Turmeric is a vibrant yellow spice commonly used in Indian and Asian cuisine. Its numerous health benefits have gained considerable attention in recent years. One of its key compounds, curcumin, has been extensively studied for its potential therapeutic properties. In this article, we explore turmeric’s health benefits, specifically its role in healing the liver, promoting muscle recovery, and supporting brain function.
Turmeric is a rhizome (root) from the ginger family and has been used for centuries as a cooking spice.
Its main compound, curcumin, has been widely studied for its many health benefits, including liver support, muscle recovery, and brain health.
Turmeric and its compounds have been shown to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, both of which can prevent disease and support health.
Turmeric may interact with some medications like blood thinners, anticoagulants, cancer drugs, and diabetes medications. Consumers should seek professional medical advice before adding turmeric to their diet.
What is turmeric?
Turmeric is a rhizome (root) of the ginger family. Unlike ginger, however, turmeric is a vibrant golden color and contains high levels of the compound curcumin. Both turmeric and curcumin have received much interest from scientific and medical communities due to their powerful health benefits.
The medicinal properties of turmeric include being an:
- Antimutagenic (prevents genetic mutations)
- Antimicrobial (fights bacteria and viruses)
- Anticancer (prevents cancer cells and tumor cells from growing)
Curcumin, the active compound in turmeric, has low bioavailability, meaning that it is not easily absorbed and utilized by the body. Studies recommend consuming turmeric with black pepper to help increase curcumin absorption. Foods, an open-access journal of food science, found that “piperine is the major active component of black pepper and, when combined in a complex with curcumin, has been shown to increase bioavailability by 2000 percent.”
Benefits of turmeric
Turmeric acts systemically, which means it benefits many different areas of the body (i.e., the entire system vs. a particular tissue or organ). Although it helps many systems, turmeric has recently shown promise, specifically in liver support, muscle recovery, brain health, and anticancer actions.
The liver plays a vital role in detoxification, metabolism, and overall well-being. Unfortunately, it is susceptible to injury from various factors such as alcohol, toxins, and diseases. Turmeric has shown promise in promoting liver health because curcumin is a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, which can help reduce liver inflammation and protect liver cells from damage.
A review of studies performed by the Archives of Medical Science found that “the available data make curcumin a promising phytotherapy in chronic hepatitis and a potential therapeutic agent for regression of liver fibrosis and cirrhosis.” Furthermore, curcumin has been found to stimulate bile production, enhancing liver function and promoting the elimination of toxins from the body. All in all, turmeric (curcumin) has very promising findings regarding liver health.
Exercise-induced muscle damage is common, especially among athletes and fitness enthusiasts. Turmeric may aid in muscle recovery due to its anti-inflammatory properties. Curcumin has been shown to alleviate inflammation, reduce oxidative stress, and inhibit the release of certain enzymes that contribute to muscle damage.
The journal Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition found consistently that “various curcumin-based interventions have improved self-perceived measures of muscle pain and tenderness, reduced evidence of muscle damage, ameliorated inflammatory markers, increased markers of antioxidant capacity, and diminished markers of oxidative stress.”
Incorporating turmeric or curcumin supplements into a diet may help speed up muscle repair and reduce post-exercise soreness.
Chronic inflammation is a contributing factor to many chronic diseases, including heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Curcumin has been extensively studied for its potent anti-inflammatory effects. It inhibits the activity of various inflammatory markers in the body, reducing inflammation and potentially lowering the risk of chronic diseases.
The journal Drug Design, Development and Therapy found that “curcumin in the treatment of IBD, arthritis, psoriasis, depression, atherosclerosis and other diseases, can reduce inflammatory response, effectively improve symptoms, and play a role in the treatment of diseases.”
Incorporating turmeric into a diet or taking curcumin supplements may positively impact overall health by modulating the body's inflammatory response.
Oxidative stress, caused by an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in the body, can lead to cell damage and accelerate aging. Curcumin has been shown to possess strong antioxidant properties, neutralizing free radicals and protecting cells from oxidative damage. Turmeric boosts the body's antioxidant defense system, potentially reducing the risk of chronic diseases and promoting overall well-being.
Brain health and cognitive function
Curcumin's potential neuroprotective properties have garnered interest in the field of brain health. Studies have suggested that curcumin may help improve memory, reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's, and enhance overall cognitive function.
The journal Neural Regeneration Research found that "for prevention and treatment of Alzheimer's disease, curcumin has been shown to effectively maintain the normal structure and function of cerebral vessels, mitochondria, and synapses, reduce risk factors for a variety of chronic diseases, and decrease the risk of Alzheimer's disease." Its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, as well as its ability to cross the blood-brain barrier, make curcumin a promising compound for brain health support.
Considerations before trying turmeric
While turmeric has many potential benefits, there are a few considerations to be aware of:
- Digestive issues. Some people may experience digestive side effects like upset stomach, bloating, or diarrhea when consuming turmeric in large amounts or in concentrated forms. It's advisable to start with small quantities and monitor the body's response.
- Liver toxicity. Turmeric in very high amounts has been shown in rare cases to cause elevation in liver enzymes and potential liver injury. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases found that when turmeric use is discontinued, the liver enzymes self-correct back to normal ranges.
- Interactions with medications. Turmeric may interact with certain medications, particularly blood thinners, antiplatelet drugs, diabetes medications, liver medications, and cancer drugs. If taking any medications, it's essential to consult with a healthcare provider before adding turmeric to a dietary routine.
- Dental work and porous surface stains. Turmeric has a vibrant yellow color that stains clothing, surfaces, and teeth. People with dental work, like crowns or veneers, should be cautious as turmeric may cause discoloration or staining.
- Pregnancy and breastfeeding. While turmeric is generally considered safe in culinary amounts, high doses or supplements should be avoided during pregnancy and breastfeeding, as there is insufficient evidence to determine their safety.
Turmeric, with its active compound curcumin, offers a range of potential health benefits. From aiding liver recovery and promoting muscle repair to reducing inflammation, supporting brain health, and providing antioxidant protection, turmeric can be a valuable addition to a healthy diet.
As with any dietary supplement or medicinal herb, it's important to use turmeric in moderation and consult with a healthcare professional, especially if with any pre-existing medical conditions or if taking medications. They can provide personalized guidance and help determine if turmeric can help.
- Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd edition. Chapter 13: Turmeric, the Golden Spice.
- Foods. Curcumin: A Review of Its’ Effects on Human Health.
- Archives of Medical Science. The role of curcumin in liver diseases.
- Frontiers in Pharmacology. Turmeric and Its Major Compound Curcumin on Health: Bioactive Effects and Safety Profiles for Food, Pharmaceutical, Biotechnological and Medicinal Applications.
- Neural Regeneration Research. Use of curcumin in diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of Alzheimer's disease.
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- Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity. Effects of Curcumin Supplementation on Inflammatory Markers, Muscle Damage, and Sports Performance during Acute Physical Exercise in Sedentary Individuals.
- Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. Influence of curcumin on performance and post-exercise recovery.