Turmeric, officially known as Curcuma longa, is a flowering plant that belongs to the ginger family. It is native to Southeast Asia and India and has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine.
With an earthy aroma and a deep orange-yellow color, turmeric powder is a staple of Indian cuisine, and it is also used as a dye for the fabric of saris and robes of Buddhist monks.
Turmeric powder is often combined with annatto to give extra color to cheese, mustard, chicken broth, and salad dressing, and it is sometimes used as a cheaper alternative to saffron in dishes such as saffron rice. In the eastern part of India, turmeric typically flowers in early August.
Recently, turmeric has been the subject of several scientific studies designed to discover more about the potential health benefits it may have. The function, uses, benefits, and potential risks of using turmeric are discussed below.
How Does Turmeric Supplements Actually Work?
Curcumin is the main active ingredient in turmeric powder and supplements, making up an estimated three percent of the powder and supplement content when measured by weight.
Curcumin is a potent antioxidant with significant anti-inflammatory properties, and some studies have suggested it may be just as effective as diclofenac, aspirin, and ibuprofen in terms of reducing inflammation from rheumatoid arthritis and other conditions.
Most turmeric capsules sold as health supplements contain at least one gram of curcumin, and this dose is recommended for maximum anti-inflammatory benefits.
Curcumin cannot be absorbed very well by the bloodstream, so most turmeric supplements with curcumin also contain piperine, a compound in black pepper that enhances the body’s curcumin absorption by as much as two thousand percent.
Curcumin combats inflammation by blocking the NF-kB molecule. This molecule travels to cells throughout the body and turns on genes associated with inflammation.
Currently, NF-kB is believed to play a major role in the development of chronic diseases. Since curcumin is fat-soluble, experts recommend taking turmeric supplements with healthy fats to increase absorption.
Turmeric supplements are frequently used to help improve the symptoms of several types of arthritis, including osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
In a small 2012 study of forty-five patients with rheumatoid arthritis, researchers found taking five hundred milligrams of curcumin each day was more effective in reducing tenderness and joint swelling than a daily dose of fifty milligrams of diclofenac sodium.
Turmeric supplements with curcumin are also routinely used for the relief of itching from chronic kidney disease, and they have shown promise in reducing blood cholesterol levels as well.
Many patients often use turmeric supplements to prevent and treat heart disease. Studies have shown turmeric improves the functioning of the endothelium (the lining of the blood vessels).
Endothelium issues can cause problems with the regulation of blood pressure and blood clotting, and they are a major contributor to the development of cardiovascular disease.
One study found the active ingredient in turmeric was as effective as physical activity in enhancing endothelial health, and other research concluded the ingredient was able to protect the endothelium just as well as atorvastatin, a prescription medication.
Turmeric supplements are used by some individuals in the treatment of depression and dementia. Like prescription antidepressants, studies indicate curcumin can increase levels of serotonin and dopamine in the brain, and a six-week study of sixty individuals with depression found curcumin was comparable to fluoxetine in the reduction of depression symptoms.
Patients with depression typically have low levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, and scientists believe this may contribute to a reduction in the size of a region in the brain known as the hippocampus in these patients.
Curcumin has been shown to improve levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, and researchers believe this could reverse some of the impact’s depression has on the brain.
Curcumin is capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier, and research indicates it can help clear the amyloid plaques in the brain that are heavily involved in Alzheimer’s disease.
Health Benefits of Turmeric Supplements
Turmeric supplements are believed to have other health benefits as well, many of which are currently being evaluated.
For example, some patients use the supplements as a treatment for stomach ulcers, and anecdotal evidence suggests individuals with inflammatory bowel disease or prediabetes may also benefit from supplementation with turmeric.
In the past, it has been used in alternative medicine as a treatment for tuberculosis, and studies suggest it could also be effective in the prevention and treatment of cancer.
Laboratory tests and animal studies have shown curcumin reduces the growth of cancerous cells, and research indicates the supplement also reduces both the growth of new blood vessels within tumors and the spreading of cancer to other parts of the body.
In a four-week study of forty-four males with precancerous growths in the colon, taking four grams of curcumin each day reduced the number of these lesions by forty percent.
Scientists believe curcumin may be particularly beneficial in the treatment of cancers of the digestive system, and studies are now underway to investigate this more closely.
Potential Risks and Side Effects
While it has numerous health benefits, turmeric may not be safe for all patients. Individuals who have iron deficiency, diabetes, gallbladder issues, blood clotting problems, or endometriosis should check with a doctor before taking turmeric supplements.
Turmeric supplements are not considered to be safe during pregnancy, and they could cause uterine bleeding or contractions if taken while pregnant.
However, the use of turmeric powder as a culinary spice is considered safe for pregnant women. The potential side effects of long-term turmeric supplementation include nausea, dizziness, upset stomach, and diarrhea.
Patients should immediately discontinue turmeric supplementation and let a doctor know right away if they develop unusual bruising or bleeding, high blood glucose, or bleeding that does not stop. The risk of side effects could increase if turmeric supplements are used for longer than eight months.