10 Things That Could Happen When You Eat More Turmeric
Turmeric is thought to have anti-inflammatory properties, but do you know which parts of the body it may benefit the most?
What is turmeric?
Turmeric is a spice that contains curcumin—an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound that is thought to be good for your health. Turmeric does seem to have some health benefits (and beauty benefits as well.) It’s important to note that, in general, the spice needs more research and in some cases it’s not clear what specific amounts you need to ingest to gain the health benefits. However, experts and some studies point to turmeric as being a healthy addition to your diet for these reasons.
Turmeric may boost weight loss
The spice may give your weight loss efforts a boost. Research in the European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Studies, Frontiers in Pharmacology, and Endocrine, Metabolic & Immune Disorders Drug Targets link curcumin to weight loss and a reduction in BMI. According to Patricia Bannan, a Los Angeles-based registered dietitian nutritionist and healthy cooking expert: “While increasing your intake of turmeric alone isn’t a great strategy for weight loss, it may help you mitigate the inflammation associated with obesity and give you a slight boost in fat burning.” But Bannan stresses it’s best to get it from foods—eat more curry, for example. If you do supplement, check with your doctor first. (These supplements can interfere with prescription medications, for example.)
If you have arthritis, turmeric may be able to offer you some relief
Curcumin is a polyphenol—a type of antioxidant—that contributes to turmeric’s anti-inflammatory properties. Several studies, including one in the Journal of Medicinal Food, have suggested that curcumin has the ability to reduce pain, stiffness, and swelling in joints afflicted by arthritis. The Arthritis Foundation even suggests that those with arthritis can try capsules of curcumin extract (not whole turmeric, which can be contaminated with lead) at 500 mg, twice a day. However, registered dietitian Jonathan Valdez, owner of Genki Nutrition and spokesperson for New York State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, says that taking more than 500 mg of curcumin may inhibit iron absorption, which is crucial for the production of oxygen-carrying red blood cells. Valdez also warns that if you do supplement, you should take curcumin with black pepper—otherwise your body has a tough time absorbing the substance. The Arthritis Foundation notes that high doses of turmeric/curcumin can cause an upset stomach. They recommend avoiding them if you take blood-thinning drugs like warfarin (Coumadin), are scheduled to have surgery, are pregnant, or have gallbladder disease. (Learn more about taking supplements for joint pain.)
Turmeric may help boost your mood
Curcumin may help fight against inflammation in the body—and inflammation may play a role in depression. A meta-analysis of 10 studies about curcumin and depression published in 2019 in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition suggested that it could improve symptoms of anxiety and depression. Bannan says that most available research indicates curcumin may help reduce symptoms of depression in those who are already using an antidepressant.
Blood sugar too high? Turmeric may help
According to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, over 100 million adults in the United States either have diabetes or prediabetes. Type 2 diabetes, which is due to a combination of genetics and lifestyle factors, accounts for 90 to 95 percent of all diabetes cases. Research on curcumin published in the Journal of Nutrition & Intermediary Metabolism suggests it can work as a hypoglycemic agent—lowering and helping control blood glucose (blood sugar) levels in people with type 2 diabetes. Good blood sugar control can help prevent the serious health complications associated with diabetes, such as neuropathy (damage to the nervous system) and nephropathy (kidney disease).
Bannan says that researchers have suggested that curcumin may also help prevent or delay type 2 diabetes, but that idea is still in the works and needs further research. “More clinical trials with humans are needed for a better understanding of curcumin and turmeric’s effects,” says Bannan. (Here are science-approved ways to control your blood sugar.)
Turmeric may prevent Alzheimer’s
People who live in India have lower rates of Alzheimer’s disease compared to Europe and the United States. The reasons for the disparity are complex, and probably due to a number of different factors. Turmeric is used in Ayurveda, a holistic healing system that originated in India thousands of years ago and is still popular today. And then there’s the prominence of turmeric in Indian cuisine—is it possible that turmeric can help prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s? The jury is still out, but one theory is that curcumin may help inhibit plaques that research has linked to neuron damage in the brain.
However turmeric may help your memory: Valdez says that consuming one gram of turmeric every day may be helpful with memory or cognitive function, especially in individuals who have prediabetes.
Turmeric may have anti-cancer properties
Once again, inflammation plays a role here: Early research on animals suggests there might be a connection between curcumin’s inflammation-calming action and cancer. “Curcumin is thought to have antioxidant properties, which means it may decrease swelling and inflammation,” says Bannan. Although animal studies don’t always translate to humans, research is ongoing for curcumin and its impact on cancer in humans. A 2019 review in Nutrients notes that curcumin seems to have anticancer potential because it interferes with cell-signaling pathways in laboratory-grown cancer cells and is being investigated in a number of clinical trials. The authors note that additional studies and clinical trials are needed. (And they say it can sometimes cause side effects like nausea, diarrhea, headaches, and yellow stool.)
Turmeric may help ease the effects of IBS and colitis
Those who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome continually battle stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhea, and numerous other unpleasant intestinal issues. Turmeric has the potential to alleviate some of this abdominal discomfort, according to a 2018 meta-analysis of research in the Journal of Clinical Medicine. Another study in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology that looked at people taking the drug mesalamine to treat ulcerative colitis suggested that curcumin was better than a placebo to help reduce symptoms. Ulcerative colitis is serious inflammatory bowel disease that causes ulcers in the digestive tract due to an autoimmune reaction.
Turmeric may lower cholesterol levels
Bannan says the effects of turmeric on cholesterol levels are a bit inconsistent. However: “Turmeric seems to lower levels of blood fats called triglycerides,” she says. Triglycerides are a type of a fat that forms in your blood when you eat more calories than you burn. Over time, they can build up and work in tandem with the bad cholesterol called LDL. Together the duo can harden your artery walls, increasing the chance of stroke, heart attack, and cardiovascular disease. Research published in Nutrition Journal found that people who took turmeric and curcumin had lower LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels in comparison to those who did not. Again, this needs further research and analysis, but there is potential.
Turmeric may lower the risk of cardiovascular disease
Cardiovascular disease is the top killer worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. While many factors contribute to stroke and heart disease, one of the most prominent issues is—you guessed it—inflammation. A 2020 study published in Biotechnology Advances suggested that curcumin could be good for preventing or treating cardiovascular disease. Other studies have suggested that the anti-inflammatory action of turmeric may help prevent artery disease. Valdez points out that recent studies suggest curcumin can protect the heart from ischemia—an inadequate blood supply to an organ or part of the body, particularly the muscles within the heart. (Here are even more ways to reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke.)
Turmeric may block dangerous molecules
Curcumin can tame the unstable oxygen molecules known as free radicals—they’re missing an electron, which leads them to damage other molecules in an attempt to replace their electrons, according to research in Nutrients on curcumin and liver disease. Over time, the damage can encourage artery damage, tumor growth, and is the prime cause of aging. Antioxidants—such as curcumin—protect us from free radicals by offering up an electron and neutralizing the dangerous molecule (without becoming a free radical themselves). Next, find out the health secrets your body is trying to tell you.
- Patricia Bannan, MS, RDN, and Los Angeles-based registered dietitian nutritionist and healthy cooking expert
- Arthritis Foundation: "Supplement and Herb Guide for Arthritis Symptoms"
- Jonathan Valdez, RDN, CDN, owner of Genki Nutrition and spokesperson for New York State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
- Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition: "Curcumin for depression: a meta-analysis."
- Centers for Disease Prevention and Control: "New CDC report: More than 100 million Americans have diabetes or prediabetes"
- Centers for Disease Prevention and Control: "National Diabetes Statistics Report 2020"
- Journal of Nutrition & Intermediary Metabolism: "Utility of curcumin for the treatment of diabetes mellitus: Evidence from preclinical and clinical studies"
- CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics: "REVIEW: Curcumin and Alzheimer's Disease"
- Neurology: "Global, regional, and national burden of Alzheimer's disease and other dementias, 1990–2016: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2016"
- Journal of Alzheimer's Disease: "The Mechanisms of Action of Curcumin in Alzheimer's Disease."
- Nutrients: "Curcumin and Cancer"
- Journal of Clinical Medicine: "A Meta-Analysis of the Clinical Use of Curcumin for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)."
- Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology: "Curcumin in Combination With Mesalamine Induces Remission in Patients With Mild-to-Moderate Ulcerative Colitis in a Randomized Controlled Trial"
- Nutrition Journal: "Efficacy and safety of turmeric and curcumin in lowering blood lipid levels in patients with cardiovascular risk factors: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials"
- World Health Organization: "The top 10 causes of death"
- Biotechnology Advances: "Curcumin, the golden spice in treating cardiovascular diseases"
- Nutrients: "Curcumin in Liver Diseases: A Systematic Review of the Cellular Mechanisms of Oxidative Stress and Clinical Perspective"
- European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Studies: "Potential role of bioavailable curcumin in weight loss and omental adipose tissue decrease: preliminary data of a randomized, controlled trial in overweight people with metabolic syndrome. Preliminary study."
- Frontiers in Pharmacology: "The Effects of Curcumin on Weight Loss Among Patients With Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials."
- Endocrine, Metabolic & Immune Disorders Drug Targets: "Adiponectin as a Target in Obesity-related Inflammatory State."
- Journal of Medicinal Food: "Efficacy of Turmeric Extracts and Curcumin for Alleviating the Symptoms of Joint Arthritis: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Clinical Trials."