Turmeric is a spice commonly associated with Asian and Indian foods. It is traditionally used in curry, and is even used to lend a yellow color to mustards and cheeses. Recently, turmeric has gained attention for its myriad of purported health benefits due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Turmeric may be another example where science is catching up with ancient medicine. For thousands of years, turmeric was used in traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic medicine to aid digestion and liver function, relieve arthritis pain, for topical applications to treat wounds, and regulate menstruation.
Recent research is focusing on curcumin, a compound produced in the rhizome of the turmeric plant. Curcumin gives turmeric its bright yellow color. It also has many purported health benefits, including antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer and neuroprotective properties. Studies have focused on turmeric’s potential use in treatment of arthritis, high cholesterol, diabetes, Crohn’s disease, stomach ulcers, heart disease, and even depression.
However, the science is not firmly established yet when it comes to turmeric. According to Barbara Delage, a scientist with the Linus Pauling Institute’s Micronutrient Information Center, “claiming that [turmeric] can be useful for humans is premature, given the current evidence.” Delage notes that few good human clinical trials have been completed. In addition, curcumin has poor bioavailability, meaning that very little of the plant compound is actually absorbed by the body.
So while the science catches up with folk medicine, try adding a little turmeric to your diet.
- “Ask Well: Does Turmeric Have Proven Health Benefits?” New York Times. http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/04/22/ask-well-does-turmeric-have-proven-health-benefits/
- “Turmeric: the superfood in your spice rack.” The Telegraph. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/food-and-drink/features/turmeric-the-superfood-in-your-spice-rack/
- Turmeric. WebMD. http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-662-turmeric.aspx?activeingredientid=662
- “Herbs at a Glance: Turmeric, Science & Safety.” National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), National Institutes of Health. 2012. https://nccih.nih.gov/health/turmeric/ataglance.htm
- “10 Turmeric Benefits: Superior to Medications?” Dr Axe. https://draxe.com/turmeric-benefits/