Turmeric is a fiercely-staining yellow spice from India, and has been used there for thousands of years as a spice, as well as for traditional health remedies. Science has now started to realize what Indian healers already knew - that turmeric contains compounds with medicinal properties.
Studies show that turmeric can benefit both your brain and your body, and this is down to its active ingredient, curcumin. This compound is a strong antioxidant and has powerful anti-inflammatory effects. Turmeric also contains volatile oils (tumerone, atlantone, and zingiberone). Here are some of the evidence-based health benefits associated with turmeric and curcumin.
A natural anti-inflammatory
Inflammation that is long-lasting and chronic can play a part in some health conditions and diseases, including cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. (1, 2, 3).
While there’s no simple answer to inflammation, curcumin may well be effective at fighting inflammation. Inflammation is closely linked to tumor promotion as well as other inflammatory diseases, and a 2007 review found that curcumin with its potent anti-inflammatory property is anticipated to exert chemopreventive effects.
Several human and animal studies have explored turmeric’s effect on cancer, and research has shown that it can reduce cancer spread. A study on breast cancer showed that curcumin is a therapeutic and preventive agent in this disease (4). It also contributes to cancer cell death in many other cancers, and helps to reduce some of the bad side effects of chemotherapy like oral swelling and mouth sores. (5, 6).
Curcumin is a strong scavenger of oxygen free radicals, which cause damage to the body. Free radicals and inflammation play a large part in cardiovascular disease, so curcumin can be very useful in preventing heart disease, as well as managing it successfully (7).
Helps protect against cognitive diseases
As we get older, our cognitive function also tends to become impaired, and plaques in the brain start to form. Turmeric may inhibit the formation of these plaques, which are made when a protein called beta-amyloid clumps together and accumulates between brain cells. This protein also appears to reduce brain function by destroying the synapses, which are structures through which nerve cells communicate.
A 2016 review in the British Journal of Nutrition showed that curcumin also possesses neuroprotective and cognitive-enhancing properties. These may help to delay or prevent neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer's disease (8).
May help ease arthritis
Turmeric could help as a treatment for arthritis, and a systematic review and meta-analysis in the Journal of Medicinal Food showed scientific evidence that supports the effectiveness of turmeric extract in arthritis treatment. However, effective doses require around 1000 mg/day of curcumin to be taken (9).
Could support the immune system
Curcumin could help us enhance our antibody responses, which helps us fight off infections. It may also act as an immune modulator, which means it can influence our immune cells like T cells, B cells, macrophages, and neutrophils.
This 2007 study also shows that curcumin's beneficial effects in arthritis, allergy, asthma, atherosclerosis, heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, and cancer might be partly due to its ability to modulate the immune system (10).
May lower cholesterol
Hyperlipidemia is the medical term for high levels of cholesterol and other fats (lipids) in the blood. A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials in the Nutrition Journal shows that turmeric may protect patients at risk of cardiovascular disease through improving blood lipid levels. It also adds that curcumin may be used as a well-tolerated dietary supplement to conventional drugs (11).