Health Benefits of Turmeric

Turmeric, or Curcuma longa, is derived from the root of the turmeric plant, a flowering plant within the ginger family. Turmeric root and its ground spice is a bright yellow color and is traditionally used in Indian, Middle Eastern, Asian and Thai cuisine.

Key takeaways:
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    Curcumin is the most well-known phytochemical found in turmeric that exerts many biologically-active benefits.
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    Curcumin extract has been shown to improve pain, stiffness and inflammation in those with knee osteoarthritis.
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    Curcumin reduces digestive discomfort and improves inflammation and quality of life for those with ulcerative colitis.
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    Curcumin helps improve blood flow and oxygenation to the brain, which may mitigate aging-related cognitive decline.
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    Curcumin has been shown to be better tolerated and equally or more effective at pain reduction than common pain-reducing medications.
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    Curcumin may help reduce muscle damage and soreness after exercise without compromising the natural, transient and beneficial exercise-induced inflammatory response.
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    Curcumin may help to reduce fasting blood sugar and balance hormone levels in those with PCOS.

In addition to its unique aromatic, flavor, and color properties, turmeric contains curcuminoids which are powerfully bioactive compounds, the most well-studied being curcumin. Curcuminoids have been shown to impart significant health benefits, especially pain and inflammation reduction – two major factors affecting the quality of life, disease progression, and the aging process.

Curcumin eases symptoms of osteoarthritis

Knee osteoarthritis (knee OA) is the leading cause of pain and disability in adults – affecting over 240 million people worldwide – and results in chronic symptoms of pain, stiffness and inflammation.

A high quality randomized controlled trial reported those taking 500mg Curcuma longa daily had more improvements in pain, stiffness, and mobility than those taking a placebo.

Other studies support these findings. Another randomized controlled trial found both low dose (124 mg/day) and high dose (186 mg/day) of bio-optimized Curcuma longa for three months showed similar improvements in pain and an OA biomarker – Coll2-1 (sColl2-1) – compared to placebo. This particular biomarker is associated with cartilage degradation, a hallmark of osteoarthritis progression.

Curcumin improves inflammatory markers and gastrointestinal symptoms

Ulcerative colitis (UC) and Crohn’s disease are both inflammatory bowel diseases associated with chronic pain, diarrhea, reduced quality of life, elevated inflammatory markers and other distressing symptoms.

One study found those with UC that combined drug therapy with curcumin extract, at a dose of 1500mg per day for eight weeks, experienced improved inflammatory markers (CRP and ESR). They also showed improved scores on disease questionnaires and quality of life compared to those on drug therapy plus placebo.

Curcumin is neuroprotective

Reduced oxygenation and blood flow is a common pattern seen in the aging process, which likely contributes to reduced cognition. A randomized, controlled trial found turmeric root extract improved blood flow and oxygenation to the pre-frontal cortex compared to placebo during exercise.

Other research also supports these findings. A study of community-dwelling older adults found those supplementing with 1500mg curcumin daily for 12 months experienced significantly less cognitive decline than those on a placebo.

Curcumin may be more effective than pain meds

Paracetamol (generic name acetometaphin) is a widely-used over-the-counter pain and fever reducing medication. This drug is the first-line treatment for symptoms of osteoarthritis, however, turmeric may be even more effective.

A small 2021 randomized trial found after six weeks of intervention, those taking 500mg turmeric root extract twice daily experienced more significant improvements in quality of life, pain, stiffness, mobility, and the inflammatory markers CRP and TNF-a than those taking 650mg three times daily of paracetamol.

Another common medication for osteoarthritis is ibuprofen, a non-steroid anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), which carries long-term side effects. A study comparing 1500mg curcumin daily with 1200mg ibuprofen daily reported similar pain reduction in both groups, but the curcumin group experienced significantly less gastrointestinal upset.

A randomized controlled trial reported similar findings. The study found those with OA who took 500mg curcumin capsules three times daily experienced similar pain reduction to those taking 50mg diclofenac (an NSAID) twice daily but with fewer side effects, and also experienced weight loss and anti-ulcer benefits.

Curcumin reduces muscle soreness

Exercise induces a short-term natural inflammatory response that yields health benefits, so some have been concerned about combining turmeric and exercise.

One study addressed these concerns and reported that 1500mg curcumin supplementation daily did not alter the natural post-exercise inflammatory response but did result in less muscle damage and soreness. More research is necessary to confirm these findings and determine if long-term supplementation yields a net-positive benefit for exercisers.

Curcumin improves symptoms of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)

PCOS is a hormone disorder that affects women and is associated with increased levels of male hormones, insulin, blood glucose, weight gain and infertility. A randomized controlled trial found women taking 500mg curcumin three times daily for 12 weeks had improved fasting glucose and hormone levels compared to a placebo.

Turmeric root contains powerful health-promoting benefits compounds called curcuminoids. While turmeric spice is used in many cuisines, turmeric extract or curcumin supplementation is likely necessary to experience improvements in the various ailments and conditions reported in studies. A dose of 1500mg daily, or 500mg divided into three times daily, appears to be a common and effective dose with little to no side effects or adverse events reported.

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