Turmeric root is really having a moment, isn’t it? You probably know by now that turmeric is a culinary spice, a major ingredient in curry, and is a brightly colored relative to ginger root. Used widely in Ayurvedic medicine, turmeric gives mustard its vibrant yellow color. Curcumin is the particular constituent responsible for turmeric’s bright hue and potent anti-inflammatory properties.
Turmeric has been studied extensively and has been proven a safe and effective anti-inflammatory. In fact, respected ethnobotanist Dr. James Duke reviewed some 700 studies looking at turmeric benefits concluded that turmeric outperforms many pharmaceuticals in its effects against several chronic, debilitating diseases, and does so with virtually no adverse side effects.
If you’re relying on NSAID (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) pain relievers for inflammatory conditions such as arthritis or chronic joint pain, listen up: the FDA recently strengthened its warning for popular painkillers like ibuprofen and naproxen and risk of heart attacks and stroke. If you are using these drugs regularly for pain relief, you may be at increased risk of heart attack and stroke, even if you’re not otherwise at risk, and even in the first few weeks of using the drugs. This is really scary.
Fortunately, nature has alternatives for you without the alarming side effects. Numerous preclinical studies have provided a solid basis for examining curcumin’s efficacy against many human diseases, and have I mentioned with virtually no side effects?! (some study participants reacted adversely to mega doses). In fact, curcumin performs just as well as NSAID drugs for chronic pain relief in study after study (you can see a list of some of these studies here). In addition to pain relief, curcumin fights disease and improves your health!
Turmeric vs Curcumin
You’ll note that I mention both turmeric and curcumin, because both have been studied extensively. We know that curcumin in particular holds the magic potent anti-inflammatory effects, and I recommend curcumin supplementation to those looking for therapeutic benefits in addressing certain conditions. Turmeric by itself only contains around 3 percent of curcumin, so you’d have to take a truckload to reap the benefits if you’re using it to address a specific ailment.
Curcumin alone is poorly absorbed unless it’s taken with piperine (as in black pepper, which dramatically increases absorption) and lipids, as it’s fat soluble. It’s a good idea to take curcumin with pepper or peppercorns, and find a supplement that contains lipid co-factors. I highly recommend this one that has proven absorption. This one is good too, and it contain black pepper, but it doesn’t have the same high concentrations of curcumin as the aforementioned.
How much to take? This article has good dosing info, but it very much depends on the supplement you choose and the condition you’re addressing. In terms of duration, do not take curcumin indefinitely. Though there are no definitive guidelines on duration, I don’t recommend taking any herbal supplement longterm. Curcumin is probably ok to take up to 6 months as a supplement in the most severe cases (cancer or chronic pain), then go off it to give the body a break for a time before returning to supplementation.
Turmeric powder or root can be used as a tea, a tonic, juiced, or in recipes (see below) to maintain benefits after using the therapeutic supplement dose.
Turmeric Has Been Shown Effective in Treating the Following Conditions
- Arthritis (both rheumatoid and osteo): Turmeric contains more than two dozen anti-inflammatory compounds, including six different COX-2-inhibitors (the COX-2 enzyme promotes pain, swelling and inflammation; inhibitors selectively block that enzyme). Curcumin works even better.
- Chronic pain & inflammation
- Cancer: Curcumin is effective in the prevention and treatment of cancer: colon cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, liver cancer, esophageal cancer, and oral cancer. It’s been shown to kill cancer tumor cells while sparing healthy cells.
- Alzeheimer’s: curcumin prevents and slows the progression of Alzheimer’s disease by removing amyloyd plaque buildup in the brain.
- Allergies: curcumin can benefit sufferers of hay fever, asthma, bronchitis, and allergies. It blocks mast cells from releasing histamine and has the ability to remove excess mucous and reduce inflammation in the sinuses and respiratory tract.
- Eczema and psoriasis relief
- IBS, IBD, inflammatory bowel conditions such as Crohn’s and colitis
- Shows promise in effectiveness for treating depression
- Improves insulin sensitivity and may be effective for reversing type 2 diabetes
- May be helpful for cystic fibrosis sufferers
- Effective against peptic ulcers
Turmeric’s Health Benefits
- Potent anti-inflammatory
- Natural pain killer
- Boosts immune function
- Increases the body’s antioxidant capacity, fighting disease and free radical damage
- Improved brain function
- Lowers risk of heart disease
- Enhances liver detox and function, protection against liver cancer
- Good for skin (both inside and out)
- Cancer protective
- Overall disease prevention
- Speeds wound healing
- May help lower blood pressure and blood sugar levels
- Lower cholesterol
- Blood cleanser
Turmeric Recipes to Try
Again, I recommend that if you want to address any of the above conditions, take a curcumin-based supplement like this one or this one for 2-3 months (depending on your condition). Then you can use turmeric in recipes for overall health benefits. I personally use a supplement on and off several times yearly, and I use turmeric in tonics and recipes otherwise.
Here is a roundup of recipes from my wellness blogger colleagues to help you find tasty ways to incorporate this superfood!
My personal favorite way to use turmeric is in a tea or medicinal tonic. This is my favorite one, golden milk, that is soothing and delicious and relieves allergy symptoms almost immediately.
Another golden milk recipe from Coconut Mama. This one features more chai spices.
This antioxidant wellness tea from Beauty & the Foodie features turmeric along with healing ginger, apple cider vinegar, honey, and lemon.
One of my favorite ways to use turmeric in food is mixed in with scrambled eggs and on roasted veggies, like my easy spicy cauliflower. Throw it in Middle Eastern and Indian dishes too. Here are many more ideas.
Pineapple kraut with turmeric and ginger from Oh Lardy sounds amazing, and as a fermented food, provides beneficial enzymes and probiotics!
Love these cute little gut healing golden milk gummies from My Heart Beets.
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Mary Vance is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and author specializing in digestive health. She combines a science-based approach with natural therapies to rebalance the body. In addition to her 1:1 coaching, she offers courses to help you heal your gut and improve your health. Mary lives in San Francisco and Lake Tahoe in Northern California. Read more about her coaching practice here and her background here.