In this article:
- Turmeric is related to the ginger family. Just like ginger, it is a rhizome or a stem that grows underground.
- Its scientific name is Curcuma longa. It is often called the “queen of spices.”
- It has a peppery aroma and a sharp taste. It looks similar to ginger.
- It has a dark-brown exterior, and its active compounds give it a yellow/golden color.
- It is often used as a fabric dye, and when applied as a paste, it is a home remedy for sunburns and pimples.
- Many health benefits are attributed to this golden spice. It can be consumed orally as well as applied topically.
Turmeric is a common spice used in Indian, Asian, and Central American cuisine. It has long been valued for its health-giving properties.
Recent research has found that turmeric, especially the powerful compound found in turmeric called curcumin, may improve a variety of health conditions. The stems of turmeric are often dried and made into teas and extracts or powdered into capsules, tablets, and paste. (1)
Turmeric is one of the important ingredients in curry powder. Curry powder may contain 10%-30% turmeric.
Turmeric contains curcuminoids: curcumin, bisdemethoxycurcumin, and demethoxycurcumin. Turmeric also contains the oils turmerone, atlantone, and zingiberone, all of which offer health benefits.
This spice also helps to retain beta-carotene. One study found that carrots and pumpkin retained more beta-carotene when cooked with turmeric than without it. Turmeric oleoresins, or turmeric extracts, contain curcuminoids (40%-55%) and other oils (15%-20%). (2)
Nutritional Value of Turmeric
One tablespoon of ground turmeric powder contains 29 calories, 6 grams of carbohydrate, 2 grams of fiber, 1 gram of fat, and little protein. It contains about 16% of your daily iron needs (2.8 mg) and 26% of your daily manganese needs (0.5 mg). (3)
Turmeric has antioxidant, antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, anticarcinogenic, antimutagenic, and anti-inflammatory properties. It also contains vitamins B3, C, E, and K. Other components of turmeric include minerals like calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, potassium, and zinc.
Turmeric has been used in Ayurvedic and traditional medicine to treat many problems, including gynecological issues, gastrointestinal problems, liver issues, infectious diseases, and blood ailments. (1)
Because of its antioxidant properties, turmeric has been shown useful against inflammatory disorders, such as ulcers and cancer. It also can help protect the liver and kidneys and resolve arthritis and other chronic diseases.
However, more research is needed to figure out the clinical applications of turmeric for health purposes. (29)
Health Benefits of Turmeric
1. Wound Healing
Because of its antiseptic and antibacterial properties, turmeric has been used as a disinfectant and skin-healing agent.
A 2014 study found that the topical application of curcumin, found in turmeric, aided in wound healing by aiding granulation tissue formation, collagen deposition, tissue remodeling, and wound contraction. (4)
More research is needed to find the optimal formulation of curcumin for therapeutic usage on skin wounds. (4)
Another study found that turmeric helped speed up the healing of wounds from Caesarean sections. No adverse effects from using the turmeric ointment were reported from the mothers. (5)
Other studies have also found evidence of curcumin’s ability to enhance wound healing. (6)
Turmeric has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for wound healing for a while, and recent research found evidence to support its ability to help with wound healing, most likely through its antibacterial and antiseptic properties. More research is needed to establish the correct dosage and usage of turmeric to achieve such a therapeutic effect.
2. Weight Management
Turmeric powder may help maintain healthy body weight. Recent research found that the curcumin in turmeric may help with weight loss and maintenance.
A few studies noted that curcumin might help fight the inflammation associated with metabolic inflammation that is caused by obesity.
Curcumin interacts with white adipose tissue, often thought to be the unhealthy fat store in the body, and suppresses inflammation caused by obesity. (7)
A study in 2015 found that curcumin helped with the overall weight loss, loss of body fat, and reduction of weight circumference in those that had already successfully lost weight from following a healthy diet and exercising. (8)
Turmeric’s anti-inflammatory properties may aid with weight management. More research is needed to determine the proper therapeutic dosage, forms, and usage of turmeric.
3. Arthritis Relief
The anti-inflammatory components of turmeric may help with inflammatory conditions such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Turmeric’s abundant antioxidants fight the free radicals that damage the cells in the body.
A 2016 review found that the intake of turmeric extract for 8-12 weeks reduced the symptoms caused by arthritis, such as pain and inflammation. It was also found that turmeric extract performed similarly to the pain relievers ibuprofen and diclofenac sodium. (9)
Another review found that the curcumin found in turmeric worked as an anti-inflammatory agent and provided relief for osteoarthritis. (10)
The benefits of turmeric and the curcumin found in turmeric may help provide some relief in the symptoms of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. However, better quality, large-scale studies are still needed to understand the use of turmeric and curcumin in treating arthritis and its symptoms.
4. Diabetes Control
Some studies found that turmeric may help moderate insulin levels and improve glucose control in patients with diabetes. It may also help improve insulin resistance, which is a precursor for type 2 diabetes.
When combined with antidiabetic medication, turmeric can lower blood sugar. Curcumin, a compound found in turmeric, has been found in recent studies to help with the prevention and treatment of diabetes. (11)
A 2012 study demonstrated that prediabetic patients were less likely to develop type 2 diabetes when they took curcumin for 9 months. Curcumin also improved the function of beta cells in the pancreas, which produces the body’s natural insulin. No adverse side effects were noted. (12)
Another study done in 2014 found that curcumin disrupted the progression of high blood sugar and insulin resistance that lead to diabetes development. (13)
A recent study in 2018 found that curcumin can lower blood sugar after meals and improve insulin response. (14)
Curcumin can improve many aspects of diabetes, such as rising blood sugar and insulin response, but more research is needed.
The curcumin found in turmeric has been found to improve blood sugar levels and the body’s natural insulin response. Therefore, it may help prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes and may help manage diabetes. More research is needed regarding the use of turmeric in diabetes management. Always consult your doctor or pharmacist before taking turmeric or curcumin if you are on antidiabetic medication, as intake of both may result in dangerously low blood sugar levels.
5. Proper Digestion
Turmeric has been used to aid digestion in traditional medicine for many years. It is believed to help with bloating and gas. It may also reduce the symptoms of inflammatory bowel diseases.
People with gallbladder diseases should not take turmeric, as it can stimulate the gallbladder to produce more bile and consequently worsen the condition.
A study done in 2018 found that turmeric and curcumin both altered the beneficial gut bacteria in similar ways, leading researchers to believe that curcumin was responsible for most of the beneficial effects. (15)
Several studies found that turmeric enhances bile production, helping the body digest fat, and improving digestion. (16)
Turmeric may aid digestion by reducing bloating and gas, stimulating bile production, and supporting the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. More research is needed to understand the correct dosage and usage of turmeric and curcumin for the treatment of digestive disorders and the improvement of overall digestion. Those with gallbladder diseases should avoid excessive turmeric consumption.
6. Skin Benefits
Turmeric is known for its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antimicrobial properties. It is antineoplastic as well, fighting the development of skin tumors. Turmeric has also been regarded as a treatment for acne, although more research is needed to support this claim.
Oral and topical turmeric use may be beneficial for a variety of skin ailments, but more research is needed to understand the proper usage, safety, and efficacy of this spice.
Turmeric may have shown many health benefits, but one should be cautious while using it. One study found that the topical application of turmeric caused contact dermatitis in many individuals. (18)
Turmeric may be useful in treating skin conditions, but more research is needed to understand how to safely and properly use this spice to provide relief.
Other Health Benefits
1. Cholesterol Reduction
One study found that the curcumin found in turmeric has anti-inflammatory effects and may help to lower cholesterol levels. These properties promote heart health. However, more studies are needed to establish these claims. (19)
2. Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease
Inflammation and plaque buildup in the brain can lead to cognitive diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease. The curcuminoids in turmeric may be useful against Alzheimer’s disease. (20)
However, because these curcuminoids are not readily absorbed and used by the body, more research is needed to understand how to properly harness their benefits to treat these conditions. (21)
3. Cancer Prevention
The active compounds in turmeric may help fight against prostate and other kinds of cancer. These compounds are beneficial against forms of leukemia, colon cancer, and breast cancer.
Curcumin has anticancer effects. It halts the formation, progression, and spread of a variety of cancers and may stop the blood supply to tumors and tumor growth. (22)
There is little information on the safety of turmeric consumption, as it may adversely affect some people. (23)
Therefore, more research is needed to establish the role of turmeric and curcumin in cancer prevention and treatment, along with its safety, efficacy, and proper usage.
4. Liver Disease Prevention
Turmeric may improve liver health. A 2018 review found that the curcumin in turmeric can help with the oxidation processes in liver disorders. It may help with liver toxicity, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, alcoholic liver disease, cirrhosis, and liver fibrosis. (24)
More research is needed to understand better how to use turmeric for liver health properly.
One study found that turmeric and curcumin may prevent DNA damage and assist with DNA repair. These actions may help prevent disease and slow the process of aging, but more research is needed. (25)
Curcuminoids may inactivate the venom from a cobra. Some studies have shown that the topical application of turmeric extract can improve the symptoms after a snake bite, but more research is needed to understand the proper usage of turmeric as an antivenom. (26)(27)(28)
7. Oral Care
Varieties and Storage
Fresh turmeric root is becoming more available in the produce section of grocery stores. It is often found near ginger and garlic.
Choose a piece of turmeric without any soft spots and store it in the refrigerator. Dried powdered turmeric should be kept in a glass jar with a tight lid away from heat and light.
Turmeric can be enjoyed in soups, dressings, marinades, curries, sauces, and gravies.
There are several varietals of turmeric and they all have different sizes and colors. Two types of turmeric are often sold: Madras and Alleppey, named after the regions in India where turmeric is cultivated.
In the international market, turmeric with a curcumin content of more than 5% and a color that is lemon yellow, orange, or orange-yellow are desired.
Turmeric is generally considered to be safe when taken orally as a spice in cooking or as a supplement or when applied topically to the skin. Turmeric can be consumed raw. It is usually grated or ground using a mortar and pestle, similar to ginger.
It is best to combine turmeric with some sort of fat, such as oil, butter, nuts, or avocado, and peppercorns, as this helps increase the absorption of turmeric in the body. Long-term studies have not been done on turmeric or curcumin usage, so more research is needed.
High doses and long-term use of turmeric may lead to gastrointestinal problems. Also, exposure to turmeric may cause contact dermatitis.
A few studies found that participants developed abnormal liver function after taking turmeric or curcumin supplements for longer than 1 month. (32) People with gallbladder diseases should avoid taking turmeric.
Drug and Medication Interactions
Speak with your doctor or pharmacist before taking turmeric or curcumin if you are on any of the following types of medications:
1. Blood Thinners: Turmeric may amplify the effects of blood-thinning medications, increasing the risk of bleeding. Warfarin (Coumadin), clopidogrel (Plavix), and aspirin are some of the commonly prescribed blood thinners.
2. Medications that Alter Stomach Acid: Turmeric may increase the production of stomach acid, therefore, should be avoided if taking famotidine (Pepcid), cimetidine (Tagamet), ranitidine (Zantac), omeprazole, esomeprazole (Nexium), and lansoprazole (Prevacid).
3. Antidiabetic Medications: Turmeric and curcumin may lower blood sugar levels. Patients with diabetes should consult their doctor or pharmacist before taking turmeric.
Consult your doctor before taking turmeric if you have any of the following conditions, as the medications often prescribed for these conditions may interact with turmeric:
- Anxiety, depression, mental illness, or psychiatric disorder
- Infection, including tuberculosis, malaria, and HIV
- Asthma or allergies
- Erectile dysfunction
- Acid reflux or heartburn
Turmeric Vs. Curcumin
Turmeric is a plant with roots that are often used as a spice in cooking and herbal beverages. It is enjoyed in its whole and powdered form and is used both dried and fresh.
Curcumin is a compound found within turmeric’s roots. It is responsible for turmeric’s characteristic yellow color. It is a carotenoid, the same type of compound that gives sweet potatoes and carrots their orange color. Curcumin is also a strong antioxidant.
Turmeric also contains the powerful compounds – demethoxycurcumin and bisdemethoxycurcumin. These are known, along with curcumin, as curcuminoids. Many research studies found benefits from curcumin alone as well as from all three curcuminoids. (30)
How to Include Turmeric in Your Diet
- Add turmeric to egg and chicken salads for a golden yellow color and added health benefits.
- Add powdered turmeric to warmed milk of your choice to enjoy golden milk.
- Combine brown rice or other cooked grains with raisins and cashews as well as turmeric, cumin, and coriander to create a healthy side dish.
- Turmeric is a great addition to any lentil dish.
- Mix turmeric powder or fresh minced or grated turmeric to salad dressings or marinades.
- Add fresh sliced turmeric to your morning smoothie to give it an appealing golden color and to reap a host of health benefits. Its flavor complements that of carrots, apples, and citrus fruits in smoothies.
Turmeric is a spice that has been used in cuisines and traditional medicine for centuries, dating back almost 4000 years. Turmeric is grown in the tropics throughout the world.
The benefits of turmeric have historically been utilized by using it as a spice in cooking or by adding it to beverages.
While a lot of research has found that turmeric and its powerful compound curcumin may improve a variety of health conditions, more research is needed about its safety, efficacy, and proper usage in a therapeutic setting.
Consuming turmeric is generally regarded as safe. However, people with certain health conditions, such as gallbladder diseases and diabetes, or those on blood thinners should be cautious before taking turmeric.
Turmeric has an appealing color and taste and can be added to a variety of dishes to be enjoyed throughout the year.
Expert Answers (Q&A)
Answered by Lindsay Malone, MS, RDN
For generally healthy individuals, turmeric in foods and supplements is not harmful. However, individuals prone to kidney stones should use caution with turmeric and curcumin supplements. Cooking with turmeric should not be problematic.
Doses up to 8 g per day have been administered for several months in clinical trials without adverse effects. (36)
The curcumin in turmeric has a blood-thinning effect. Therefore, individuals on medications that thin blood such as warfarin should be cautious.
Anyone undergoing surgery should also use caution with turmeric and curcumin supplements because of the blood-thinning effect.
Curcumin has been shown to reduce total and LDL cholesterol levels in patients with heart disease. (19) Curcumin may also help prevent heart disease.
The research in this area is limited, but some do show the therapeutic benefit of turmeric when taken as a supplement or applied directly to the skin. (37)
In food form, it is unlikely. Supplements may cause mild stomach upset in some people. In my clinical experience, most people tolerate it really well.
– The bioactive component of the spice turmeric is curcumin.
– Turmeric has low bioavailability, but it is better absorbed when paired with black pepper in cooking.
– Curcumin is a strong anti-inflammatory agent. (38)
About Lindsay Malone, MS, RDN: Lindsay is a Functional and Integrative Medicine Dietitian and Adjunct Professor of Nutrition at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, OH. She helps individuals achieve optimal health using food as fuel and medicine.