Turmeric has a long history of use in cooking, medicine and cosmetics. For centuries, cultures in India have used this spice as a staple for their cuisine. It has long been valued for its beautiful golden color and aromatic flavor. Turmeric also holds an important place in traditional herbal medicinal practices. Included in the manifold uses of turmeric is the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, common infections and digestive issues. As medicine has progressed, research has been done to explore the efficacy of turmeric as a treatment for different types of ailments.
How Turmeric Is Beneficial to Health
From a biochemical perspective, turmeric contains a number of beneficial compounds. In particular, turmeric is a strong antioxidant, which means that it is capable of fighting off damage to cells by reactive oxygen species. Additionally, turmeric contains compounds that have been shown to be antimicrobial and even have anticancer effects. Animal models have shown the very promising tumor-suppressing properties of turmeric. Mice injected with Dalton’s lymphoma cells and treated with turmeric extract showed a much slower progression of cancer cells compared to control mice who received no turmeric. Mechanistically, turmeric may be able to inhibit expression of a certain oncogene as well as increase rate of apoptosis, which can slow tumor growth. These are powerful results from an ancient herb that is usually used for seasoning foods in some cultures.1
Oral Uses of Turmeric
Beyond its uses as an anticancer supplement, turmeric functions as an anti-inflammatory, which can have many benefits when applied topically or taken orally. Those with arthritis can experience pain relief when they take a turmeric supplement consistently every day.2 In fact, several studies have shown that patients who took turmeric supplements during periods ranging from two weeks to four months reported reduced pain and better mobility in the arthritic parts of their bodies. It is not completely known how exactly turmeric provides its anti-inflammatory properties, but its function as an antioxidant may work to decrease inflammatory responses in the body by fighting oxidative stress.3
Topical Uses of Turmeric
Turmeric has also shown to be potentially beneficial when applied topically. A study conducted on rats at the University of Port Harcourt (Nigeria) showed that creams containing a low concentration of turmeric extract aided significantly in wound healing compared to a control. According to the study, as well as other research, turmeric is able to stimulate production of collagen and other structures in the extracellular matrix of the skin that are crucial for healing wounds.4
Positive results from studies on how turmeric interacts with skin indicates that it may also be beneficial for other types of mild skin issues like acne and rosacea. Along with its anti-inflammatory properties, turmeric can also serve as an antimicrobial, which can be very helpful in cases of acne, where lesions are caused by bacteria. A study conducted on human subjects as cited in Phytotherapy Research indicated that patients with acne saw the most improvement in their skin over four weeks when taking a turmeric supplement in conjunction with using a turmeric-based topical. Other studies investigating psoriasis, eczema, alopecia and vitiligo have suggested that turmeric may be beneficial in healing several different kinds of skin conditions.5
Overall, turmeric has proven to be a helpful herb that can tame the body’s overactive immune response and in doing so, play a part in treating several different types of ailments from skin blemishes to irritation in the digestive tract. Turmeric is also an overwhelmingly safe supplement to take. Even when taken in large doses, turmeric will likely cause nothing more than mild upset, making it a good spice to add to your regular diet. The only drawback to turmeric is its low bioavailability. Turmeric is poorly absorbed in the body and has a tendency to be metabolized quickly, making it difficult for the body to fully reap its benefits. One way that can improve the bioavailability of turmeric is taking it with piperine or black pepper, by its more common name. Other methods of improving bioavailability include taking turmeric with foods high in fat, or by heating it up before consumption.5
Turmeric can be a great addition to any diet or health regimen. It is safe, easy to get, and a generally delicious spice. You can find turmeric supplements in several health stores, but be careful when buying supplements as it can be difficult to know exactly what is going into the pill or capsule. Frunutta makes a sublingual turmeric tab that dissolves right under the tongue and contains no fillers or additives, making it a great option for people who are looking for “clean” supplements. Another option when it comes to taking turmeric is buying it at your local grocery store and incorporating it into your diet. Many eastern cuisines have delicious rice and curry dishes that call for turmeric. There are even delicious drinks like golden lattes that contain turmeric, black pepper, steamed milk, honey and other spices to make a warm, aromatic drink. If you are more interested in the topical applications of turmeric, many skincare brands have incorporated the herb into their products because of its purported benefits. If you are interested in exploring turmeric and its beneficial properties, there is no shortage of ways in which you can try it out!
1 Prasad S, Aggarwal BB. Chapter 13: Turmeric, the Golden Spice. Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd Edition, 2011. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92752/.
2 Ware M. Medical News Today, 2018. Everything you need to know about turmeric. Retrieved from: www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/306981#positive-side-effects.
3 Singletary, K. Turmeric Potential Health Benefits. Nutrition Today, 2020. 55(1): p 45-56. Retrieved from: https://journals.lww.com/nutritiontodayonline/Fulltext/2020/01000/Turmeric__Potential_Health_Benefits.9.aspx.
4 Ugoeze KC, Okpa U, Nwachukwu N, Chinko BC, Oluigbo KE. Evaluation of Aqueous Creams Containing Ethanolic Extract of Curcuma longa (Turmeric) as Bioactive Ingredient for the Management of Wounds. Int J Appl Biol Pharm, 2021. 12(1): p 322-337. Retrieved from: www.fortuneonline.org/articles/evaluation-of-aqueous-creams-containing-ethanolic-extract-of-curcuma-longa-turmeric-as-bioactive-ingredient-for-the-management-of.pdf.
5 Vaughn AR, Branum A, Sivamani RK. Effects of Turmeric (Curcuma longa) on Skin Health: A Systematic Review of the Clinical Evidence. Phytotherapy Research, 2016. 30(8): p 1243-1264. Retrieved from: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/ptr.5640?casa_token=5Y-TJeEqJHkAAAAA%3A-m95YA1jl6H914R70ujglsKlRXBdGjT1QaI3iz551bogrtK8lg7EfJ_88k-YZ6QTxfUc12aqvghZNIZH.
Dr. Nicole Avena is a research neuroscientist and expert in the fields of nutrition, diet and addiction, with a special focus on nutrition during early life and pregnancy. Her research achievements have been honored by awards from several groups including the New York Academy of Sciences, the American Psychological Association, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse. She is an assistant professor of neuroscience at the Ichan School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, in New York, NY and is a visiting professor of health psychology at Princeton University in New Jersey. Dr. Avena has written several books, including What to Eat When You’re Pregnant and What to Feed Your Baby and Toddler. She regularly appears as a science expert on the Dr. Oz Show, Good Day NY and The Doctors, as well as many other news programs. Her work has been featured in Bloomberg Business Week, Time Magazine for Kids, The New York Times, Shape, Men’s Health, Details, as well as many other periodicals. Dr. Avena blogs for Psychology Today, is a member of the Penguin Random House Speakers Bureau and has the No. 2 most watched TED-ED Health talk, “How Sugar Affects Your Brain.” You can follow Dr. Avena on Twitter (@DrNicoleAvena), Facebook (www.facebook.com/DrNicoleAvena) and Instagram (@drnicoleavena), or visit www.drnicoleavena.com.