective against a bacterial bad guy — staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus). These bacteria have the potential to cause serious infection, especially among people with compromised immunity.
The study found that curcumin inhibits the growth of both gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria; S. aureus is a strain of gram-positive bacteria. Once again, the science gets rather complicated. Suffice to say, curcumin disrupts and damages bacterial membranes, inhibits the induction of free radicals, and interrupts bacterial cell proliferation.
Of course, more and more studies are being conducted about the extensiveness of turmeric and its antibacterial uses, however, as of now, most suggest using turmeric alongside other antibacterials.
12. Turmeric and its effects on weight loss
Weight loss is always a popular topic. Obesity is a serious concern for many, particularly its related conditions — heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, etc. Recent data from the CDC states that obesity is prevalent in 42.4% of the American population. Furthermore, the medical costs due to obesity total in the billions.
It is no wonder that weight loss, and overall health, is on the minds of many. But what is the relationship between weight loss and turmeric? Well, the findings may be surprising. But first, understand that a proper diet and daily exercise should in no way ever be discounted as a healthy means to weight loss and overall wellness.
Effects of curcumin on weight loss
A systematic review by Frontiers in Pharmacology studied the effects of curcumin on weight loss among people with metabolic syndrome, the conclusions were quite striking. Metabolic syndrome, as defined by the researchers, is the concurrence of obesity-associated factors, such as cardiovascular risks, hypertension, and abdominal obesity to name a few.
Previous studies suggest that curcumin could have an effect on metabolic output, through increasing basal metabolic rate — increases energy expenditure. After collecting data from over 1,000 studies and 21 trials, the systematic review found promising results.
According to their conclusions, curcumin intake among people with metabolic syndrome found a significant reduction in their body mass index (BMI), a reduction in weight, a reduction in leptins (hormone connected to fat), and lower adiponectin levels (body fat cells).
Again, research on these links are always of interest, but the systematic review uncovers a promising relationship between turmeric and weight loss.
Turmeric and lesser known benefits
At this point we have looked at many of the most surprising benefits of turmeric; popular and surprising because of their potential implications for overall health and wellness. Any potential health benefits that are related to the brain, heart, or to weight loss will always be at the top of the pile. However, there are even more surprising benefits of turmeric that don’t get quite the same fanfare.
For instance, early research shows that turmeric mouthwash could be effective as a natural mouthwash to combat gingivitis (a mild form of gum disease). Furthermore, research shows that taking curcumin orally on a daily basis could also help reduce gum disease, such as gingivitis. Of course, research is still being conducted as to the efficacy and effectiveness of these early claims.
13. Turmeric, allergic rhinitis, and allergy symptoms
Hay fever, also called allergic rhinitis, is an allergic response that many people suffer with every day. Maybe you’ve experienced the runny nose or itchy eyes, the constant congestion or sneezing; these are all symptoms of hay fever.
It is not a virus, even though it causes cold-like symptoms, rather, it is a response to allergens, indoors or outdoors. Common allergens include pollen, dust mites, and various animals with furs and feathers.
As stated numerous times, turmeric is well-known for its anti-inflammatory properties. These properties can greatly reduce the inflammation that causes the nasal swelling and irritation from allergic rhinitis. One report, studying the effect of curcumin on nasal symptoms caused by allergic rhinitis, showed a marked improvement in nasal airflow, among other benefits.
14. Turmeric and asthmatic symptoms
Air flow is a special concern when it comes to those with asthma. Due to its anti-inflammatory properties and its ability to dilate blood vessels, turmeric has the ability to relieve asthmatic inflammation.
15. Turmeric, sprains, strains, and muscle aches
Concluding our look at the numerous benefits of turmeric vitamins, let’s look at one more benefit of turmeric, this time in topical form.
Sprains and strains
Pain relief is of utmost concern to nearly everyone. No one likes dealing with pain. But sprains and strains can occur without warning. You don’t need to be a professional athlete to sprain an ankle, you could roll your ankle while walking your dog, doesn’t matter how, but it happens.
Symptoms of sprains and strains are very similar, but there is a slight difference. Commonly, the main differences lie in bruising and muscle spasms. Sprains and strains both have symptoms such as pain and swelling around joints, limited flexibility, and limited range of motion in affected areas. However, sprains usually have bruising due to injured ligaments, whereas strains are more associated with muscle spasms due to injured muscles or tendons.
Pain and swelling often come as a result of inflammatory responses due to injury. Turmeric can provide pain relief due to its anti-inflammatory properties. In ancient times, turmeric paste was used as a natural treatment to soothe the pain caused by sprains and strains.
The same holds true for relieving muscle aches, also due to overactive inflammatory responses. Turmeric, like over the counter anti-inflammatory drugs, can help relieve the inflammation.
Closing advice for taking turmeric vitamins
When taking turmeric vitamins or supplements it is always important to note the recommended daily dosages. Of course, this depends on many factors, such as the ingredient concentrations. Furthermore, it is also important to talk with your doctor before beginning any dietary supplement. Those considerations aside, here is some brief advice for taking turmeric vitamins, or any vitamins for that matter.
It’s ok to build up. Most people will have no issues with turmeric tolerance, however, intolerance is not ruled out. There is nothing wrong with building your way up to the recommended daily dosages as you watch for signs of intolerance. It is important to listen to your body.
Furthermore, it is important to note that most supplements are not made to replace other healthy habits, such as proper diet and exercise. They are meant to come alongside those healthy habits and to facilitate the progress you’re already making.
As we have seen, that golden culinary spice lurking in your kitchen pantry could be more potent than you think, not just in terms of flavor, but in terms of health. Turmeric has been celebrated and used for centuries, from curry dishes to religious celebrations. But its value as a medicinal tool cannot be overstated.
Numerous studies have concluded the value of turmeric (curcumin) to aid in treating various illnesses and maladies. This is largely due to its powerful potency as a natural anti-inflammatory and antioxidant agent. Due to these amazing properties, turmeric is able to come alongside many biological processes and help in the fight for health and wellness.
It is becoming a much celebrated super spice, and as we have seen, it is more than worthy of that honor.