What is Turmeric?
Turmeric (Curcuma Longa Root) is one of the most trusted natural herbs found throughout history and has been used for over 4,000 years to treat a variety of conditions. A plant related to ginger, turmeric is grown in India, parts of Asia, Central America, and even Hawaii. You probably know turmeric as the yellow spice found in many Indian recipes like curry, and in American mustard. If you’ve ever cooked with turmeric, you know it gets everywhere and turns everything yellowish-orange. It is used for everything from spicy Indian recipes to cosmetics.
Today, turmeric is also recommended as a dietary supplement and widely used to alleviate a multitude of discomfort and medical conditions. Many of us think that it’s the turmeric root powder that holds all the magic, but that’s actually not the case.
What is Curcumin?
Turmeric has curcumin in it. Medicinally, it’s the curcumin and the curcuminoids found in curcumin that primarily give turmeric it’s healing properties. So, when choosing a turmeric supplement, keep in mind that you will likely want to look for a turmeric supplement with curcumin. What does that look like on the label? Usually, it shows up as a 95% curcumin extract. The 95% curcumin extract is the concentrated good stuff!
One of the most significant challenges facing people who supplement with turmeric is that turmeric and curcumin exhibit poor bioavailability. That means, you can take a ton of turmeric or curcumin extract and your body will only absorb a little bit. In addition to that, your body rapidly metabolizes and systemically eliminates curcumin quickly. Dietary supplement manufacturers have undertaken a number of different approaches to better enhance the absorption of curcumin. Black pepper has been shown to increase absorption, as does our favorite choice, BioPerine®. BioPerine® is patented and through multiple studies has shown to increase the bioavailability of turmeric and curcumin.
What To Look For?
Many dietary supplement manufacturers mislead (our opinion) people into thinking their product is full of the beneficial qualities of turmeric and curcumin. If you’re interested, we’ve written another post about demystifying “Supplement Facts”. We hope this helps to clear up evaluating your supplements and deciding on a brand that’s right for you. The basics are clean labels, clean product. Show me what’s in your product! No proprietary blends without disclosure, trademarked names that don’t show ingredients, boosted serving sizes to inflated quantities, etc. Transparency in a product and brand should extend to their label and the ingredients they use.
Turmeric is one of the most studied natural supplements and has statistically significant benefits. A literature search on PubMed (NCBI) showed over 1500 papers dealing with curcumin. Some of the benefits that were found are:
- Anti-Inflammatory Probably the most well-known use is as an anti-inflammatory. It lowers the levels of two enzymes that cause inflammation. This is why it is often used to alleviate arthritis, muscle sprains, and other injuries.
- Antioxidant Curcumin has been shown to be a potent antioxidant. Antioxidants have been shown to have benefits in heart health and may lower your risk of infections and some forms of cancer. Antioxidants may also play a role in managing or preventing some other medical conditions such as macular degeneration, arthritis, and Alzheimer’s disease.
- Heart Health Several studies have shown benefits to overall heart health from curcumin. One even indicated it was comparable to the prescription drug atorvastatin for improving endothelial function but better in reducing inflammation and oxidative stress.
- Rheumatoid Arthritis Because of curcumin’s powerful anti-inflammatory properties some studies have shown it is effective in the treatment of Rheumatoid arthritis. In fact, one study found that curcumin was more effective than the standard prescription treatment. Subjects using curcumin had a higher percentage of improvement and fewer side effects than the group taking diclofenac sodium.
- Depression Curcumin has been tested and had some promising results in alleviating some symptoms of depression. Although the test samples were small, 56 people, in this study people had significantly more improvement with curcumin than with a placebo. Other studies have shown that using curcumin alone (1000mg) was as effective as Prozac. Hmm, bet the drug companies aren’t interested in funding more of this research!
- Skin Care Curcumin has been shown to help various skin conditions as well as assist in healing wounds. Several studies have shown it may help prevent and alleviate skin cancers, psoriasis, acne and even eczema. In India, it has been used as a topical treatment for all of these conditions for thousands of years. Just beware of the yellow dye from the raw root! As well as supplements there are some topical curcumin products although we haven’t reviewed them.
- Obesity Studies have shown that curcumin can have metabolic effects that help in weight loss. In addition to helping achieve greater weight gain, curcumin also had positive effects on glucose levels. In fact, although study was done on rats (well, it’s hard to get a large group of people to follow the same diet!), “Our results indicate that curcumin has a protective effect against weight regain and impaired metabolic control following a successful period of weight loss through diet and exercise, perhaps via inhibition of glucocorticoid action and inflammation”. NCBI
- Immune System Curcumin has antimicrobial properties. It can also enhance antibody responses. One paper suggests that curcumin’s ability to modulate the immune system may be why it has been found to have beneficial effects in such a wide variety of ailments.
- Ulcerative Colitis While this study was also a small sample, the test showed a significant improvement in people who took two 500mg tablets twice daily. That’s a lot of curcumin. After 8 weeks 69% of the patients showed improvement and 25% achieved complete remission. NCBI
- Alzheimer’s Disease Several studies have shown that curcumin can be effective in both treating and preventing Alzheimer’s Disease. Curcumin’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant capabilities are thought to prevent how AD occurs. This article states, “
The process through which AD degrades the nerve cells is believed to involve certain properties: inflammation, oxidative damage and most notably, the formation of beta-amyloid plaques”. Curcumin also helps prevent plaque build-up!
- Liver Function As if all the other benefits weren’t enough to take turmeric and it’s component curcumin, it also helps protect and detoxify the liver. Several studies have shown increased liver function and even decreased fatty tissue in the liver from taking curcumin.
Why not begin taking turmeric and it’s active ingredient curcumin and start a healthier life today!