Top 8 Science-Backed Benefits of Turmeric

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Turmeric is one of the most well-researched, most searched for, and most sought-out culinary herbs and spices on the marketplace. And with these eight science-backed health benefits, it's easy to see why.

— Tieraona Low Dog, M.D.

When a natural health ingredient or product starts to gain mainstream popularity, it’s common for naysayers to knock back observed benefits with pessimistic rebuttals.

This happened earlier this year with one of my favorite botanicals: turmeric. Mainstream outlets released articles with titles like, “Turmeric May Not Be a Miracle Spice After All.” It’s no wonder people often feel confused by the seemingly conflicting information available.

I am going to add a few comments of my own. First, turmeric is a spice and dietary supplement that has numerous health benefits with very few adverse effects. In fact, one examining the toxicology of turmeric, where patients received doses as high as 12,000 mg (roughly 12-24 average capsules) in one day found that “the tolerance of curcumin (turmeric) in high single oral doses appears to be excellent.” This study shows that it is pretty difficult to cause yourself harm from taking turmeric in the more commonly recommended amounts (2-4 capsules per day). 

Let’s set the record straight with a look at the top 8 science-backed benefits of turmeric.

Top 8 Science-Backed Benefits of Turmeric

 

1. Reducing Inflammation

Turmeric contains a group of compounds known as curcumoids, most commonly referred to as “curcumin,” which have strong anti-inflammatory properties. We now know that persistent low-grade inflammation in the body is associated with numerous diseases. Adding turmeric to our food and/or taking turmeric in a dietary supplement may be beneficial for our overall health.  

 

2. Relieving Symptoms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

IBD causes chronic inflammation of the digestive tract. Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are the two dominant forms of IBD. These conditions impact thousands of people each year. One study found that patients suffering from IBD experienced significant relief of their symptoms when they took turmeric alongside mesalamine or sulfasalazine medications (two drugs commonly used to treat IBD). Those taking turmeric had statically better symptom relief than patients who took these medications alongside a placebo.

 

3. Improving Depression and Overall Mood

A mini meta-analysis (review of studies) found that patients with depression who were given turmeric/curcumin had a statistically superior improvement in their depressive symptoms compared to those who took a placebo. This benefit appeared greatest in those who were middle-aged and those who took the turmeric/curcumin longer term.  There has been an increasing body of research suggesting that inflammation may be a primary driver of the complex condition we call depression. This may be why turmeric appears to have a beneficial effect on mood. 

 

4. Alleviating Both Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis

Science suggests that turmeric can help reduce pain and swelling in people suffering from osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. We would benefit from additional studies on the effect of turmeric on the different types of arthritis to show its efficacy (we can always use more studies). Although, between the available studies and the lack of negative side effects of turmeric, it could be a good idea to go ahead and add turmeric to one’s diet if living with painful arthritis.

 

5. Reducing the Number of Heart Attacks in Bypass Patients

In a 2012 study of 121 patients that underwent a coronary artery bypass surgery, found that turmeric may prevent future heart attacks. Patients were given either four grams of turmeric or a placebo, three days before surgery and five days following surgery.

Following their surgery, 30 percent of patients in the placebo group had a heart attack, compared to the 13 percent of patients who received a turmeric supplement. This is a 56 percent relative reduction in risk of having a heart attack after bypass surgery for patients who take turmeric. I have long recommended that those who have had a heart attack take fish oil. It might also be worthwhile to consider turmeric.

 

6. Mitigating the Effects of Type 2 Diabetes

A study examining the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of turmeric on the symptoms of diabetic rats found that it’s a great option for curbing common issues. Turmeric aided in favorably influencing insulin resistance, hyperglycemia, and hyperlipidemia. This study is a promising example of how turmeric may benefit illnesses with a complex array of symptoms. 

 

7. Reducing Radiation Rash in Breast Cancer Patients

Radiation causes a rash on 95 percent of patients who undergo radiation therapy for breast cancer. A double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 30 breast cancer patients, found that patients who took six grams of turmeric daily saw a reduction in the severity of their rashes.

 

8. Prevent Helicobacter pylori Infections

A study found that turmeric may inhibit the growth of all 65 strains of H. pylori. This is an important finding especially in the time of resistant bacteria, which are often treated with stronger and more dangerous antibiotics. This study suggests we would benefit from further exploration of turmeric’s antimicrobial potential.

 

The Source of Your Turmeric Is Important

Be careful how you increase your turmeric intake. In August 2016, the FDA released a list of turmeric brands for recall due to high levels of lead. As with any supplement added to your diet, make sure you are choosing a high-quality option – it’s worth it!

You should also choose a supplement based upon its desired effect. 

• If taking turmeric for GI problems, using a standardized extract of turmeric that contains 95% curcumin is all that is needed. 

• If looking for more systemic effects, choose a preparation that can be better absorbed. Turmeric extracts that contain black pepper (piperine) are a great option, just do not exceed 15 mg of black pepper extract per day if taking prescription medications. Turmeric supplements bound to phosphatidylcholine are also well absorbed.  

• How much? The studies generally administered 1200-1500 mg of standardized extract (95% curcumin) or 2-4 grams of non-standardized powdered turmeric. One teaspoon of turmeric powder is ~ 3 grams. 

I enjoy turmeric and have recommended it to many patients, friends and family members over the years. You may find the benefits turmeric offers work well with your body. Talk to your healthcare professional if you have questions about whether it is right for you. 

And while you’re thinking about turmeric and all its wonderful benefits, go ahead and give this article a share with someone you think would benefit from learning more about turmeric.