By Scott A. Aruti
India is a part of the world that many—if not most—popular spices originate from, what with the nation being the top exporter of ginger, chili pepper, cumin and the topic of this article, turmeric. But what is turmeric? You may not have heard of it. But in fact, if you’ve ever cooked with the world’s three most traded spices of ginger, vanilla and pepper, there’s a good chance you have already experienced a taste of India in your own home. Indian cultures have used herbs and spices for thousands of years in both culinary and health circles. These spices include cardamom and turmeric, cultivated as early as the eighth century BC in the gardens of Babylon.
Often called “the golden spice” or “Indian saffron” in reference to its rich, bracing color, turmeric comes from the turmeric plant that boasts a long history of medicinal use dating back some 4,000 years to India’s Vedic culture. In fact, it brought with it some religious significance before it reached China by 700 AD, East Africa by 900 AD, West Africa by 1200 AD and Jamaica in the 18th century (x). Within the last 25 years, more than 3,000 publications that have been released focusing on turmeric and its importance in modern medicine. This includes vitro studies, animal studies and human studies involving turmeric (x).
Though its main active ingredients (called curcuminoids) are used to color cosmetics and foods because of its yellow-gold hue, turmeric has become somewhat popular as a dietary supplement as it may help with not only arthritis and inflammation, but possibly even stomach, skin, liver and gallbladder issues. It is also important to note that, to date, there is no specific medical evidence of turmeric curing or treating any disease or aforementioned condition.
Given all this, is it possible that turmeric may be right for you?
What is Turmeric?
Turmeric is a part of the Curcuma botanical family, which itself is a member of the ginger sect of herbs, the Zingiberaceae. Its botanical, or scientific, name is Curcuma longa, and it is widely grown as both a kitchen spice and for its medicinal properties.
From a physical breakdown perspective, turmeric’s underground stems (called rhizomes) are dried and made into capsules, tablets, teas or extracts. There is even a powder variant often made into a paste designed to help with skin conditions (x).
Curcumin vs. Turmeric
Curcumin is a chemical produced by Curcuma longa plants that is vivid yellow in appearance. It is the principal curcuminoid of turmeric, often sold as an herbal supplement. But then this begs the question, what is the difference between turmeric and curcumin?
Here’s the primary wedge between them: Curcumin is the naturally-occurring chemical compound found in turmeric, while turmeric is the root of a plant whose scientific name is Curcuma longa.
If you have ever made curry, you’ve most likely used turmeric. In fact, you may have a container of it in your kitchen right now. As with all spices, turmeric is a fusion of chemical compounds, but its bright yellow/gold color comes from the presence of one particular compound: curcumin (x).
Exactly how much curcumin is in turmeric? Turmeric powder contains about 3% curcumin, but when you’re buying something as a supplement, it should contain, at the very least, 150 to 250 mg of curcuminoids per serving to yield real potential (x).
Where Does Turmeric Come from?
Turmeric is native to the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia, though it is widely cultivated in tropical as well as subtropical regions around the world.
With regard to distribution, various species currently utilized and sold as “turmeric” in other parts of Asia may belong to several physically similar taxa, with overlapping local names. There is both linguistic and circumstantial evidence involving the spread and use of turmeric by the Austronesian peoples into Oceania and Madagascar. In particular, populations in Polynesia and Micronesia use turmeric widely for both food and dye (x).
What is Turmeric Used For?
There are some culinary experts who believe that if you’ve never tried putting turmeric in various dishes, you’re missing out—and that’s not just because of its rich, enchanting flavor. While it’s been used in Asia for centuries and its bright hue makes it an ideal dye, did you know that turmeric offers significant medicinal qualities that may potentially help with a wide range of medical conditions?
With regard to traditional medicine, turmeric is considered one of nature’s most powerful healers. The spice’s medicinal properties have been slowly revealing themselves over the centuries, but people have known about its possible anti-inflammatory elements for a very long time. It may also benefit many other different health conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease and possibly even some types of cancer (x). However, turmeric is not a cure for Alzheimer’s, cancer or any other medical condition or a necessarily an alternative to traditional medicine.
In India, an ointment based on the spice’s foundations is often used as an antiseptic, while, in many parts of Asia, “turmeric water” is a cosmetic applied to impart a golden glow to the complexion. Curcumin may also be active against Staphylococcus aureus (pus-producing infections) as well as anemia, diabetes, food poisoning, gallstones, indigestion, IBS, parasites, poor circulation, staph infections and wounds (x).
Traditional Herbal Medicine
Turmeric is a major part of traditional herbal medicine, including in the practices of:
- Ayurveda – In Ayurvedic practices, participants believe turmeric can bring many medicinal properties such as strengthening the overall energy of the body, relieving gas, dispelling worms, improving digestion, regulating menstruation, dissolving gallstones and relieving arthritis.
- Siddha – Those who participate in Siddha systems of medicine know of and use turmeric’s medicinal values of turmeric, as well (x).
- Traditional Chinese Medicine – Turmeric is commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine, believed to treat liver and gallbladder problems, to stop bleeding, to relieve chest congestion and menstrual pain and to address depression (x).
- Austronesian-Speaking Cultures/Unani – Turmeric is also a major part of Unani medicine, a Perso-Arabic system of medicine based on the teachings of the Greek physicians Hippocrates and Galen. It is also based on the rituals of Austronesian peoples, a large population in Taiwan, Malay Peninsula, Southeast Asia, Micronesia, coastal New Guinea, Island Melanesia, Polynesia and Madagascar.
What are the Health Benefits of Turmeric?
Or, to put it a bit differently, why is turmeric good for you?
To begin with, it’s important to understand that curcumin can be credited as the compound responsible for most of the turmeric benefits. As we touched on earlier, curcumin is a natural antioxidant that boasts of possible anti-inflammatory benefits as well as possible benefits related to slowing the aging process and preventing Alzheimer’s disease (and potentially depression).
Let’s now take a deeper look into some of these benefits while crediting some studies that support them.
One of the primary credits turmeric regularly enjoys is its possible anti-inflammatory properties. In fact, according to a past study, curcumin (as the bulk of turmeric’s inflammation-fighting powers) may be a more effective anti-inflammatory treatment (in the proper doses) than common medications like aspirin (x). This is why turmeric is often recommended amongst supplements for inflammation.
Antioxidant-rich spices like turmeric may play a role in protecting you from free radical damage—a class of highly reactive atoms that are generated in our bodies—as well as from environmental pollutants like cigarette smoke and industrial chemicals (x).
According to a new study, consuming curcumin daily may improve memory and mood in people with age-related memory loss. Researchers also suggest that senior citizens in India, where curcumin is a dietary staple, seem to have a lower prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease and better cognitive performance (x).
Remember when your mother told you that you are what you eat? In general, the foods you eat can certainly make a difference in how you feel and in the health of your body overall. Turmeric is one of those elements researchers believe may have an impact on heart health. Studies show that curcumin may serve as a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. Since inflammation is a strong component in so many conditions, especially heart disease, the possible anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin make it an ideal addition to any heart-healthy meal plan (x).
New studies show that turmeric may be an effective method to help address mental health conditions, specifically bipolar depression. According to research, the spice may decrease levels of inflammatory interleukin and tumor necrosis, increase plasma brain-derived neurotrophic factor levels and decrease salivary cortisol concentrations compared with a placebo. These properties combined may play a role in managing depressive symptoms in major depressive disorder (x).
Curcumin’s anti-viral and anti-bacterial activity was recently investigated and studies suggest that it may act against several important human pathogens such as influenza virus, hepatitis C virus, HIV/AIDS and strains of Staphylococcus, Streptococcus and Pseudomonas (x).
How Does Turmeric Work?
Turmeric is popping up everywhere these days—from spicing up stir-fries and smoothies to coloring soups, curries and even teas. It may be beneficial for many facets of your overall health. Turmeric may be much easier on the body than taking an over-the-counter NSAID, which could lead to unwanted side effects such as stomach ulcers and heartburn.
Exactly how does turmeric work when it comes to the human body on a bioactive compound level? Turmeric contains the chemical curcumin. Research suggests that this chemical modulates multiple molecular pathways through several mechanisms, including the induction of apoptosis and oxidative species (ROS). Further, research suggests that it may be a positive attacker against cancer, diabetes, oxidative stress, cardiovascular problems, obesity and aging (x).
Curcuminoids are phenolic compounds commonly used as spices, pigments and additives and they are also utilized as a therapeutic agent in several foods. Over the last century or so, comprehensive research has revealed several important functions of curcuminoids. There are various preclinical cell culture and animal studies suggesting that curcuminoids may possess extensive biological antioxidant, neuroprotective, antitumor, anti-inflammatory, anti-acidogenic and radioprotective activity (x).How does this relate to turmeric? Curcuminoids are natural polyphenol compounds derived from turmeric and curcumin is the principal composition (x).
Why Take Turmeric?
While there is no specific medical evidence that turmeric can successfully cure or treat any disease directly, there are a number of benefits associated with it as a natural or alternative form of medicine.
Capsules, teas, powders and extracts are just some of the turmeric products available on a commercial basis. Yet it’s curcumin, at the heart of and the active ingredient in turmeric, that boasts powerful biological properties. Ayurvedic medicine, a traditional Indian medicinal system, often covets turmeric for a variety of health reasons including its possible ability to help relieve chronic pain and inflammation, while experts in western medicine have begun to study turmeric as a pain reliever and healing agent.
Furthermore, to gain the maximum advantage from curcumin with turmeric, you need to be aware of the best time of day to take turmeric supplements and how much you need to take in order to reap the rewards. We will cover the amount of turmeric to take in the next section, but with regard to when to take turmeric, research suggests that the best time is three or more hours before or after eating a meal—in other words, after fasting (x).
How Much Turmeric to Take
The key, when discussing how much turmeric to take daily, is to understand that this daily dose should be enough to yield significant health benefits to those who remain consistent with the supplement. As always, though, we recommend a doctor’s approval before you dive head-on into trying any new supplements. Additionally, we must stress that supplements do not directly treat any health condition, but aim to improve overall health.
As a dietary supplement, the recommended dosage for turmeric root extract powder is 1,000 mg daily unless a physician instructs otherwise.
What are the Side Effects of Turmeric?
Further, when taken in medical amounts, turmeric is considered likely unsafe to use during pregnancy and if you are breastfeeding you should consult with your doctor before consuming it.
Other Warnings & Precautions
We stress asking a doctor, pharmacist or other healthcare provider if it is safe for you to use turmeric if you have ever had conditions including (x):
- Gallbladder problems
- Iron deficiency
- Bleeding disorders or problems with blood clotting
- Digestive disorders
- Endometriosis or uterine fibroids
- Breast, endometrial or ovarian cancer or other hormone-centric conditions
Although researchers have not identified all of its potential side effects, turmeric is likely safe for most people if you use it as directed for up to eight months. Long-term use may cause more significant side effects. You should stop using this product and call your healthcare provider at once if you experience unusual bruising or uncontrolled bleeding, high blood sugar (including increased thirst, increased and frequent urination, dry mouth, “fruity” smelling breath, headaches or blurred vision).
What Drugs Interact with Turmeric?
According to research conducted by Penn State’s Milton S. Hershey Medical Center (x), turmeric should not be used in medicinal form if the patient is also taking the following medications (without first talking to a healthcare provider):
- Blood-thinning medications
- Drugs that reduce stomach acid
- Drugs for diabetes (i.e. which lower blood sugar)
Where to Buy Turmeric Extract
You can purchase turmeric root extract (95% curcuminoids) in both powder and capsule form at BulkSupplements.com. The company is an industry-leading manufacturer and distributor for pure dietary supplements. BulkSupplements.com is not just a consumer brand. It also supplies pure ingredients to other brands that distribute food and other supplement products. All products at BulkSupplements.com are manufactured and tested according to current and proper manufacturing practices.
Are you interested in trying turmeric as a dietary supplement? Contact BulkSupplements.com to place an order today.
Often called “the golden spice” in reference to its rich, bracing color, turmeric comes from a plant that boasts a long history of medicinal use dating back some 4,000 years to India’s Vedic culture. It brought with it some religious significance before it reached China by 700 AD, East Africa by 900 AD, West Africa by 1200 AD and Jamaica in the 18th century.
Turmeric is a part of the Curcuma botanical family, which itself is a member of the ginger sect of herbs, the Zingiberaceae. Its scientific name is Curcuma longa and it is widely grown as both a kitchen spice and for its medicinal purposes.
Though its main active ingredients (called curcuminoids) are used to color cosmetics and foods due to its yellow-gold hue, turmeric has become somewhat popular as a dietary supplement. Research suggests it may help with arthritis and inflammation, as well as skin, liver and gallbladder issues. Some populations have also turned to turmeric to manage pain. It is generally considered safe as a dietary supplement in safe doses. But like any supplement, it can potentially cause unwanted side effects. Always consult a doctor before adding turmeric or any other supplement to your diet.
The above statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.