Turmeric originates from the root of the curcuma longa plant, which is part of the ginger family. Used in India as a medicinal herb for thousands of years, turmeric health benefits are largely due to the presence of a compound in called curcumin, which has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.
We asked Aisling Moran, nutritional scientist at Thriva , and Shona Wilkinson, nutritionist at Superfood UK , to talk us through turmeric health benefits, explain what to look for in a supplement, and offer tips on dosage, absorption and safety: 14 scientific health benefits of turmeric
While turmeric has been used for centuries in traditional medicine, its only recently that scientists have started to test-run the spices’ medicinal chemistry.
In an American Chemical Society review of the existing scientific literature, scientists concluded that curcumin is unstable under physiological conditions and therefore not readily absorbed by the body – which means sprinkling some into a curry every now and again probably won’t bring about any of the health benefits below.
However, the preliminary science is promising, especially where small-scale human studies have been conducted, so it may not be long before science figures out how to make the compounds that contribute to turmeric health benefits more bioavailable to humans. Here are 14 scientific health benefits of turmeric: 1. Turmeric contains bioactive compounds
There are several powerful medicinal compounds in turmeric that are linked to a range of health benefits – the most notable being curcumin, which is responsible for its vivid yellow colour, says Moran. Curcumin is a part of a family of active compounds called curcuminoids. ‘Other curcuminoids in turmeric include demethoxycurcumin and bisdemethoxycurcumin, but curcumin is the most abundant – tending to make up about 77 per cent of curcuminoid content – and as a result, it’s also the most researched,’ she says. 2. It’s an antioxidant
Research shows that curcumin can reduce oxidative stress, since it acts as an antioxidant and stimulates antioxidant enzymes in your body, says Moran. ‘Oxidative stress is when there are too many free radicals in your body and not enough antioxidants to ‘scavenge’ them,’ she explains. ‘These free radicals can then damage proteins, DNA, and so on, and over time, this can lead to long-term, low-grade (chronic) inflammation.’ 3. Anti-inflammatory
Inflammation is a natural process that is necessary for repair and healing, but when it becomes long-lasting or out of control it can cause health problems, says Wilkinson. ‘Many common health conditions involve inflammation, including heart disease, obesity, allergies, skin problems such as eczema , and even Alzheimer’s disease ,’ she explains. ‘In other words, many of the conditions that characterise 21st century living.’
In addition to scavenging free radicals through its antioxidant effects, curcumin can suppress molecules that play a big role in causing inflammation, says Moran. ‘So, in addition to lowering your risk of developing a chronic disease, it’s thought it might help ease exercise-induced inflammation and muscle soreness,’ she says. 4. May have anti-cancer properties
As well as showing antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, curcumin has been shown to have anti-cancer properties in numerous test tube studies. One such study , conducted by the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Centre, found that not only does curcumin inhibit the growth of melanoma cells, but it also causes tumour cells to destroy themselves. Further investigation into the effects of curcumin in animal models and clinical trials is planned, the authors wrote. 5. Protects your joints
Given that curcumin is a potent anti-inflammatory compound, it makes sense that it helps to protect your joints. Studies suggest that curcumin suppresses your body’s response to tumor necrosis factor (TNF), a chemical produced by the immune system that causes inflammation related to joints. ‘ Joint pain and arthritis are among the most obvious signs of inflammation,’ says Wilkinson. ‘Anything that helps to balance inflammation may relieve symptoms, or even help prevent the problem occurring in the first place.’ 6. May help treat arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis is a long-term autoimmune condition that causes inflammation, pain, and stiffness in the joints. Some research shows that curcumin could be used to treat the condition, with similar effects to anti-inflammatory medication like ibuprofen – and without a lot of the side effects – but larger-scale studies are needed, says Moran. 7. Boosts brain health
Curcumin can increase levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in your brain — a growth hormone important for brain health, says Moran. It’s a key molecule involved in changes related to learning and memory, because it stimulates the growth of new neurons in your brain. Many common brain disorders have been linked to decreased levels of this hormone, and scientists believe it may help to delay or even reverse many brain diseases and age-related decreases in brain function.
Additionally, a bioactive compound found in turmeric called aromatic turmerone boosts the regeneration of brain stem cells, according to test tube research published in the journal Stem Cell Research & Therapy , which means it could be a future drug candidate for treating neurological disorders such as stroke. 8. May ward off dementia
Not only has curcumin been linked to improved brain health, but it might even help to reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s. Inflammation and oxidative damage play a role in Alzheimer’s disease, and curcumin has been shown to have beneficial effects on both. Daily curcumin consumption improved memory and mood in people with mild age-related memory loss, a study by the University of California found. Adding just one gram of turmeric to breakfast could help improve the memory of people who are in the very early stages of diabetes, which is linked to dementia, according to a Monash University study . 9. May help treat depression
Surprisingly, curcumin may be beneficial for people with depression. In a small study spanning 60 people diagnosed with depression, one group took an antidepressan t, a second group took one gram of curcumin, and a third group took both the antidepressant and curcumin. Six weeks later, the curcumin supplement had led […]