In traditional Chinese medicine and ayurveda (the traditional medicine of India), turmeric (Curcuma longa) has long been used to treat a range of health problems. A key ingredient in curry, turmeric contains curcumin (a compound with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory properties).
Why Do People Use Turmeric for Health?
Health claims for turmeric include treatment of the following conditions:
Turmeric is also used to stimulate digestion, boost liver function, and regulate menstruation. Additionally, some proponents suggest that turmeric can help prevent cancer.
Benefits of Turmeric
While a number of animal-based and test-tube studies have shown that turmeric may offer a host of health benefits, few studies have explored turmeric's effects on human health. Here's a look at some key findings from the available research on turmeric:
Curcumin shows promise as a means of reducing breast cancer risk among women undergoing hormone replacement therapy during menopause, according to an animal study published in 2009. In tests on rats, researchers found that treatment with curcumin inhibited the growth of progestin-accelerated tumors (a common health risk for women receiving combined estrogen and progestin hormone replacement therapy).
If you're considering the use of any natural remedies in combination with hormone replacement therapy, make sure to consult your health-care provider before beginning treatment.
2) Alzheimer's Disease
When paired with vitamin D, curcumin may help protect against Alzheimer's disease. In a 2009 study of nine Alzheimer's patients and four people without the disease, investigators determined that a combination of curcumin and vitamin D may prompt the immune system to clear the brain of amyloid beta (a substance that forms the brain plaques associated with Alzheimer's disease).
Tests on mice indicate that curcumin may help keep blood sugar in check and, in turn, reduce risk of type 2 diabetes. In their 2008 study, scientists also found that turmeric may help tame obesity-related inflammation.
4) Liver Health
In a 2007 study on rats, scientists discovered that curcumin can protect against liver damage. Study results suggest that curcumin can help curb the production of certain proteins known to promote inflammation.
How to Use It
Turmeric is widely available in supplement form. You can also increase your turmeric intake by using curry powder in your cooking.
Since few clinical trials have studied turmeric's health effects, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine cautions against using turmeric to treat any health condition. If you're considering the use of turmeric supplements for health purposes, make sure to consult your physician before starting your supplement regimen.
Learn more about supplement safety.
Although turmeric is generally considered safe, high-doses or long-term use may cause indigestion. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine advises people with gallbladder disease to avoid using turmeric supplements, as they may worsen this condition.
Carroll CE, Benakanakere I, Besch-Williford C, Ellersieck MR, Hyder SM. "Curcumin delays development of medroxyprogesterone acetate-accelerated 7,12-dimethylbenz[a]anthracene-induced mammary tumors." Menopause. 2009 Jul 22.
Masoumi A, Goldenson B, Ghirmai S, Avagyan H, Zaghi J, Abel K, Zheng X, Espinosa-Jeffrey A, Mahanian M, Liu PT, Hewison M, Mizwicki M, Cashman J, Fiala M. "1alpha,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 Interacts with Curcuminoids to Stimulate Amyloid-beta Clearance by Macrophages of Alzheimer's Disease Patients." Journal of Alzheimer's Disease 2009 11.
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. "Turmeric NCCAM Herbs at a Glance." NCCAM Publication No. D367 June 2008.
Reyes-Gordillo K, Segovia J, Shibayama M, Vergara P, Moreno MG, Muriel P. "Curcumin protects against acute liver damage in the rat by inhibiting NF-kappaB, proinflammatory cytokines production and oxidative stress." Biochim Biophys Acta. 2007 1770(6):989-96.
Weisberg SP, Leibel R, Tortoriello DV. "Dietary curcumin significantly improves obesity-associated inflammation and diabetes in mouse models of diabesity." Endocrinology. 2008 149(7):3549-58.