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Published on September 28, 2021

Does Taking Turmeric for Inflammation Work?

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Does Taking Turmeric for Inflammation Work?

The story of turmeric is fascinating and magnificent. While this unique spice is integral in the various indigenous cultures around the globe, the Western world has only recently woken up to its possible health benefits. Suddenly, turmeric is everywhere in our milk, lattes, cereals, supplements, and personal care products.

Turmeric is touted as a natural and healthy remedy for lessening infection, reducing inflammation, and boosting immunity. Is turmeric the magic pill for all of our health problems?

In this article, we focus on turmeric or—as the Western world calls it—curcumin pills and their role as a remedy for inflammation in this article. So, let’s dig in deeper to understand this unique spice, its benefits and risks, and the safest ways to consume it for your health.

Turmeric—More Than a Golden Spice

Here are some quick and interesting facts about turmeric:[1]

  • Turmeric is predominantly grown and used in parts of Asia like India and Central America.
  • It is also known as the Golden Spice or Indian Saffron.
  • Turmeric is a dried rhizome (roots of a flowering plant) remotely related to the ginger family.
  • It has a bitter, pungent taste and a distinctive deep yellow shade.
  • Turmeric is an integral part of many industries, such as health, beauty, pharmaceuticals, food and beverage, and textiles and apparel.
  • Dried turmeric roots are sold commercially as tablets, gels, capsules, powders, teas, and extracts.

Does Turmeric Work as a Health Remedy?

For its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, turmeric is a staple ingredient in some Eastern cuisines and Ayurveda, a traditional Indian medicine system. In the ancient Ayurvedic medicine system, turmeric is used for internal and external inflammation, treating various conditions from chronic pain to rheumatism.

Recent studies in the Western world have explored and studied the anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric as a potential remedy for several conditions. Turmeric’s superpowers come mainly from the polyphenol curcumin, its main active ingredient.[2] Curcumin has natural antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. This is a big deal because inflammation is a contributing factor in several chronic conditions.[3]

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Curcumin targets multiple signaling molecules, blocking and suppressing the activation of the NF-κB (Nuclear Factor Kappa-Light-Chain-Enhancer of Activated B cells) or the target genes responsible for the development and progression of inflammation at the cellular level.[4] This phenomenon could be a reason curcumin plays a beneficial role in several medical conditions.

Turmeric’s potential health benefits include reducing the risk of:

  • Arthritis: Turmeric can reduce symptoms of arthritis, such as joint pain and swelling by blocking inflammatory cytokines and enzymes, as suggested by some studies.[5]
  • Digestion: Turmeric is used in some traditional Eastern cuisines to aid digestion. It can help with various digestive problems, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). However, more research is needed to confirm turmeric’s beneficial role in digestive disorders.[6]
  • Cancer: The anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric may help prevent tumor growth that leads to various cancers and multiple myeloma. However, these research studies are still evolving and not conclusive.[7]
  • Diabetes: Recent studies suggest curcumin can prevent and treat Type 2 diabetes and its associated disorders with its therapeutic properties.[8] However, given the complexity of diabetes, more studies are required to come to a definite conclusion on turmeric’s role in diabetes prevention and management.
  • Lung disease: Some studies suggest that turmeric reduces inflammation, boosts immunity, fights allergies, and improves chronic lung diseases such as asthma. According to a research study, curcumin is a safe add-on therapy in treating lung diseases, but it could interfere with certain medications and treatments.[9] Although the results are encouraging, we need more research to establish curcumin as an effective remedy for bronchial asthma and other chronic lung conditions.

Turmeric may also improve:

  • Brain Health: There are research studies that suggest curcumin can help prevent several conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, depression, brain degeneration, and other age-related conditions.[10] These studies were conducted on small sample size. More research is required on a larger sample size to be conclusive.
  • Skin Health: Turmeric may help prevent and treat several skin conditions because of its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antimicrobial properties.[11] Some skin conditions that it may relieve are acne, psoriasis, and eczema.[12] However, it’s important to be cautious of turmeric as it can be a contact allergen and have adverse effects on your skin.[13] There are reports of contact dermatitis after curcumin application on the skin. Further studies are required to cite turmeric as a remedy for chronic skin conditions. While turmeric can be good for your skin with its antioxidant and anti-inflammation properties, it is also an allergen, and it should be used with caution.

In addition to the above conditions, turmeric can potentially prevent and treat other conditions such as pancreatitis.[14] However, more research is required. Scientists are still figuring out what turmeric can or cannot prevent and treat with its anti-inflammatory properties.

How Turmeric Helps to Fight Inflammation

With its anti-inflammatory properties, turmeric can relieve some symptoms of chronic conditions. Still, it is not a substitute for a healthy lifestyle, comprising diet, nutrition, and your doctor’s prescribed treatment.

There are three challenges to researching the health benefits of turmeric to fight inflammation:[15]

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  1. Curcumin is unstable and changes into other substances easily, making it difficult to attribute the results.
  2. Curcumin products vary in their composition, and thus, the study results may not be consistent and accurate.
  3. Curcumin has therapeutic properties, but it has poor bioavailability, which means when taken orally, not much of it reaches your bloodstream. Pairing turmeric with bioavailability enhancers such as piperine in pepper increases its bioavailability by 2000%. However, more research is required to suggest curcumin as an effective remedy for pro-inflammatory diseases.[16][17]

The increasing use of turmeric as self-medication is based on the misconception that natural means safe. Just because turmeric is natural does not mean it has no side effects or is entirely safe for everyone’s consumption. Caffeine, tobacco, and arsenic are natural, but they can have harmful side effects.

Another major concerning factor is the lack of regulation, transparency, testing, and accountability in traditional medicine systems and commercial supplements. There is no regulation of supplements by the US Food and Drug Administration currently.

Turmeric is certainly not a substitute treatment or cure for chronic conditions like diabetes or cancer.[18] On the contrary, it can be harmful and aggravate your condition based on how much you consume.

Some side effects of turmeric are listed below.

  • Turmeric is high in oxalate, which can bind with calcium and form kidney stones in your body.[19]
  • Turmeric can cleanse your blood and can make you prone to excessive bleeding.[20]
  • Its consumption can interfere with certain medications such as certain blood-thinners and antacids.

People undergoing surgery and those with the following health conditions should use turmeric with caution or avoid it:

  • Liver and gallbladder issues
  • Bleeding disorders
  • Diabetes
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD)
  • Heart arrhythmia

Some curcumin supplements contain a higher dose of curcumin extracts and are not recommended for the following groups.

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  • Pregnant women as it raises the risk of pregnancy-related complications
  • Nursing women[21]
  • People with iron deficiencies because curcumin can reduce iron absorption[22]

Hence, you should practice caution and always consult your primary care doctor first before using turmeric as a remedy for inflammation and chronic conditions.

How to Take Turmeric for Inflammation Safely

Turmeric has been an integral part of so many ancient cultures and medicine systems. There are certain ways to consume it safely for better health.

1. Use Minimally

As a rule of thumb, you should not use more than a pinch of the spice in each dish. The standard recommendation is no more than 8 grams per day.[23] High turmeric consumption can lead to acidity, bloating, nausea, headache, dizziness, rash, diarrhea, and stomach upset.[24] It can also cause further complications in people with diabetes and kidney complications. We also need further research to understand the safety of long-term usage of turmeric.

2. Pair It With Other Foods

Turmeric on its own has poor bioavailability and absorption. You can combine it with other foods such as pepper and ginger to improve its bioavailability. There are several creative ways to pair this spice with other foods in your diet. Consider adding it to powders, smoothies, chutneys, curries, soups, eggs, muffins, rice, meat, seafood, and vegetables.

3. Buy Minimal Quantity

Turmeric can lose its potency if constantly exposed to air. So, it’s a wise practice to shop for turmeric in small amounts and store it in a cool, dark place.

4. Choose Supplements Wisely

Not all turmeric supplements are made the same. Choose those which are manufactured with “phytosome technology” as they have greater absorption compared to the other curcumin extracts and with the USP verified mark.[25] However, since there are no regulations on supplements, you must first talk to your doctor before starting a turmeric supplement and check its interference with your current medications.[26]

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5. Don’t Use Turmeric as a Substitute for Your Doctor’s Medications

The last but most crucial point is that turmeric is not a substitute for your prescribed medications. Turmeric’s therapeutic properties may bring relief to some of the symptoms of your chronic condition, but it cannot entirely manage or cure it.

Does Taking Turmeric for Inflammation Really Work?

Turmeric has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties. Further research and evidence are needed before we can come to a definitive conclusion and recommend it as a potential remedy for inflammation, which, in turn, may lead to chronic conditions.[27][28]

However, when used in the recommended safe quantities, there is no harm in using turmeric to relieve minor conditions such as cold and cough and minor symptoms of chronic disease. If you have chronic conditions, it’s best to check with your doctor first about the recommended usage and its compatibility with your current medications.

More About Turmeric

Featured photo credit: Prachi Palwe via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] NCBI: Curcumin: A Review of Its’ Effects on Human Health
[2] NCBI: Curcumin: A Review of Its’ Effects on Human Health
[3] Harvard Health Publishing: Understanding acute and chronic inflammation
[4] NCBI: Inhibition of the NF-κB signaling pathway by the curcumin analog, 3,5-Bis(2-pyridinylmethylidene)-4-piperidone (EF31): anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties
[5] NCBI: Curcumin: A Review of Its’ Effects on Human Health
[6] NCBI: Therapeutic Roles of Curcumin: Lessons Learned from Clinical Trials
[7] NCBI: Curcumin and Cancer
[8] NCBI: Curcumin and Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: Prevention and Treatment
[9] NCBI: Evaluation of Efficacy of Curcumin as an Add-on Therapy in Patients of Bronchial Asthma
[10] NCBI: Diverse effects of a low dose supplement of lipidated curcumin in healthy middle-aged people
[11] PubMed.gov: Effects of Turmeric (Curcuma longa) on Skin Health: A Systematic Review of the Clinical Evidence
[12] NCBI: Use of Curcumin in Psoriasis
[13] NCBI: Curcumin
[14] NCBI: Curcumin Attenuates Inflammation in a Severe Acute Pancreatitis Animal Model by Regulating TRAF1/ASK1 Signaling
[15] National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: Turmeric
[16] NCBI: Curcumin, Inflammation, and Chronic Diseases: How Are They Linked?
[17] NCBI: Therapeutic Roles of Curcumin: Lessons Learned from Clinical Trials
[18] ACS Publications: The Essential Medicinal Chemistry of Curcumin
[19] PubMed.gov: Effect of cinnamon and turmeric on urinary oxalate excretion, plasma lipids, and plasma glucose in healthy subjects
[20] MayClinic: Primary Care in Rochester and Kasson
[21] NCBI: Turmeric
[22] NCBI: Iron Deficiency Anemia Due to High-dose Turmeric
[23] Mayo Clinic: Mayo Clinic Minute: Are there health benefits to taking turmeric?
[24] NCBI: Curcumin: A Review of Its’ Effects on Human Health
[25] NCBI: Therapeutic Roles of Curcumin: Lessons Learned from Clinical Trials
[26] NCBI: Curcuminoid content and safety-related markers of quality of turmeric dietary supplements sold in an urban retail marketplace in the United States
[27] Mayo Clinic: Primary Care in Rochester and Kasson
[28] National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: Turmeric

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Last Updated on September 21, 2021

6 Health Benefits of Turmeric (And How to Take It for Good)

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6 Health Benefits of Turmeric (And How to Take It for Good)

Turmeric has been hailed as a superfood, and it’s all thanks to its powerful active ingredient—curcumin. Curcumin is what gives turmeric its yellow color, as well as the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects and health benefits of turmeric.

Numerous scientific studies have shown curcumin to have potent anti-inflammatory properties[1], which are similar to pharmaceutical drugs, such as hydrocortisone but without the harmful side-effects.

Turmeric has even been shown to treat arthritis, metabolic syndrome, pain, and even degenerative eye conditions.[2]

Here’s a breakdown of the many health benefits of turmeric.

1. Potent Anti-Inflammatory Effects

One of the most powerful health benefits of turmeric comes from its ability to reduce inflammation in the body. It works by scavenging different forms of free radicals, including both reactive oxygen and nitrogen species.

Curcumin also helps to modulate the activity of your body’s detoxifying enzymes. This plays a major role in reducing inflammation because inflammatory cells “free up” many reactive species at the site of inflammation. This process leads to oxidative stress and, consequently, inflammation.

Curcumin can also increase your body’s levels of antioxidants, as shown by a recent systematic review of taking turmeric supplements that contained purified curcuminoids. It was concluded that curcumin has a powerful effect on all levels of oxidative stress in the body.

Because inflammation is one of the hallmarks of chronic disease, turmeric has important benefits for many people suffering from painful or inflammatory health conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer.[3]

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2. Antifungal and Antimicrobial

Turmeric may be a helpful treatment for fungal or bacterial infections in the body. Studies have shown that curcumin was able to completely inhibit the growth of Candida albicans, as well as several other fungal strains[4].

Curcumin has even been shown to prevent Candida from adhering to human cells more effectively than the commercial antifungal drug fluconazole[5].

In one study, researchers found that using ascorbic acid alongside curcumin potentiated its antifungal effects by up to 10 times. This suggests that taking vitamin C supplements with curcumin may help kill off fungal infections much more quickly.

Turmeric is even being used as a food-safe antibacterial agent thanks to its ability to invade the cell of a bacterial species and eliminate it from within. Applying turmeric formulas to food preparation surfaces such as chopping boards, knives, and countertops has been found to kill harmful bacteria.

3. Relieves Pain Caused by Inflammation

Turmeric’s anti-inflammatory properties may be able to relieve the pain of inflammatory conditions, such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Curcumin works by inhibiting NF-KB, a molecule that controls your body’s production of inflammatory proteins called cytokines[6]. This essentially means that curcumin can “turn off” a bunch of inflammatory molecules.

In fact, the corticosteroids that are often prescribed to treat arthritis symptoms work by inhibiting NF-KB. New research shows that turmeric supplements can have a similar effect. Similar research shows that curcumin may also target specific inflammatory cells and block some types of enzymes that cause inflammation.

Studies involving people with osteoarthritis of the knee found that taking a curcuminoid supplement every day for six weeks resulted in significant reductions in pain. The participants’ physical function also improved greatly. Their systemic oxidative stress was also shown to improve.[7]

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The researchers suggested that this was due to Curcuminoids providing potent local anti-inflammatory effects. It appears that taking standardized turmeric extract over several weeks could be enough to reduce arthritis symptoms of pain and inflammation and may even provide similar relief to ibuprofen and diclofenac sodium.

4. Alleviates Symptoms of Metabolic Syndrome

Curcumin has been shown to help treat the issues associated with metabolic syndrome, including insulin sensitivity, fat accumulation, high blood pressure, inflammation, and oxidative stress. The curcuminoids in turmeric extract have also been found to help reduce triglycerides and bad cholesterol while boosting levels of good cholesterol.[8]

Researchers tested the effects of turmeric by giving a group of patients with metabolic syndrome 1g of turmeric extract (with piperine to aid absorption) for 8 weeks. The patients experienced significant improvement, including reduced overall LDL cholesterol and higher HDL cholesterol. They also showed positive changes in serum lipids and glucose levels, as well as reduced inflammation.

The authors concluded that turmeric was a natural, safe, and effective treatment for improving the health of those with metabolic syndrome, mainly by reducing inflammation and oxidative stress, making this one of the most impressive health benefits of turmeric.[9]

5. Improves Cardiovascular Health

Curcumin may help to reverse many factors involved in the progression of heart disease by improving the lining of blood vessels, known as the endothelium. Endothelial dysfunction is a major driver of heart disease as it’s involved in regulating blood pressure and blood clotting.

Several studies have now indicated that curcumin may be highly beneficial to endothelial function. Some evidence suggests that curcumin supplements may provide similar benefits to the drug Atovastin, while other studies show it may be as effective as exercise. Curcumin also appears to reduce both inflammation and oxidation, which are major drivers of heart disease and dysfunction.

A study involving people undergoing coronary artery bypass surgery found that taking curcumin before and after surgery lowered the risk of experiencing another heart attack by 65%.[10]

6. May Slow the Effects of Aging

Although there is no possible way to stop the body aging, it may be possible to slow down its negative effects. Turmeric’s antioxidant properties may be an important means of reducing the lifelong accumulation of molecular damage and oxidation.

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As a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, curcumin may be able to slow down aging. It boosts the level of antioxidant enzymes in your body while also scavenging free radicals that cause oxidative stress.

It also helps prevent these free radicals from causing lipid peroxidation—the oxidation of fats in the cell membrane, which leads to death of the cell.

How to Take Turmeric

Here are ways you can take this helpful spice to maximize the health benefits of turmeric.

1. Golden Milk

Add coconut milk, almond milk, ground turmeric, ground ginger, a cinnamon stick, coconut oil, black pepper, and a pinch of stevia to a small saucepan.

Whisk to combine all ingredients thoroughly, then place over medium heat. Heat until hot to the touch but not boiling, while stirring continually. This should take about four minutes.

Turn off heat and taste. Adjust flavor if necessary with more turmeric or ginger for greater intensity, or more sweetener.

Serve immediately. This recipe should make enough for two glasses. You can store leftovers in the refrigerator for 2-3 days and reheat on the stovetop.

2. In Your Meals

Turmeric is often added to curry powders for flavor, color, and the many health benefits of turmeric. Here are some examples of tasty recipes that include turmeric:

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  • Vegan Low Carb Eggplant Curry[11]
  • Cauliflower Curry[12]
  • Golden Baked Chicken and Leeks[13]

3. Turmeric Tonic

Add turmeric, ginger, lemon juice, and leftover lemon rind, chosen sweetener, black pepper, and filtered water to a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer (don’t boil!) over medium to medium-high heat for about 3 minutes. Turn off heat and pour the tonic through a small strainer into two mugs.

If the tonic is too strong, dilute with more hot or warm water. It can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2-3 days. Reheat on the stovetop until just warm.

4. Turmeric Supplements

If you wish to take turmeric as a supplement, look for a quality product that includes BioPerine. Bioperine is a compound from black pepper that maximizes the bioavailability of curcumin.

It’s also important to choose a supplement that’s standardized to 95% curcuminoids. This means that it will provide a highly concentrated dose of curcuminoids. Watch out for turmeric supplements that claim to be turmeric extract but only contain a tiny amount of it or you won’t receive all of the health benefits of turmeric.

Final Thoughts

There are numerous health benefits of turmeric, and anyone who wants a healthy diet should consider including it in their meal plan. I hope this article helped you know more about the benefits of turmeric and convince you to try it out, along with the various ways you can take it for a healthier body.

More About Turmeric

Featured photo credit: Diana Polekhina via unsplash.com

Reference