What are the benefits of Turmeric (Curcumin) as a health substance?
The main reason for turmeric and its derivative curcumin offering a number of benefits in terms of health conditions is because the plant contains powerful bioactive compounds with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
These powerful compounds are known as curcuminoids. Turmeric contains three main curcuminoids, with curcumin being the primary one.
Despite its many health benefits, curcumin is difficult for our digestive tracts to process and as a result, is poorly absorbed by our bodies. As such, natural health practitioners advise that it may be helpful swallow whole peppercorns with a curcumin supplement to enhance its absorption. The hydrochloric acid found in black pepper aids in the digestion of turmeric and other foods as it helps your stomach to break down the protein and fats in food and assist in your body’s detoxification processes.
Curcumin is also fat-soluble, meaning it can be dissolved in fatty foods, because of this, it may be beneficial to eat it with a fattier meal such as something with olive or coconut oil or the fat on meat.
Research that has been conducted suggests that turmeric (curcumin) may be beneficial for the below disorders and conditions …
Turmeric has been identified as potentially effective for the following conditions:
- Osteoarthritis – Osteoarthritis is a form of arthritis that develops when flexible tissue found at the end of the bones begins to wear down. Research has shown that people who take turmeric extract may be able to reduce the pain associated with osteoarthritis and even improve their overall functioning. Turmeric has also been seen to be as effective as ibuprofen (an over-the-counter painkiller)3 when it comes to reducing this pain. However, turmeric does not seem to be as effective and powerful as diclofenac (a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug) in terms of improving functionality and pain in those suffering from osteoarthritis.
- Itching skin (pruritus) – Itching, also known as pruritus, refers to an unpleasant sensation or tingling that provokes the need to scratch the area affected. Turmeric is thought to be effective when taken orally three times a day for a period of eight weeks in relieving the sensation of itching in those suffering from long-term (chronic) kidney disease, this condition is known as chronic kidney disease-associated pruritus (CKD-associated pruritus).
- Uveitis (eye inflammation) – Early research suggests that curcumin may be beneficial in treating uveitis, a condition that involves the inflammation of the iris of the eye. Some evidence suggests that using curcumin may be as effective as the use of corticosteroids, a typical medication that is prescribed for this condition, however, further research is still needed to obtain conclusive results.
- Indigestion/Dyspepsia – Indigestion, also known as dyspepsia or an upset stomach, is a term used to describe the general feeling of pain or discomfort that is experienced in the upper abdomen, usually as a result of the ingestion of a specific substance such as acidic food or drinks or more rarely, an underlying health condition. Curcumin stimulates the gallbladder and causes it to produce bile, some experts believe that this may help in improving digestion. The commission that determines the safety of herbs used by the public in Germany known as the German Commission E, has approved curcumin (turmeric) for the treatment of digestive issues. Turmeric also reduces the symptoms of gas and bloating seen in those suffering from indigestion.
- Ulcerative colitis (UC) - Ulcerative colitis, a chronic condition and the most common form of IBD (inflammatory bowel disease), results in the inflammation of the digestive tract, with the symptoms appearing periodically. The symptoms may re-appear, this is known as a relapse or flare-up, followed by a period of remission where the symptoms seem to disappear, however, the condition still exists in the body during this time.
Some of these symptoms include fatigue, pain, diarrhoea and rectal bleeding.
Some research has shown that those who take curcumin for a period of six months may be able to significantly lower their relapse rate when compared to those taking the conventional forms of medical treatment for the disorder1.
- Acute coronary syndrome: Investigations conducted on humans with acute coronary syndrome2 (a condition caused by a sudden reduction or blockage of the blood flow to the heart), found that ingesting low-dose curcumin showed that participants were able to reduce their total cholesterol levels
- Heart disease – Turmeric may be able to prevent a heart condition known as atherosclerosis, this is characterised by the accumulation of plaque that can block the arteries and result in a stroke or heart attack. In animal studies conducted, turmeric extract was seen to lower bad cholesterol levels due to the herb’s ability to prevent the accumulation of blood platelets, thus, possibly preventing blood clots from forming in the walls of arteries. However, contradictory evidence from further research noted that taking curcumin in a dosage of four grams a day was not able to improve levels of cholesterol.
- High cholesterol – As previously mentioned under the section on heart disease, there has been some research that suggests that taking turmeric extract orally, twice a day for a period of three months may be able to aid in reducing cholesterol. This type of cholesterol is known as LDL (low-density lipoprotein), also referred to as the ‘bad’ type, turmeric may also combat triglycerides (a type of fat found in the blood) in those who are overweight and suffer from high cholesterol.
However, research conducted is inconclusive as a result of contradictory evidence in the findings of various studies. In order for conclusive evidence to be provided, further studies are needed.
- Cancer – There has been a large amount of research conducted on the effect of turmeric and its anti-cancer properties, however, the findings are still preliminary. There has been evidence in animal and test tube studies1 that suggest that curcumin may be helpful in preventing and even treating a number of different types of cancer, these include skin, colon and prostate cancer. The preventive effects of turmeric may be related to the antioxidant properties of the substance, which may prevent cell damage. Bear in mind that this evidence is limited and preliminary and as such, it is not advised that you rely purely on alternative treatment therapies for the treatment of cancer or add these to a treatment protocol without the explicit consent of your treating oncologist.
- Viral and bacterial infections – Some animal and test tube studies suggest that turmeric may be able to kill bacterial and viral infections, however, researchers have noted that these findings cannot guarantee the same effects of turmeric in people.
- Neurogenerative conditions – Because of the powerful anti-inflammatory, circulatory and antioxidant properties of turmeric, some experts believe that the substance may be able to prevent and even treat a few neurogenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), Parkinson’s disease and more. A study conducted in 2008 noted that turmeric, or more specifically, curcumin, may be able to prevent beta-amyloid plaques from forming5. These plaques obstruct brain function and are found in those with Alzheimer’s, however, more research is needed before these findings can be regarded as conclusive.
Despite claims to the contrary, turmeric may be ineffective for the following conditions:
- Stomach ulcers – Some people believe that taking turmeric three times a day for a period of eight weeks may improve the symptoms of a stomach ulcer. Some of these symptoms include indigestion, vomiting, bloating, abdominal pain and heartburn. However, there has been some research that suggests that taking turmeric may not improve all of these symptoms and that it is less effective than the conventional antacids used in the treatment of stomach ulcers1.
- Alzheimer's disease – Some early research suggests that taking turmeric, more specifically, curcumin once a day for six months may not be beneficial for those with Alzheimer’s disease. However, opposing findings1, as mentioned above, have shown curcumin to be effective in possibly keeping the brain cells alive and thus preventing their deterioration that leads to neurogenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Further conclusive research is required for a final verdict to be passed.
1. University of Maryland Medical Centre. 2014. Turmeric. Available: http://www.umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/turmeric [Accessed 03.10.2017]
2. ACS Publications. 2017. The Essential Medicinal Chemistry of Curcumin. Available: http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.jmedchem.6b00975 [Accessed 02.11.2017]
3. NCBI. 2014. Efficacy and safety of Curcuma domestica extracts compared with ibuprofen in patients with knee osteoarthritis: a multicenter study. Available: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24672232 [Accessed 02.11.2017]
5. NCBI. 2008. The effect of curcumin (turmeric) on Alzheimer's disease: An overview. Available: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2781139/ [Accessed 20.10.2017]