Turmeric is a cooking spice that gives mustard its bright yellow color and Indian curry its flavor and warm glow.
But lately, it has been getting a lot of attention as a 'superfood' for its possible health benefits.
Several reputable studies suggest that turmeric can be beneficial for both the body and brain.
In this article, we'll look at some of the health benefits of turmeric and how adding this yellow spice can help improve your health.
I'll even share with you some of my favorite "turmeric recipes".
What is turmeric?
Turmeric is a bright yellow aromatic powder that is often used for flavoring and coloring in Asian cuisine.
It is also a major ingredient in Indian curries.
Turmeric is actually obtained from the rhizome of a plant root relative of the ginger family, formerly as a "fabric dye”.
It’s one of Earth’s most concentrated sources of curcumin, an antioxidant compound that’s been shown to help cure depression, control acne and inhibit cancer cell growth.
Curcumin is one of the active ingredients in turmeric that continues to surprise researchers with its a wide range of health benefits.
This super powerful antioxidant called "curcumin" has a long history in traditional Indian medicine for treating stomach ailments, inflammation, arthritis, diabetes, and sprains.
It's also being studied as an anti-cancer spice.
1. Turmeric Reduces Risk of Cancer
Cancer is one the leading causes of deaths in the world, accounting for more than 8 million deaths in 2012 (1).
These staggering numbers are scary and suggest all too many of us are not so immune to this deadly disease.
But thankfully research on cancer is constantly evolving, and new information on ways of dealing and treating cancer is always emerging.
The prevalence of the four common U.S cancers is colon, breast, prostate, and lung.
Prostate cancer, which is the most frequently diagnosed cancer in U.S. for men, is rare in India, and this is attributed in part to the curcumin in turmeric.
Studies have looked into this potential cancer-fighting link and have found curcumin affects over 100 different pathways once it gets into a cell (4).
This also applies to curcumin's derivaties known to have anti-cancer properties.
According to researchers from the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, curcumin blocks a key biological pathway needed for the development of melanoma and other cancers (5).
A phase 1 clinical trial looked at giving curcumin to 25 patients with pre-cancerous changes in different organs. This study exhibited that curcumin could help stop precancerous changes becoming cancer (6).
In another 2007 American study that combines curcumin with chemotherapy to treat bowel cancer cells in a laboratory showed that the combined treatment killed more cancer cells than the chemotherapy alone (6).
Another study 2008 study reported 25 patients had curcumin treatments and 21 had tumors that could be measured. They saw 2 patients’ tumors shrank or remained stable, and in other patients, their levels of particular immune system chemicals that destroy cancer cells went up (6).
These studies show promising results in combating cancerous cells at an early stage, but we still need more clinical trials in humans before a conclusion can be made that curcumin has the potential of treating cancer.
2. Turmeric Helps Control Blood Sugar
High blood sugar often occurs when the body can't effectively transport sugar from the blood into the cells.
If this left unchecked, over time it can lead to type 2 diabetes.
Type 2 Diabetes is a chronic condition that affects the way the body processes blood sugar (glucose).
It is reported that 12-14% of the US adults have type 2 Diabetes, while 37-38% were classified as pre-diabetic (7).
That’s roughly one in two US adults has either diabetes or pre-diabetes.
People with diabetes have to closely monitor their sugar intake, take medications, and eat a healthy diet to keep their blood sugar in check.
Scientists have continually shown interest in the potential blood sugar-lowering benefits of turmeric and one of its active ingredients, curcumin.
Though most studies have done using animals, curcumin the antioxidant compound found in turmeric has been shown to help prevent blood sugar spikes.
Limited in quantity yet, there are also a few human studies that show promising results.
One such study published in Journal of Endocrinology showed that under glucose stimulation, turmeric regulated insulin secretion and helps enhance pancreatic function (8).
Another human study conducted in China discovered that curcuminoids supplementation could significantly reduce fasting glucose and insulin resistance (9).
The study involved 100 overweight and obese Type 2 diabetes who took either 300 milligrams of curcuminoids daily for 12 weeks or placebo.
Exactly how curcumin works isn't known yet, but researchers pinpoint to a number of different possibilities.
The main one is: it may act directly on the pancreas to stimulate the release of insulin (10).
Curcumin is also found to have very powerful antioxidant effects that could help stave off heart disease as well as damage related to high blood sugar, including kidney disease, nerve damage, and retinopathy (eye damage).
3. Turmeric Reduces Inflammation
Inflammation is a part of the body’s natural defense system to protect you from an injury or foreign invaders like bacteria and viruses.
Without inflammation, wounds would get faster and viruses and bacteria could become deadly.
So, we all need some level of inflammation in our bodies to stay healthy, says Dr. Mercola (11).
However, it’s also possible and increasingly common that the inflammation response gets out of hand.
If it persists, it can lead to chronic inflammation and lead to all sort of illnesses.
When your immune system mistakenly triggers an inflammatory response with no treatment presented to deal with it, it can lead to excess inflammation in your body, a condition that has been linked to everything from asthmas, allergies, autoimmune disease, heart disease, cancer, depending on which organs the inflammation is impacting.
For this, it’s critical to help reduce chronic, long-term inflammation.
Turmeric’s curcumin is known for its powerful anti-inflammatory work which is compatible to some drugs and can help keep inflammation at bay without the side effects (12).
So how does it work and how does this work?
Turmeric modifies immune system responses and reduces inflammation in the body.
The key takeaway here is turmeric’s bioactive compound, curcumin helps reduce the level of inflammations in the body.
4. Turmeric Improves Cholesterol
High cholesterol is a condition that affects the normal (blood) flowing in the heart.
When people have an excess of it (cholesterol?) in their blood vessels, it starts to build up in the arteries (15).
This disorder is one of the major risk factors for heart disease, stroke, and peripheral artery disease. It’s one of the leading causes of death.
The major reasons for high cholesterol level in the Western world are obesity, high-fat unhealthy foods, diabetes, and a family history of high cholesterol.
In fact, high cholesterol is reported affecting about 73.5 millions of U.S adults, which is about 31.7% of the population (16).
Cholesterol is often improved by following a healthy diet that includes more of plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
More precisely, diet wise, the Dash diet is one of the best-known diets to improve cholesterol level and heart health.
Regular exercise can also help in managing a healthy level of cholesterol.
But in all too many severe cases, a cholesterol reducing medication known as anti-hypertensive and anti-cholesterol drugs is said to be required.
The problem is these medications also have side effects, such as diarrhea, stomach cramp, and headache.
Natural and less toxic alternatives are often sought out to manage and reduce cholesterol levels in their bodies, and turmeric is one of the solutions recent research had looked into to for lowering cholesterol.
Some studies confirm that there is a connection between turmeric and cholesterol lowering and reducing effects. They also found that it's ability to improve cardiovascular health, by lowering LDL or bad cholesterol level (17, 18).
One 10-particpant study published in the Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology also showed promising results after their seven-day study.
10 healthy volunteers were asked to take 500 mg of curcumin per day for seven days.
In that study, they saw a 33 percent drop in bad cholesterol, 11.63% drop in total cholesterol and 29% increase in good cholesterol (19).
They too credited curcumin’s effect in successful reduction of LDL or bad cholesterol and prevention of its oxidation, suppressing plaque build-up in the arteries.
To top it off, Curcumin was also found with an ability to prevent cholesterol production in the liver, and block cholesterol absorption in the gut, and reduce LDL cholesterol oxidation in the lining of the arteries.
Other studies also concluded curcumin has a broad range of therapeutic effects on LDL cholesterol, heart health and much more (20).
Curcumin in turmeric may help prevent atherosclerosis, the buildup of plaque that can narrow the arteries and make hard for blood to flow through them, leading to increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
If you're looking to improve your cholesterol health profile, include more of turmeric in your diet help do so naturally.
5. Turmeric Prevents & Treats Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that destroys memory and other important mental functions.
It is a common form of dementia where a memory loss is experienced.
Symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with simple daily tasks (21).
Currently, up to 80% of dementia cases are identified as Alzheimer's disease.
Unfortunately, there's no cure or good treatment for it available yet.
And that’s why prevention is critical.
Inflammation and oxidation are believed to play a major role in Alzheimer's disease, and there is strong evidence that curcumin has beneficial effects on both (22).
Curcumin’s antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and lipophilic action improves the cognitive functions in Alzheimer patients and has a potential role in the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer's disease (23).
6. Turmeric Reduces Arthritis Pain
Arthritis is pain, stiffness, and inflammation that affect the joints.
Arthritis is not one disease.
In fact, there are more than 100 different types of arthritis and related condition.
This condition can affect people of all ages, race, and sexes. It is one of the leading causes of disabilities in the U.S., affecting more than 50 million adults and 300, 000 children (24).
Common arthritis joint symptoms include swelling, pain, stiffness and decreased the range of motion. Symptoms may come and go. They can be mild, moderate or severe.
Severe arthritis can result in chronic pain, inability to do daily activities and make it difficult to walk or climb stairs.
Turmeric has long been used in traditional Chinese and Indian Ayurvedic medicine as aid treatment for arthritis and various other symptoms in the body.
Several studies confirm that anti-inflammatory properties in curcumin are helpful for pain and inflammation related to arthritis or joint inflammation.
In fact, curcumin was shown more effective than an anti-inflammatory drug in one study with patients with rheumatoid arthritis (25).
7. Turmeric May Help You Lose Weight
The anti-inflammatory compound in turmeric that helps reduce inflammation may also assist your body to metabolize fat and potentially promote weight loss.
How does it work?
Curcumin, which gives turmeric its yellow pigmentation, a plant-based compound may suppress the growth of fat cells according to researchers at the Tufts University.
In that study, they fed mice a high-fat diet supplemented with curcumin for a period of 12 weeks.
It was visible in the mice tested that they gained less weight and had lower fat mass with curcumin (28).
In an addition to weight loss and fat loss, turmeric may also help reduce symptoms linked to obesity, according to the authors of a study published in an Annual Review of Nutrition in 2010 (29).
According to the review, obesity is a pro-inflammation condition, and the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory mechanisms in curcumin may ward off weight gain.
The researchers reported that curcumin can directly interact with cells to reduce inflammation, and in the process, it may reverse insulin resistance, hyperglycemia, and other symptoms that often accompany with obesity.
How to Cook With Turmeric
Turmeric is super versatile and very easy to incorporate into your cooking and diet.
- Add to your smoothies: Blend in a teaspoon of turmeric powder to your smoothies. It'll also add bright yellowish orange color and a bit of kick to your blend. Also, add a teaspoon of coconut oil to boost the turmeric absorption.
- Add to your soups: Add 2 teaspoons of turmeric to your soups. It goes with any soups from vegetable soups to stews. The best time to add it is when you are sauteeing the ingredients.
- Add to curries: Turmeric is curry's cornerstone ingredient. It's what gives curries the golden hue and warm glow.
- Add to rice: When you are making rice, add a teaspoon or less to your power or broth. The rice will have nice yellow color.
- Make tea: Combine ¼ teaspoon of turmeric powder with a cup of hot water. Mix well and drink.