If you’ve only ever used turmeric as an occasional curry spice, your life’s about to change. Even alone, bright yellow turmeric has a complex, buttery, peppery aroma that’s simply irresistible. And what’s more, there are nearly innumerable health benefits of turmeric to take advantage of when you add this spice to your diet. Turmeric benefits make this deeply-hued spice as valuable as gold in the kitchen; we’ll show you how to use it.
While you’ll often find turmeric on spice racks in powder form, turmeric is actually a member of the ginger family. When purchased fresh, in root form, it resembles ginger, with its nobby beige skin; the golden flesh is hidden until you cut into it.
The nutritional profile of turmeric is vast, according to neuropathic doctor Gabrielle Francis. “It is a potent antioxidant and has bioflavonoids, vitamin c, vitamin a, and beta carotene and can be protective against cancer cells,” she says.
Just take a look at these stats for a mere teaspoon (2 grams) of turmeric:
- .2 mg manganese (8% DV)
- .8 mg iron (5% DV)
- .5 mg vitamin C (1% DV)
- 3.9 mg magnesium (1% DV)
- 5.4 mg phosphorous (1% DV)
- 50.5 mg potassium (1% DV)
- .1 mg zinc (1% DV)
Thanks to these nutrients, and more, the benefits of turmeric are wow-worthy.
Top 9 Health Benefits of Turmeric
Turmeric contains a unique compound known as curcumin, which is not only the source of its bright color but is also the secret behind many of the health benefits of turmeric. Curcumin doesn’t only lend variety to turmeric benefits, however; it also boasts proven effectiveness, often more so than pharmacological drugs, as this report shows.
As Serena Goldstein, ND, explains, “Drugs are made based on our physiology, somehow interfering with a certain physiological cycle depending on the drug (e.g. cholesterol drugs interfere with cholesterol metabolism),” she says. “Turmeric also acts on various physiological cycles in the body and can have the same effect.”
Here are just some of the many ways that turmeric can help you today.
1. Calm Down – Systemically
Systemic inflammation is a huge problem, the source of many health issues that are often incorrectly treated as idiopathic.
As Goldstein explains, “We may think of inflammation when an area becomes red, hot, swollen, and painful. It is a classic response to injury or infection, a very useful process when we break a bone for example, and it needs to be held in place and healed.
“However, chronic inflammation does not really have any ‘outward’ symptoms, but is a general term when even silent processes are occurring that are putting a stress on the body.”
These “silent processes” are behind many health problems, including heart disease, blood sugar issues, cancer, irregular menses, poor sleep and digestion, and more.
“Currently, many people are walking around with multiple diagnoses, in a suburban or urban environment surrounded by fumes, stressed out, not sleeping, and not eating an healthful diet, all of which promotes continuous inflammation and stress on the body,” says Goldstein.
Luckily, turmeric is a very natural way to combat these problems, thanks to its ability to inhibit NF kappa Beta, a protein complex that controls the transcription of DNA and, when incorrectly regulated, has been linked to cancer, auto-immune diseases, and susceptibility to viral infection, many of which are problems that are directly linked to systemic inflammation.
“Unresolved chronic inflammation creates an environment for certain disease processes,” explains Michelle Smekens, ND, FABO, naturopathic oncology provider at Cancer Treatment Centers of America at Midwestern Regional Medical Center. “Turmeric helps to inhibit the chemical messengers that promote inflammation in the body (…) including cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2), leukotrienes and prostaglandins.”
The power of turmeric to combat systemic inflammation is astounding. “Numerous studies have demonstrated anti-inflammatory effects comparable to over-the-counter ibuprofen, as well as potent drugs like hydrocortisone,” says Goldstein.
2. Forget Me Not
Turmeric has been linked to helping people with debilitative Alzheimer’s disease stop or even reverse their symptoms. According to a 2008 paper published in the annals of Indian Academy of Neurology, the spice’s antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and lipophilic qualities can and have improved cognitive functions in Alzheimer’s patients.
Goldstein says that turmeric’s benefits include improving the health of brain mitochondria and helping with spatial memory by decreasing lipid per oxidation in brain tissue. These attributes of turmeric have an effect not only on the development of Alzheimer’s but also Parkinson’s and epilepsy.
Additional — albeit circumstantial — evidence can be gleaned from the fact that in India, where turmeric is most commonly consumed, populations have the lowest prevalence of Alzheimer’s in the world. A mere gram of turmeric daily is all it takes in some cases for symptoms to be reversed.
3. Tummy Troubles Gone
Turmeric is particularly soothing when it comes to stomach problems, ranging from mere digestive discomfort to more serious conditions.
Thanks to curcumin’s ability to stimulate the gallbladder to produce bile and its natural ability to suppress stomach acid, it can be used to treat a number of problems including indigestion, bloating, gas, and even ulcerative colitis. This chronic disease’s symptoms tend to come and go, but turmeric manages to keep them at bay in many cases, as one double-blind placebo-controlled study showed: those who took curcumin for 6 months had a significantly lower relapse rate than those taking the placebo.
The same is true for some cases of Crohn’s disease. However, those suffering from stomach ulcers will not see improvement and may even see their symptoms get worse when supplementing with turmeric.
4. No More Pain
Turmeric’s pain relieving abilities are linked in large part to its anti-inflammatory properties; in reducing inflammation, particularly in chronic cases, pain is reduced as well.
Turmeric has been proven to be a very effective pain reliever even in the most drastic of cases, like one 2009 case observed by Dr. Scott Haig, where a patient with severe hip problems necessitating hip replacement surgery eschewed traditional pain relievers entirely and managed his pain with turmeric.
Perhaps the best part: turmeric has none of the nasty side effects of other pain relievers.
“Turmeric has been shown to be as effective as ibuprofen in reducing joint pain caused by arthritis, and does not carry the potential to harm the liver,” says Lori Kenyon Farley, the co-author of The Juice Cleanse Reset Diet Book and cofounder of Project Juice. “In fact, its enzymes have been shown to help detoxify the liver and enhancing blood circulation.”
Turmeric can thus be used for a variety of pain relieving needs, from menstrual cramps to joint pain to arthritis. One 2012 study showed that patients with active rheumatoid arthritis showed a high percentage of improvement when taking curcumin supplements.
5. Cancer Preventative
Supplementing with turmeric has proven to have anti-cancer properties; in fact, cancer is one of the conditions with the most evidence for the benefits of the spice, according to Smekens.
Some evidence of turmeric’s anti-cancer properties includes a 2008 study, showing that curcumin could interfere with cell cycle, apoptosis, angiogenesis, metastasis, and inflammation, all of which could delay or impede a wide variety of cancers from developing, including leukemia, lymphoma, gastrointestinal cancers, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, lung cancer, and melanoma.
A 2009 study showed how curcumin could selectively kill tumor cells without having any adverse effects on normal cells, and several studies, including a 2011 study from the University of Illinois at Chicago, showed that curcumin could have positive effects specifically in the prevention and early treatment of colon cancer.
6. Sugar-Free’s the Way to Be
Several studies have shown that supplementing with curcumin can help manage irregular blood sugar levels, particularly with regards to diabetes; it has even been shown to reverse insulin resistance in certain cases.
One 2014 study on rabbits showed the protective effects of curcumin before diabetes occurred and its ability to treat some symptoms of diabetes, specifically type 1 diabetes. Another 2014 study showed that curcumin could ward against the development of atherosclerosis in type 2 diabetes patients.
Curcumin also boasts extraordinary benefits for heart health, including an ability to lower cholesterol and prevent the oxidation of cholesterol in the body, preventing cholesterol from damaging blood vessels. A 2010 study in Nutrition Research and Practice showed that curcumin could decrease LDL and total cholesterol when consuming a high-fat diet, thus reducing risk for heart disease.
Curcumin also prevents the formation of blood clots, reducing the risk of thrombosis and stroke, according to a 2008 study from the Medical College of Georgia.
8. A Feel-Good Spice
Turmeric has additionally been linked to the treatment of certain mental illnesses, particularly depression. Several recent studies show the potential anti-depressant properties of turmeric, according to Smekens, including one 2014 study published in Psychotherapy Research. “Taking 1000 mg of curcumin (…) had a similar efficacy to fluoxetine,” says Smekens. Fluoxetine is the active ingredient in Prozac.
Another 2005 study from Peking University showed that turmeric had anti-depressive effects on mice. Turmeric is a major constituent of Xiaoyao-san, the traditional Chinese medicine used to treat depression in China.
9. Antioxidant Super-Powers
Turmeric not only contains potent antioxidants, it has also been proven in some studies to increase the natural antioxidant-producing capabilities of our bodies.
A 2005 study in Antioxidants & Redox Signaling showed that curcumin was both an oxygen radical scavenger and a potent antioxidant, boosting the natural antioxidant processes of the body. Other studies have shown its ability to help with mercury poisoning and subchronic TCDD exposure.
Buying and Storing Turmeric
Fresh as a root, dried and ground into a powder, even as an extract or in easy-to-take capsules, turmeric is available in a number of forms.
While the powder may be the easiest to use in a recipe, Goldstein suggests the root for maximal flavor and health benefits, not to mention a better bang for your buck. “When you purchase the root you are getting all the constituents, versus the powder where some of its makeup may be lost in the process and it’s not uncommon to have adulterated productions,” she says. “In addition, you do not know how long it’s been stored as a powder, whereas you can feel the integrity of the root.”
Choose firm roots with a strong smell, and store in the fridge in a plastic bag for up to a month.
Smekens also highlights the importance of opting for organic turmeric, particularly in ground form, as it is the only way that you can be sure that the spice has not been irradiated.
Should you opt for the powder, bear in mind that turmeric, like all spices, is best when used fresh; this goes not only for its flavor but for its health benefits as well. Keep turmeric in a closed jar in a dark cupboard, and try to use it within six months for the very best results.
As for supplemental turmeric, you’ll want to be even more careful choosing your source. “It is also important to purchase supplemental curcumin from a reputable manufacturer because solvents are used in extraction of this spice,” says Smekens. “Additionally, the widespread popularity of turmeric has led to questionable cultivation and processing procedures, much of which is performed by unregulated companies outside of the United States.” She recommends checking to be sure that the supplement label reads USP (U.S. Pharmacopeial), NSF (National Science Foundation), or NNFA GMP (National Nutritional Foods Association Good Manufacturing Practices), to make sure that you get when you’re paying for.
You can easily take advantage of the health benefits of turmeric simply by cooking with it. Not only is it delicious, it’s also one of the safest ways to partake in the spice. As Farley explains, the strong taste of turmeric means that you will naturally consume a safe dose. Larger doses, which can be consumed supplementally, can interact with certain medications, so be sure to talk with your healthcare professional first, especially if you have any of the following conditions:
- liver disease
- kidney disease
- if you are pregnant, as it can stimulate the uterus
- if you are currently partaking in cancer treatments
- if you are taking blood thinning drugs such as clopidogrel, warfarin, or aspirin, as turmeric supplements can increase bleeding
According to Goldstein, the following doses are recommended for adults:
- Cut root: 1.5 to 3 g per day
- Dried, powdered root: 1 to 3 g per day
- Standardized powder (curcumin): 400 to 600 mg, 3 times per day
- Fluid extract (1:1) 30 to 90 drops a day
- Tincture (1:2): 15 to 30 drops, 4 times per day