health benefits of turmeric

Health Benefits of Turmeric – Evidence-Based

Maybe you haven’t tried it yet, but you’ve probably heard of the health benefits of turmeric when used as a supplement or spice. Turmeric is used as a foundational spice in cuisines from all over the world, especially in India and Southeast Asia. It’s also a popular ingredient in dozens of healthful western beverages and recipes ranging from teas to tamales. However, turmeric is far more than just a tantalizing treat for the taste buds. The known health benefits of turmeric are too numerous to outline in one article, but here we will summarize some of the most exciting and noteworthy turmeric benefits that everyone should be aware of.

turmeric curcumin chemical structure
Chemical Structure of Curcumin

For over six thousand years turmeric has played a key role in Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). In this article, we summarize some of the well-known health benefits of turmeric and some of the diseases that turmeric and its most-studied compound curcumin are known to address.  A search for the terms “turmeric OR curcumin” at the National Institutes of Health PubMed website currently shows over 16,000 published articles and studies focusing on the therapeutic health benefits of turmeric and its key polyphenol compound curcumin.

Even though most clinical studies have focused on the curcumin compound, which is easy to supplement via 95% curcumin capsules, we include the whole plant form in this analysis. Why? Because it is increasingly evident that the benefits of curcumin supplementation are maximized when also incorporating whole turmeric powder or fresh turmeric rhizomes into the diet.

The science remains unsettled as to exactly why the whole form of turmeric enhances the efficacy of curcumin supplementation. But evidence shows that turmeric’s more than 1000 naturally occurring phytonutrients work synergistically to achieve the plant’s impressive range of health benefits. So why not just make turmeric a part of your daily diet, along with your supplements, and maximize the benefits?

What are the Known Health Benefits of Turmeric?

In addition to directly addressing a wide range of identifiable diseases, turmeric curcumin is also known to provide relief from many chronic and acute conditions that often result from undiagnosed sources. Examples would include autoimmune conditions like fibromyalgia. The known health properties of turmeric-curcumin are wide-ranging, and in this article, we summarize some of this natural compound’s most well-known properties and applications.

1. Anti-inflammatory

Swelling, redness, immobility, and pain are signs of inflammation. It is an important natural process in which the body’s white blood cells release specialized chemicals to fight off invading pathogens. Inflammation also triggers a cognitive signal that something is wrong in the inflamed area, therefore further stress should be avoided.

But sometimes inflammation is not the result of injury or disease, but rather an over-reaction by the body’s immune system. Such cases can result in chronic inflammation that leads to further complications and actual disease. Turmeric curcumin contains compounds capable of inhibiting and preventing inflammation, thereby allowing the body to heal naturally without the stress of an overly reactive immune system.

Inflammation is coincident with most chronic diseases and functional disorders. Chronic inflammation over long time periods can even be the source of some diseases and disorders. One of the most well-known health benefits of turmeric curcumin is its ability to directly address the myriad causes of inflammation. And by doing so it is one of the most powerful natural substances known to mankind. This is why we have devoted an entire website to this miraculous plant.

2. Anti-oxidant

Oxidative stress occurs when there is an imbalance in the body’s production of free radicals vs. its ability to neutralize and detoxify from them. Free radicals are oxygen-containing molecules that are highly unstable due to one or more unpaired electrons. These chemically and electrically unstable molecules seek stability by stealing electrons from other molecules, thereby causing cell damage.

Antioxidants are capable of donating spare electrons to these unstable scavengers without self-impairment, thereby mopping up the nasty, oxidative, stress-inducing free radicals. Turmeric and curcumin have prodigious amounts of antioxidant molecules capable of aiding in the fight against free radicals. This is a fundamental and primary reason why turmeric curcumin is effective in preventing and reversing so many functional disorders and chronic disease conditions.

3. Anti-aging

Modern life exists in an environment saturated with toxic substances. Our water, air, and food are under siege from many toxins including fluoride, electromagnetic fields (EMFs), heavy metal particulates in the air, and ultra-processed or genetically modified “Frankenfoods.” It is difficult to quantify the cumulative effect of these deleterious stress factors. But we do know that chemical and metal toxins, EMFs, and free radicals cause oxidative stress at the cellular level. And oxidative stress is a significant accelerant of the aging process. Turmeric curcumin fights oxidative stress by mopping up free radicals through the electron donation process. This is why turmeric curcumin is a frontline defense against premature aging.

4. Chronic Pain Relief

Due primarily to its anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties, when taken regularly and in sufficient quantity turmeric curcumin is an effective way to reduce and even eliminate chronic pain. Sufferers of joint and muscle pain enjoy the health benefits of turmeric curcumin’s ability to not only reduce swelling but also the long-term positive effects of anti-oxidation. Most importantly, turmeric curcumin’s pain relief comes not from palliative masking (as from most pharma products) but from addressing the root cause of chronic pain.

5. Promotes Tissue Healing

Turmeric is antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, antiseptic and collagen-promoting. Because of these characteristics, it has been used in India for millennia to treat flesh wounds. The healing and health benefits of turmeric include preventing infection, slowing the bleeding, and accelerating the production of collagen and protective scabbing.

A study published by Life Sciences in September 2014 found that topically applied turmeric appears to accelerate the wound healing process by soothing irritation, fighting infection, and reducing oxidation. Another study in the October 2006 issue of Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry demonstrated that topical turmeric application for wounds in rats supported collagen synthesis, accelerated wound contraction, and increased cell proliferation and tissue strength around the wound.

6. Supports Immune System

Turmeric-curcumin has been shown in numerous studies over the last two decades to be a potent immunomodulatory agent capable of balancing the activation of T cells, B cells, macrophages, neutrophils, natural killer cells, and dendritic cells. Turmeric-curcumin can also downregulate the expression of various inflammatory cytokines including TNF, IL-1, IL-2, IL-6, IL-8, IL-12, and chemokines.

Scientists are unsure why this occurs but it is believed to be due to deactivation of the transcription factor NF-kappaB. Turmeric-curcumin is also capable of enhancing antibody response to pathogenic invaders. This suggests that the health benefits of turmeric curcumin with respect to arthritis, allergies, asthma, atherosclerosis, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and cancer is at least partially due to its ability to modulate the immune system.

7. Supports Efficient Digestion

Turmeric alleviates indigestion and bloating by stimulating the production of bile in the gallbladder. Bile is critical in the digestion and absorption of fats and fat-soluble vitamins. Turmeric curcumin also supports efficient digestion through its antibacterial properties (against bad bacteria) and the promotion of intestinal flora (good bacteria), which helps increase absorption in the intestine.

For example, the Heliobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacteria is a group 1 carcinogen known to be responsible for gastritis, peptic ulcer, and gastric cancer. A 2009 study proved that curcumin effectively inhibits H. pylori growth. According to the World Health Organization, H. pylori affects more than half of the total world population and is becoming alarmingly resistant to antibiotic treatment.

8. Supports Healthy Liver Function

The liver is the body’s largest organ. It is responsible for more than 500 essential functions including 1) cleansing toxins from the blood after it leaves the small intestine, 2) injection of critical enzymes into the digestive tract, 3) storing nutrients and excess glucose, 4) manufacturing blood proteins, and 5) producing cholesterol. If the liver is unhealthy or diseased, and any of its hundreds of critical functions is impaired, the body suffers. In the most severe cases, a damaged liver must be replaced or death will result.

In addition to the inferred health benefits of turmeric curcumin’s antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-aging effects on the liver, there are studies showing that curcuminoid polyphenol compounds are effective in preventing and even reversing numerous diseased liver conditions. A small sample of such conditions includes cirrhosis, fibrosis, leptin imbalance, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), and hepatocellular carcinoma (liver cancer).

9. Promotes Eye Health

“Inflammation is the underlying factor of virtually all diseases encountered in the twenty-first century,” a quote from ophthalmologist and author of SuperHealth, Steven G. Pratt, M.D.  Macular degeneration, cataracts, keratitis sicca, retinal degeneration, and conjunctivitis are all associated with rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune condition closely associated with chronic inflammation. Again, we refer to turmeric curcumin’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties in preventing and even reversing age-related degenerative diseases, including those affecting the eyes.

10. Promotes Brain Health

One of the very rare health benefits of turmeric curcumin derives from its ability to cross the blood-brain barrier. This means turmeric’s healing compounds are able to pass through the tightly guarded internal walls of blood vessels inside the brain. The two-minute video below provides an illustration of the blood-brain barrier and how it protects the brain from harmful substances while allowing beneficial substances like the curcuminoid compounds.

Once the turmeric curcumin molecules pass the blood-brain barrier they are effective in promoting brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a kind of growth hormone specific to the brain. BDNF facilitates the formation of new neuronal connections, even as we age! A decline in BDNF inhibits new neuronal formations and is linked to many common brain disorders. By increasing BDNF, turmeric curcumin optimizes brain function, including memory, and may reverse brain diseases and age-related decline in overall brain function.

11. Alleviates Depression and Elevates Mood

Studies show that major depressive disorder exhibits all the characteristics of an inflammatory response. This would include an increase in pro-inflammatory cytokines, cytokine receptors/reactants, chemokines and related molecules in peripheral blood and cerebrospinal fluid. There is a clear correlation between chronic inflammation and depression, and they appear to exacerbate one another. The anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties or turmeric curcumin are effective in reversing the inflammation cycle and alleviating this debilitating condition.

Health Benefits of Turmeric – Disorders and Diseases

12. Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a systemic autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the synovium tissue surrounding the joints, causing swelling and pain. In severe cases, it may attack the internal organs. However, it is usually confined to the joint linings. Over time, the inflammation can cause bone erosion and deformation.

According to allopathic medicine, there is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis. However, there are many studies showing a key health benefit of turmeric curcumin is its effectiveness in alleviating the inflammation and pain associated with RA. One way it does this is by blocking inflammatory cytokines and enzymes, including cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2), the target of celecoxib (Celebrex), a pharmaceutical Cox-2 inhibitor. As you may read in the About section, I can attest with absolute certainty that the incorporation of generous amounts of turmeric in my daily diet combined with curcumin supplementation was a key factor in my recovery from RA.

13. Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is characterized by chronic pain in the ligaments, tendons, and muscles combined with fatigue and tenderness throughout the body. It is often correlated with the autoimmune condition of rheumatoid arthritis. The Turmeric Guru suffered immensely from an unexplained autoimmune condition that resulted in, among other symptoms, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, and brain fog. As you may read in the About section, I can attest with absolute certainty that the health benefits of turmeric are real. Incorporation of generous amounts of turmeric in my daily diet combined with curcumin supplementation was a key factor in my recovery from fibromyalgia.

14. OsteoArthritis

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a degenerative joint condition wherein the cartilage cushion between the joints breaks down and dissolves. It is the most common form of arthritis, first noted by pain and stiffness after repetitive use, as well as immediately after waking up in the morning. Later, this degenerative disease can cause malformations, especially in the hands.

Historically, OA was considered an old age “wear and tear” disease, but research now indicates it is also a result of synovitis. This means that OA is at least partly due to the same primary cause of RA – the inflammation of synovial tissue surrounding the joint. Since inflammation is a known contributor to OA, it stands to reason that a key health benefit of turmeric curcumin with respect to its effectiveness in prevention, management and possible reversal of OA derives from its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. And, in fact, the evidence shows that this is the case.

15. Alzheimer’s

At least 5 million Americans suffer from this debilitating disease in which nerve cells in the brain lose their ability to signal back and forth. This loss of synapses is coincident with memory loss, and research shows that the buildup of amyloid plaque is a primary cause. As stated earlier, turmeric curcumin has the rare ability to cross the blood-brain barrier and dissolve amyloid plaque. Turmeric has been a staple of the Indian diet for over six thousand years, which is probably why both rural and urban populations in India have the lowest prevalence of Alzheimer’s in the world. You can read more about the health benefits of turmeric curcumin and Alzheimer’s in an article we have dedicated to this subject.

16. Parkinson’s

Parkinson’s disease results in the degeneration, and ultimately death, of dopamine-producing neurons in the substantia nigra area of the brain. Symptoms present and advance slowly through five stages beginning with minor tremors on one side of the body and/or changes in posture, gate, and facial expressions. Stage 5 includes rigidity of the legs, inability to stand, and the need for 24-hour care.

Due to its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and neuroprotective qualities, turmeric curcumin is therapeutic in the prevention and control and Parkinson’s disease. Turmeric curcumin impedes neuron destruction in the substantia nigra and prevents the decline in dopamine levels. In addition to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, turmeric curcumin has been shown to prevent dopaminergic neuron cell death through various biochemical pathways that are not yet fully understood.

17. Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a degenerative disease of the central nervous system wherein an unexplainable autoimmune response attacks the fatty myelin sheathing surrounding the nerves, as well as the nerve fibers themselves. Symptoms include muscle weakness, lack of coordination, tremors, paralysis, and even blindness. One factor influencing MS progression is oxidation by free radicals.

Because turmeric curcumin is known to be highly effective in treating inflammation and free radical oxidation and is stable in fatty tissue like myelin and the brain, its effectiveness against MS is not surprising. As with RA and fibromyalgia, the Turmeric Guru can attest to the health benefits of turmeric in treating MS, as it, along with RA, were the only two diseases allopathic doctors were able to diagnose during my five-year battle with autoimmune issues. Having said that, they had no cure. Thankfully, I discovered the health benefits of turmeric through my own research.

18. Cardiovascular Disease

A condition called metabolic syndrome is a combination of abdominal obesity, hypertension, glucose intolerance, and lipid profile disturbances. This combination of factors contributes to chronic inflammation and oxidative stress which are precursors for atherosclerosis and increased risk of stroke or heart attack. All of these conditions are prime factors in the development of cardiovascular disease.

Because turmeric curcumin is highly effective in treating the inflammation and oxidation associated with hypertension, glucose intolerance, and blood lipid disequilibria, it stands to reason that it also has powerful preventive properties with respect to atherosclerosis, heart attack, and stroke. Numerous human and animal studies reveal that the health benefits of turmeric-curcumin supplementation include the ability to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease (footnotes 9-19).

19. Bad Cholesterol

As noted above, a defining feature of metabolic syndrome is lipid profile disequilibria, particularly elevated triglycerides, and a reduction in vessel-protective high-density (HDL) cholesterol. Elevated levels of low-density cholesterol (LDL) relative to HDL increases the risk of atherosclerosis, which increases the risk of a heart attack or stroke.

A 2014 study showed that supplementing with turmeric-curcumin enhanced with Bioperine resulted in significant reductions in triglycerides, LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol, and significant increases in the good HDL cholesterol. These health benefits of turmeric curcumin are achieved by its ability to impact almost all pathways by which vessel-damaging LDL cholesterol reaches the bloodstream, including dietary absorption and removal of LDL from the liver and other tissue throughout the body.

20. Hypertension

Hypertension is the medical term for high blood pressure. According to the American Heart Association, normal blood pressure would be anything near or below 120/80. The first number is the systolic pressure – when the heart is pumping fresh blood through the arteries. The second number is the diastolic pressure – when the heart is resting and blood is returning through the veins.

Chronic hypertension with readings above 120/80 can lead to atherosclerosis, heart attack, kidney disease, vision impairment, and other complications. Due to its anti-inflammatory properties, turmeric curcumin is effective in moderating and reversing hypertension. It does this by reducing plaque which allows the blood vessels to relax and expand, thereby decreasing the burden on your heart. You can read more about the health benefits of turmeric curcumin and hypertension in an article we have dedicated to this subject.

21. Diabetes

Type II diabetes is a chronic disease in which the body either resists the effects of insulin or produces insufficient insulin to properly metabolize glucose. Diabetes imposes enormous oxidative and inflammatory stress on the entire circulatory system, especially the heart. Furthermore, diabetics are two to three times more likely to die of cardiovascular disease than nondiabetics.

Many scientific studies and a great deal of anecdotal evidence exist to support the fact that turmeric curcumin is effective in preventing and reversing diabetes. For example, in 2012 The American Diabetes Association’s journal Diabetes Care published a double-blind placebo-controlled study involving 240 adults with prediabetes. After nine months, 19 of the 116-person placebo control group developed type II diabetes, while none of the 199-person turmeric curcumin receiving group developed the disease.

Read more about turmeric and diabetes in our post dedicated to this topic.

22. Asthma

Asthma is a chronic disease in which the bronchial tubes become inflamed and constricted. Breathing becomes difficult or nearly impossible in some cases. Asthma sufferers’ air passages are in a constant state of inflammation and oxidative stress, but when something triggers the immune system they become even more inflamed and the muscles surrounding them constrict. Is asthma an autoimmune condition? Perhaps. More research needs to be done, but it is clear that the immune system is over-reacting to allergies or other trigger events like infections to cause the condition.

Because of its ability to control inflammation and oxidative stress throughout the body, the health benefits of turmeric-curcumin extend to the effective treatment and control of asthma. Regular intake of dietary turmeric and curcumin supplements distributes anti-inflammatory and antioxidant polyphenols into the blood plasma. As the blood passes through the lungs it directly confronts asthmatic inflammation. Studies have also been done on intranasal curcumin sprays wherein positive results were achieved.

23. Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs) are characterized by autoimmune-induced chronic inflammation in the gastrointestinal system. The two most prevalent conditions are Crohn’s disease, which results in inflammation anywhere from the mouth to the rectum, and ulcerative colitis, which results in colonic ulcers. Symptoms include abdominal cramps, fever, fatigue, diarrhea, fecal blood, irregular bowel habits, weight loss, and extraintestinal complications such as arthritis and uveitis.

The allopathic standard of care includes primarily anti-inflammatory drugs, immune suppressants, antibiotics, and other pharmaceuticals. Surgery is sometimes recommended but the effects are temporary. Turmeric curcumin is effective in inhibiting inflammatory mechanisms like cyclooxygenases 1, 2 (COX-1, COX-2), lipoxygenase (LOX), TNF-alpha, interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma), inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS), and the transcriptional nuclear factor kappa B (NF-kappaB). This, in addition to turmeric’s powerful antioxidant effect, has inspired a great deal of research into promising new therapies using turmeric-curcumin in the treatment of IBD.

24. Cancer

There is more evidence-based scientific literature supporting the use of turmeric curcumin against various forms of cancer than any other natural substance. Turmeric’s efficacy against cancer is due to its ability to moderate gene expression, destroy unhealthy cancer cells, and promote healthy cell function. Turmeric curcumin also inhibits angiogenesis in unhealthy cells, meaning it prohibits the development of additional blood supplies that are necessary for cancer cell growth.

2009 study found that curcumin is capable of killing cancer cells in multiple ways, making it less likely that cancer cells may become resistant. Turmeric curcumin leaves healthy cells unaffected and targets only cancer cells, an important differentiating characteristic as chemotherapy kills both healthy cells and cancerous cells.

Pancreatic cancer is one of the most lethal malignancies known, and most patients are diagnosed too late for surgical removal of the malignancy. Even in patients who undergo resection of the malignant tissue, greater than 80% relapse within two years. A 2014 study found that curcumin demonstrated anti-cancer effects even against pancreatic cancer when taken in a new, more bioavailable, formula known as Theracurmin.

In 2015 the journal Anticancer Research published a study showing the polyphenol curcumin selectively targets cancer stem cells – the root of cancer malignancy – while ignoring normal stem cells. This is an enormous finding as cancer stem cells resist chemotherapy and radiation. Furthermore, they are often stimulated to spread and become more invasive if disrupted by surgery. Cancer stem cells are widely believed to be the source of tumor recurrence and the reason why conventional cancer treatments so often fail.

How to Take Turmeric

Now that you are aware of the many powerful health benefits of turmeric, it would be well to know how to most effectively utilize it. There are basically four ways to take turmeric or curcumin:

  1. as a supplement in capsule or liquid form
  2. as an everyday cooking spice
  3. in special recipes like teas and other beverages
  4. applied to the skin as a cream or paste

You should always try to use the highest quality turmeric you can find and afford, especially if you plan on taking it as a concentrated supplement every day.

Everyone is different, so there’s no way to know how quickly your body will react or how long it will take to find relief. At the same time, even if you cannot immediately notice, be assured that the benefits are accruing. This is a natural substance, so do not expect the immediate “kick in the head” we have come to expect from synthetic pharmaceuticals.

Whatever amount of the whole plant or concentrated curcumin compound you are taking, the effect will accumulate over time and slowly but surely address the conditions outlined in this article. Even if you simply eat a dish with turmeric a few times a week it has the potential to have an impact.

If you are taking multiple prescriptions, you should check with your doctor before trying any supplement. Turmeric causes no known reactions when combined with pharmaceuticals, but in our litigious society one must be precautionary. Having said that, it is highly unlikely that you should experience any side effects from the spice or the supplement even at high dosage.

Summary – Health Benefits of Turmeric

Turmeric has been used as a culinary and medicinal spice for over 6000 years. Ancient Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine knew that the benefits of turmeric were many, and they used it daily for this reason. For more than 100 years it has been studied by western medicine for its properties relating to:

  • anti-inflammation
  • anti-oxidation
  • anti-aging
  • pain relief
  • mood enhancement
  • central nervous system support
  • cardiovascular system support
  • digestive system support
  • immune system support
  • hepatic system support
  • vision support
  • tissue healing
  • cholesterol management
  • diabetes prevention
  • hypertension prevention
  • Alzheimer’s prevention
  • Parkinson’s prevention
  • cancer prevention
  • auto-immune conditions like, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, IBS, asthma, and MS

The health benefits of turmeric – from the subtle effect on mood enhancement to the amazing ability to prevent and reverse a host of chronic diseases – are too numerous to outline in a single article. Turmeric is a quiet but powerful substance with benefits for young and old alike. It’s easy to take and can be added to your diet and supplementation in a variety of ways. Additionally, turmeric is a safe substance with no serious negative side effects, but if you are pregnant or nursing, or on blood thinners, you should first consult your physician before taking large amounts.

Additional References:

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