Turmeric (Curcuma longa)
The rhizome (underground stem) of Curcuma longa, a member of the ginger family, yields the yellow spice turmeric. It has long been used in India and Asia as an herbal medicine and food and has played an important role in Eastern cultures.
Traders introduced turmeric to Europe in the 13th century, where it was called Indian saffron because it looked similar to the spice saffron. It is responsible for the color of curried dishes and American mustard.
Best Uses For Turmeric:
Research studies are most often focused on the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric’s main active ingredient curcumin (no relation to the spice cumin), which may offer protection against certain cancers, treat arthritis, benefit those with inflammatory bowel disease, reduce blood sugar, and help prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Turmeric has been recommended to support liver health, but some research suggests the potential for liver toxicity.
Turmeric can be taken orally to help treat osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Some clinical studies show turmeric extract can improve symptoms of osteoarthritis by reducing pain and improving functionality. It also helps reduce the use of NSAIDs and other pain medications for OA. Other studies suggest that turmeric may reduce symptoms of RA, but more research is needed.
Preliminary studies suggest ingestion of turmeric extract may help stabilize or even prevent colorectal cancer.
Growing evidence suggests that turmeric may help protect against Alzheimer’s disease. The main constituent of turmeric, curcumin, appears to block the progression of Alzheimer’s disease in mice. Studies of Indian populations, whose diet is rich in turmeric, show that rates of Alzheimer’s disease are very low in these groups. More research is needed to confirm or disprove the effectiveness of Turmeric for Alzheimer’s disease prevention.
The curcumin found in turmeric may also prevent oxidation of cholesterol, reduce the progression of atherosclerosis, and protect against heart attack and stroke.
Topically, turmeric is used for a variety of skin disorders including ringworm, leech bites, skin inflammation, and bruising. It is also used as an analgesic.
Turmeric is a culinary spice and an important ingredient of curry powder. Turmeric essential oil is used in perfumes and as a color component in many foods.
Turmeric Is Available In:
Turmeric is available in powdered form as a culinary spice, and in tablets and capsules as medicinal extracts. It should be labeled as standardized turmeric extract or the compound, curcumin.
Interactions And Warnings:
Turmeric is considered safe when used appropriately and according to the label. Those with liver disease should use turmeric with caution, if at all.
There are no known drug interactions, but in rare instances, daily use of turmeric over an extended period of time may cause stomach upset or heartburn in some patients. Those taking medication for diabetes should be aware that turmeric may reduce blood sugar levels.
Women who are pregnant should avoid turmeric due to the possibility of uterine stimulation. There is insufficient information for women who are nursing, so contact your doctor before taking it.
Do not take turmeric if you have gallstones or bile duct dysfunction, as it may cause gallbladder contractions. Turmeric also exhibits antiplatelet effects and may promote bleeding if used immediately before surgery. Discontinue use of turmeric two weeks before surgical procedures.
When Buying Turmeric:
Look for products standardized to 95 percent curcuminoids. For cooking, choose brightly colored and aromatic turmeric powder.
Adults can take 400 to 600 mg of turmeric extract three times per day or as directed on the product label. The dried spice is not effective for treating specific conditions but is good for general health.
Young children should not be given turmeric.
Dr. Weil Says:
The bottom line is that turmeric is good for you so find ways to include it in your diet. If you are a lover of Indian food like I am that should not be too difficult. I have long recommended drinking turmeric tea, a popular drink in Okinawa, and probably one of the reasons that lifespans are longer there than any other country. I frequently recommend turmeric supplements and believe them to be more effective than isolated curcumin for inflammatory disorders. Neither curcumin nor turmeric taken orally is well absorbed unless taken with black pepper or piperine, a constituent of black pepper responsible for its pungency. When shopping for supplements, make sure that the one you choose contains black pepper extract or piperine. (If you’re cooking with turmeric, be sure to add some black pepper to the food.). Note that piperine can slow the elimination of some prescription drugs including phenytoin [Dilantin], propranolol [Inderal], and theophylline. Be patient when taking turmeric supplements: the full benefits may not be apparent for eight weeks.
Learn more about turmeric:
- Three Reasons To Eat Turmeric
- Turmeric For Depression?
- Curcumin Or Turmeric?
- Turmeric For Arthritis?
- Cooking With Turmeric
American Cancer Society – cancer.org/Treatment/TreatmentsandSideEffects/ComplementaryandAlternativeMedicine/HerbsVitaminsandMinerals/turmeric
Consumerlab. consumerlab.com/tnp.asp?chunkiid=21874 (accessed July 18, 2016)
Natural Health, Natural Medicine: The Complete Guide to Wellness and Self-Care for Optimum Health, by Andrew Weil.
Natural Database – naturaldatabase.therapeuticresearch.com/nd/Search.aspx?cs=NONMP&s=ND&pt=100&id=662&fs=ND&searchid=37594816
Reviewed by Russell Greenfield, M.D., August, 2016.