Is Turmeric Good For You? All the Details on This Much-Hyped Spice
Whether it's green powders being praised for their well-being wizardry or weighted hula hoops being touted as the best addition to an ab workout, there always seems to be a new wellness wunderkind stealing the spotlight. But new isn't always better. Sometimes, the items that have been around for centuries are the health heroes you should truly be stocking up on.
Case in point? Turmeric, a golden spice that comes from the root of a plant native to Asia. Not only has the ingredient been used for thousands of years to add color, flavor, and nutrition to foods, but it also has a rich history in Ayurveda as well as other forms of traditional medicine in China and India, according to John Hopkins Medicine. And for good reason: Research has shown turmeric to have a bevy of benefits (e.g. fight inflammation, alleviate pain, support digestion), and the majority (if not all) of these perks are thanks to a compound called curcumin, which, according to the Cleveland Clinic, boasts antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Still, you might be wondering: How powerful can this nutrient — and, in turn, turmeric — be? Keep reading to learn more about the benefits of turmeric and curcumin — plus, how to add it to your diet to best reap the rewards.
Health Benefits of Turmeric
Staves Off Chronic Conditions
Being that curcumin has antioxidant effects, it might not be all that surprising to learn that turmeric can help keep illness at bay. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals, which, in excess, can lead to cell damage and oxidative stress, a major factor in the development of chronic conditions such as heart disease and cancer, according to a 2017 scientific review. What's more, additional research suggests that turmeric's antioxidant effects might also stimulate the action of other antioxidants, thereby furthering the spice's disease-fighting power.
Lowers Risk of Heart Disease
"When it comes to heart health, turmeric protects and improves the lining of the blood vessels," says Vandana Sheth, RDN, registered dietitian nutritionist and author of "My Indian Table: Quick & Tasty Vegetarian Recipes."
In fact, a small 2017 study found that curcumin can improve the function of the endothelium, the lining of your blood vessels. This is important because endothelial dysfunction is a major contributor to heart disease, per the Cleveland Clinic.
"The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits of turmeric also play a positive role in heart health," Sheth adds, since both oxidation and inflammation can play roles in the development of heart disease.
As if it doesn't already do enough, curcumin "may [also] boost levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which promotes the growth of new neurons and fights the effects of aging," Sheth says. Being that many common brain disorders (e.g. Alzheimer's disease) have been linked to decreased levels of BDNF, it's believed that an increase in BDNF — such as that from curcumin — can strengthen your brain's memory and learning abilities. While animal studies have shown curcumin to have this BDNF-boosting effect, more research is needed to truly determine how, if at all, the component can impact memory in humans.
Additionally, a clinical trial from 2018 showed that 90 milligrams of curcumin twice daily for 18 months helped improve memory in adults without dementia. The researchers reason that these results might be due to curcumin's anti-inflammatory properties, which have been shown to offer neuroprotective benefits. And on that note . . .
Is Turmeric Good For Inflammation?
It can be.
ICYMI above, curcumin — and, in turn, turmeric — is a known anti-inflammatory. It lowers the levels of two enzymes in the body that cause inflammation, according to Mount Sinai. What's more, "inflammation is caused by free radical damage in the body, and curcumin has been shown to reduce the overall amount of free radicals," says May Zhu, RDN, LDN, registered dietitian nutritionist and founder of Nutrition Happens.
Because of this, turmeric is often considered a potential treatment for a number of inflammation-related health conditions, most notably arthritis (i.e. joint inflammation). In a 2012 study in particular, found that curcumin was a more effective treatment than an anti-inflammatory drug in people with rheumatoid arthritis. Other research suggests that curcumin can be used as an alternative treatment in patients with knee osteoarthritis thanks to its ability to reduce inflammation and, in doing so, pain.
Turmeric has also been shown to help those with other inflammation-related conditions, such as ulcerative colitis (UC), a type of inflammatory bowel disease. In a 2006 study of patients with UC, those who took 2 grams of curcumin a day — along with prescription meds — were more likely to stay in remission than those who took the Rx alone.
It's important to note, though, that you should consult a doctor before adding turmeric to your routine, especially if you're already undergoing treatment for an inflammatory condition.
How Much Turmeric Should You Take or Eat Daily?
"While there are no official dosing recommendations, research suggests anywhere from 500 milligrams to 2,000 milligrams per day in the extract form for positive health benefits," Sheth says. Keep in mind, though, that the studies are often talking about "the extract form" of turmeric, Sheth notes. For reference, research shows turmeric spice (i.e. the kind you have in your kitchen) "contains about 3 percent curcumin compared to an extract or supplement, which typically contains 95 percent curcumin," she points out.
That being said, a good rule of thumb is that a 1-teaspoon serving turmeric spice will provide 200 milligrams of curcumin, Zhu adds. Still, the amount of turmeric (and, in turn, curcumin) you should consume will also depend on your specific health goals.
Now, if you're someone who tends to have a "more is better" mentality, you're going to want to leave it at the door. Why? Because although turmeric is generally safe to consume, over-consumption of turmeric and curcumin — especially in the form of a supplement — can lead to gastrointestinal issues and, in extreme cases, ulcers, according to Mount Sinai. Too much turmeric "stimulates the stomach to produce more gastric acid," which can lead to nausea and diarrhea, among other GI effects, Zhu explains. Plus, a dosage of curcumin over 2,000 milligrams is typically not recommended "since most of the research lacks the evidence for health benefits above this range," she says. (Need not forget that supplements are also not thoroughly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.)
And while it's always a good idea to talk to your doctor before taking any type of supplement, doing so is especially important before taking turmeric supplements if you have diabetes. That's because turmeric can lower blood sugar levels and potentially lead to hypoglycemia, according to Mount Sinai. You should also consult your doc before adding turmeric to your routine if you're on a blood thinner since the spice can enhance the effect of these meds.
The good news: Most recipes tend to call for 1-2 teaspoons of the spice (not extract or supplement), so the chances of overconsuming turmeric as a spice is low, Zhu says.
How to Add Turmeric to Your Diet
Both experts applaud turmeric as a versatile ingredient that can be used in a variety of recipes. Because it has a "slightly warm and peppery flavor," Zhu recommends using it as a spice on roasted vegetables, rice, soups, and smoothies. (It's even in Bella Hadid's "Kinsicle" smoothie at Erewhon.) You can also use it as a "functional ingredient" in a hot tea, Zhu says.
Regardless of the recipe, it's best to improve turmeric bioavailability, which can be done in a few different ways. For starters, research shows "pairing turmeric with black pepper can enhance curcumin absorption by 2,000 percent," Zhu says. And because it's fat-soluble, it's also a good idea to include turmeric alongside a fat, such as a smoothie with nut butter or roasted veggies with olive oil.