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The compound that makes Indian curry yellow is actually chock full of surprising health benefits. Turmeric and curcumin offer a side effect-free alternative to treating diabetes, skin conditions, high blood pressure — to name just a few.
Now, we know what you might be thinking. What is turmeric? What is curcumin? How are they different?
Trust us, we’ve been there. In order to clear up the confusion, let’s start by addressing both turmeric and curcumin. Then, we can talk about the many health benefits of turmeric.
What is turmeric?
Turmeric is a root, often shaved into a powder. This turmeric powder is a common cooking spice. It is also known as Indian saffron.
The use of turmeric was originally as a dye, then as an Ayurvedic medicine (natively Indian), then as a cooking spice used famously in curry powder.
Turmeric is known as Curcuma longa. This spice is found natively in Southeast Asia, where it enjoys the perfect weather and soil conditions for it to thrive (temperatures between 20° and 30° C).
Nowadays, turmeric is considered as one of the most potent anti-inflammatory agents around, without even considering the other health benefits this root has to offer. (We’ll get to those many other health benefits very shortly.)
As consumers become more aware of harmful chemicals used in the textile branches, turmeric has also seen a revival in its use as a dye.
Turmeric also shows great potential in treating a number of medical conditions:
- Heart disease
- Heart palpitations
- Inflammatory bowel disease (such as ulcerative colitis)
- Chronic inflammation
- Chronic pain
- High blood pressure
- Knee pain
- Erectile dysfunction
What makes turmeric such a powerful agent against these medical conditions? Science has a definitive answer to this question: curcumin.
What is curcumin?
Curcumin is the most prevalent bioactive compound found in turmeric. The terms aren’t interchangeable.
Think of it this way: turmeric is a type of root, while curcumin is a compound found in that root, responsible for most of its beneficial properties.
Curcumin is one of the most potent anti-inflammatory compounds found in nature.
However, curcumin is also part of a larger group called curcuminoids. There are 3 curcuminoids in turmeric:
It’s these curcuminoids that give turmeric its distinct yellow color.
Curcumin accounts for about 5% of turmeric, a significant portion.
When people use the terms “turmeric” and “curcumin” interchangeably, what they mean is that the benefits of curcumin are found in the turmeric root.
Curcumin & Turmeric Health Benefits
Some have nicknamed turmeric the “golden spice”. The list of turmeric health benefits steadily increases with each new clinical trial on turmeric and its most active ingredient, curcumin.
What are the health benefits of turmeric? Here are the most exciting benefits, all backed by science.
1. Turmeric Benefits for Skin
Turmeric is rich in antioxidants that play a crucial role in maintaining proper skin health.
Let’s break down all the different turmeric health benefits for your skin.
Turmeric and Psoriasis
Curcumin can also lower the overall cytokine levels in the body as well. Cytokines are a type of molecules that stimulate the cells to become more inflamed during stress, illness, or other unwanted condition in the body.
In some instances, cytokines can even lead to the development of psoriasis. Curcumin’s ability to lower cytokine count links turmeric to clearing up psoriasis.
Turmeric and Wrinkles
We all wrinkle as we age — whether due to smoking, sunlight exposure, or just the natural reduction in our body’s collagen production. Turmeric, however, offers a novel solution to wrinkles.
According to a 2009 clinical trial, curcumin can stop wrinkles dead in their tracks. This same study showed a decrease in skin aging caused by sun exposure.
They used a turmeric extract on damaged skin and observed some powerful skin benefits:
- Improved skin thickness
- Enhanced skin elasticity
- Proper pigmentation
- Reduced wrinkling
Turmeric for Acne
Turmeric may also treat acne. Something most people faced at one time in their life — skin conditions like acne can be a blotch on your everyday life.
Not only is turmeric a great anti-bacterial, but curcumin’s anti-inflammatory effects are the perfect weapon against the inflammation caused by pimples.
Turmeric for Burns
We’ve talked about how turmeric possesses anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties. It’s these properties that treat burn scars and wounds.
Turmeric’s antioxidant, antimicrobial, astringent, and other useful properties make turmeric a potent healing agent that heals wounds, reduces scarring, and treats burns.
Turmeric and Skin Tone
A systematic review in 2018 showed turmeric reduces hyperpigmentation by 14 percent, in just one month of treatment.
2. Turmeric For Migraines
Six million Americans are affected by migraines. Every 10 seconds, someone visits the emergency room because of a migraine. Fortunately, the effects of turmeric include soothing migraines.
By definition, a migraine is considered moderate to a severe headache which affects either the left or the right side of the head. It is sudden and may even lead to vomiting.
Fortunately, curcumin seems to eliminate migraines — with none of the side effects of the usual medications.
A recent study found the combination of curcumin with omega-3 fatty acids could reduce migraines, more than omega-3 fatty acids alone.
The essential oils extracted from turmeric curcumin possess pain relieving properties. Curcumin’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties act against the inflammatory conditions that produce pain — like from migraines.
Turmeric for Depression and Stress
Both stress and depression show low levels of serotonin in their system. Inversely, curcumin increases your serotonin levels in the brain.
Curcumin also increases dopamine levels. Dopamine is the “motivation” chemical, and low levels of dopamine can lead to depression.
Turmeric and Food Allergens
Migraines can be triggered by food allergens, such as unnatural food additives, that turmeric may be able to fight.
Turmeric had an anti-allergic effect on mice. Not only were food allergens attenuated, dermatitis and asthma were also weakened.
Here is a list of potential food and additive migraine triggers:
- Alcohol, especially red wine
- Tyramine (found in beans)
- Caffeine (found in coffee, chocolate)
- Cheeses and yogurt
- MSG (found in a lot of Chinese food)
- Sodium nitrate (found in processed meats)
- Aspartame (found in diet drinks)
Turmeric and Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)
NSAIDs (Ibuprofen, Aspirin, etc.) are commonly used to treat migraines. However, they often do more harm than good. Turmeric offers many of the same benefits with none of the side effects.
3. Turmeric for Arthritis
The joint pain that arthritis causes can make it difficult for people to walk up stairs, put on socks, or shop at the grocery store. Thankfully, research shows that turmeric may be an effective treatment for osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
No wonder curcumin is such a popular joint pain supplement.
Turmeric and Osteoarthritis
This is the most common form of arthritis. Osteoarthritis is characterized by bone deterioration. Fortunately, turmeric exhibits anti-inflammatory effects on osteoarthritis.
Clinical trials have established curcumin as a safe and effective alternative to osteoarthritis medication. After a month and a half of curcumin supplementation, those dealing with osteoarthritis should experience less pain and improved physical function.
A 2014 study showed curcumin was just as effective as ibuprofen at treating osteoarthritis — but with fewer side effects.
Let’s add osteoarthritis to the growing list of turmeric health benefits.
While osteoarthritis affects the joints and bones, rheumatoid arthritis primarily affects the lining of the joints. No surprise, turmeric can treat this, too.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder your body attacks its own joint cells. This leads to joint pain, swelling, and stiffness — all markers of inflammation.
A 2019 study confirmed curcumin is a viable treatment for rheumatic diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis. These researchers encourage curcumin supplementation to be added to current standard practices.
4. Turmeric and Diabetes
Interestingly, turmeric is able to alleviate the symptoms of type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
Turmeric health benefits even include reducing you likelihood of developing diabetes in the first place.
Type 1 Diabetes vs. Type 2 Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes are two very different conditions that lead to similar symptoms.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease where the body loses its ability to produce insulin.
On the other hand, type 2 diabetes relates to your insulin resistance. Those with type 2 diabetes can make their own insulin, but their bodies aren’t able to use it.
Type 1 and type 2 diabetes exhibit similar symptoms:
- “Fruity” breath
- Blurred vision
- Weight loss
- Digestive system disorders
- Cardiovascular disease
- Nerve damage (neuropathy)
- Kidney damage (nephropathy)
- Eye damage (retinopathy)
Curcumin has proven to be an effective treatment for both types of diabetes. Turmeric can treat both high glucose levels in the blood and the body’s inability to respond to insulin.
Its compounds also reduce oxidative stress. Oxidative stress occurs when free radicals are able to cause oxidative damage to your cells because of an imbalance of antioxidants in your diet. This cell damage can lead to diabetes. And wouldn’t you know — turmeric is an antioxidant.
Helps To Control Glucose Levels In The Blood
Using turmeric to treat high blood sugar levels is nothing new. In fact, Curcuma longa (the Latin term for the curcumin compound) has been used for the treatment of diabetes in Chinese and traditional Ayurvedic medicine.
Curcumin is an alternative to conventional diabetes medicine that is growing in popularity. This is mostly because it’s inexpensive and safe — not to mention effective.
And curcumin straight up lowers blood glucose levels. Making sure turmeric is common in your diet can reduce the symptoms of diabetes, and even prevent diabetes from developing.
5. Turmeric and Cancer
Turmeric shows potential as a novel cancer treatment.
Countries where people eat more curcumin have lower risk of cancer. “More curcumin” equates to consuming between 100 and 200 milligrams of curcumin a day over long stretches of time. (Turmeric is a staple of Southeast Asian diets.)
Curcumin has been tested against several types of cancer cells:
Curcumin is becoming increasingly popular due to its nontoxic nature and fewer side effects when compared to traditional chemotherapy drugs. Even when paired with chemotherapy, the side effects are often lessened.
Researchers isolated curcumin from the turmeric root (Curcuma longa) and closely examined its properties, finding it exhibited significant anti-cancer effects.
Curcumin seemed to halt the signaling pathways which stop cell growth and encourage cell death. It selectively kills tumor cells, but not normal cells!
Again, its anti-inflammatory properties are predicted to be the main reason turmeric is so effective against the risk of cancer.
6. Turmeric and Brain Health
Curcumin is fantastic for your cognitive health. It may even address brain fog. Improved brain function is one of the most important turmeric health benefits.
Curcumin counteracts the aging process in our brains and bodies. But perhaps you’re skeptical. Let’s look at some of the science.
Turmeric and Anxiety
Three in four Americans experience stress or anxiety in their daily lives. Whether it’s the news, your boss, your neighbor, or your doctor — turmeric can lower your stress and anxiety levels.
A 2015 study published in the Chinese Journal of Integrative Medicine looked at the effects of curcumin supplementation on anxiety. And, what do you know, curcumin significantly reduced anxiety.
Curcumin is one of the most popular herbs for natural anxiety relief.
Turmeric and Dementia
Turmeric may be able to curb dementia. Recent research points to turmeric as a novel approach to the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease.
Many Alzheimer’s patients experience daily mental distress, namely anxiety. Studies show turmeric as a promising treatment for the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, especially anxiety.
Turmeric and DHA Levels
Often found in fish, DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is important to an individual’s diet. A deficiency may result in stunted brain development. Thankfully, turmeric is a suitable alternative.
Curcumin elevates DHA levels in the brain and liver tissues. This means improved cognitive function, and decreased the risk of anxiety attacks.
7. Turmeric and Blood Pressure
Does turmeric lower blood pressure? As it turns out, yes. Turmeric and curcumin may help prevent heart diseases, including hypertension.
Curcumin is a potent anti-inflammatory compound that lowers cholesterol. High cholesterol levels would lead to high blood pressure, and potentially other heart problems.
And curcumin has been linked with increased nitric oxide levels. Nitric oxide relaxes blood vessels and alleviates high blood pressure.
Curcumin also protects against unwanted blood clotting.
Your blood needs to clot to prevent internal and external bleeding. However, if you have high blood pressure, you’re at a higher risk of a blood clot forming in your blood vessels, leading to a heart attack or stroke. Curcumin helps prevent this dangerous event from occurring.
8. Turmeric and Erectile Dysfunction
Erectile dysfunction affects millions of men and becomes more prevalent with age. Fortunately, curcumin has emerged as a potential treatment for erectile dysfunction.
In a 2012 study, researchers saw a significant decrease in symptoms of erectile dysfunction when consuming curcumin. Curcumin dissolved into water proved more efficient in treating erectile dysfunction than pure curcumin.
Different researchers used a topical curcumin cream to treat erectile dysfunction in mice. Curcumin’s anti-inflammatory properties are believed to be the reason turmeric can treat erectile dysfunction.
9. Turmeric During Pregnancy
Are turmeric and curcumin safe for women who are expecting? Yes, they are safe — beneficial, in fact.
Supplementing curcumin can reduce the probability of several birth defects in expecting mothers. In recent animal studies, turmeric exhibited anti-inflammatory effects that reduced infant mortality and increased fetal weight, though more research needs to be done to see if these effects extend to humans.
Curcumin protects against the triggers that cause cell death in fetuses and newborns. Curcumin also protects cells from toxins like sodium arsenite, perhaps making morning sickness much less prevalent.
Is Turmeric Safe?
Turmeric curcumin is considered safe when consumed as food, spice, or supplement. Our bodies naturally reject any curcumin that is more than we can handle.
Consumption of high amounts of curcumin has a few rare side effects you should be aware of:
- Stomach cramps
These side effects are usually results of a very large dosage — more than 2,000 milligrams a day.
Also, individuals preparing for surgery should avoid turmeric supplements because they may increase the risk of bleeding.
Turmeric may also have an impact on how the liver processes certain medications. It’s best to consult a professional before taking large doses of turmeric in combination with other medications.
Turmeric supplements can interact with blood thinners. Avoid large doses of curcumin if you’re taking:
- Other NSAIDs
Dosage for Turmeric Supplements
Adults are advised to take 400 to 600 milligrams of turmeric or curcumin supplements, three times a day.
If you’re dealing with turmeric extracts liquid drops, consume 30 to 90 drops, every day.
Dried powdered or dried cut turmeric root should be taken in one to three-gram doses, daily.
Mixing turmeric with black pepper (piperine), coconut oil, fish oil, or extra virgin olive oil is known to significantly increase absorption into your bloodstream – up to seven times its normal bioavailability!
If you mix turmeric with one of those oils into a turmeric tea or smoothie, you can enjoy the turmeric health benefits while pleasing your taste buds.
Always consult your health care provider before starting a dietary supplement. He or she can let you know if turmeric is right for you.
- Found in curry and yellow food dye, turmeric (and its most active ingredient curcumin) is chock full of health benefits.
- Turmeric is great for your skin health, whether you take an oral supplement or apply turmeric directly to your skin.
- Turmeric alleviates migraines. It even prevents migraines by curbing depression and cancelling out food allergens.
- Turmeric is an effective treatment for arthritis because of its anti-inflammatory properties.
- Turmeric prevents diabetes, and treats the symptoms of those who already live with it.
- Turmeric is a novel approach to preventing cancer growth.
- Turmeric health benefits also include brain health. Curcumin is especially good at alleviating anxiety.
- Turmeric can relieve high blood pressure.
- Turmeric may treat erectile dysfunction.
- Turmeric is not only safe for pregnant women, it’s beneficial!