Here’s how it actually lives up to the health claims

Photo credit: Prchi Palwe/Unsplash

Turmeric has been used by humans for more than 4,000 years. As well as being used in cooking and cosmetics, it is a staple of traditional Ayurvedic medicine and is used to treat a variety of conditions, from arthritis to gas.

Turmeric is still a popular dietary supplement today. There are numerous articles and social media posts claiming the benefits of this spice for everything from brain function to reducing pain and inflammation.

But while some of these claims are linked to evidence, most of this research is done in cells and animals, so the actual implications for humans are less clear.

While turmeric is reported to contain over 100 different compounds, most of its reported health benefits are related to specific compounds called curcuminoids (curcumin being the most common).

Curcuminoids are phenolic compounds, which are molecules that plants often make as pigments or to deter animals from eating them.

This gives turmeric its distinctive color, but it can also alter cell function.

Many of turmeric’s potential health effects are linked to these phenolic compounds, which have been shown in the laboratory to have antioxidant effects.

Antioxidants are substances that prevent or slow down damage from free radicals — a harmful type of molecule that can cause inflammation and is also linked to heart disease and cancer.

Although turmeric does indeed have anti-inflammatory properties, many of the health benefits caused by these effects have only been demonstrated in the laboratory (using cells) or in animals.

For example, one study fed obese mice one gram of curcumin per kilogram of body weight.

After 12 weeks, they found that the mice given curcumin had similar improvements in brain function and lower levels of inflammation in their livers as the mice fed the weight-loss diet.

While this may have resulted in healthier mice, it’s unclear if the same would be the case in humans.

Not to mention that if this study had been conducted on humans, an average 70kg person would have had to consume more than 2kg of turmeric daily during the study – which would be impossible.

With no comparable studies done in humans, we still don’t know if turmeric reduces inflammation in a similar way.

effect on pain

But despite the lack of research showing benefits in humans, turmeric (and curcumin) are commonly marketed as anti-inflammatory supplements for a range of conditions — including joint pain and arthritis.

According to the results of one review, turmeric supplements appear to have a modest benefit for pain in human trials compared to a placebo — and in some cases, as effective as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

However, the studies included in this review appear to be of variable quality. Many have been conducted with a very small population (ten people or fewer) and have shown wide variation in the amount of turmeric given to participants.

Therefore, it is difficult to make a firm recommendation that turmeric is effective for pain.

Due to its antioxidant effect, turmeric is also said to have an anti-cancer effect.

Curcumin has been shown in the lab to reverse DNA changes in cells that cause breast cancer. However, it’s less clear whether turmeric reduces cancer risk or aids treatment in humans.

However, some research has shown that using a turmeric gargle could reduce the side effects of radiation therapy in people with head and neck cancer.

It can also help people with a rare genetic condition called familial adenomatous polyposis. One clinical study found that consuming 120 mg of curcumin (about as much as a teaspoon of turmeric) in people with the condition was associated with fewer cancer-causing polyps — which could well be a sign of early-stage cancer.

Because inflammation is linked to many cognitive health disorders, such as dementia, some research has attempted to determine if turmeric can improve brain function. So far it is unclear whether turmeric has an effect.

Studies conducted in humans were generally very small and lacked consistency in study design, dosing, and the way cognitive effects were measured.

Again, it’s difficult to discern whether turmeric actually has an effect, or whether cognitive improvements are due to other factors.

Does Turmeric Really Work?

A major challenge in getting turmeric to work in our bodies is getting it from our gut into our bloodstream.

Curcumin is a fairly large compound – and therefore difficult for the body to absorb into the bloodstream as it is not very soluble in water.

However, other research suggests that turmeric acts on the bacteria in our gut.

Although more data is needed on whether this applies to humans, this could suggest that turmeric does not need to be absorbed into the bloodstream to provide health benefits, as it is already absorbed through our gut.

Another challenge is the amount of turmeric needed to see the benefits. In many studies, only the curcumin extract is used – which is only about 3% in the turmeric powder itself.

Since many studies have found more than 1g of curcumin per kilogram in a mouse or rat, it would be difficult to match the equivalent amount for these effects in a human—even in supplement form.

Turmeric is a great spice that imparts a pleasant earthy flavor and a bright natural yellow color to foods. However, it is far from clear how the reported benefits affect human health.

So, enjoy turmeric as a spice and food coloring, but don’t rely on it to provide major health benefits or treat or cure diseases.

Written by Duane Mellor. The conversation.

If you care about nutrition, please read studies about it How the Mediterranean Diet Can Protect Your Brain HealthAnd This plant nutrient may help lower high blood pressure.

For more information on nutrition, see current studies Olive oil can help you live longerAnd Vitamin D could help lower the risk of autoimmune diseases.

Related Articles

Back to top button