Turmeric is a spice that’s more than a little pungent. You’ve probably eaten turmeric with curry or golden milk, but turmeric (and its main active ingredient, curcumin) have many additional benefits for your health.
Turmeric is a yellow spice commonly found in Middle Eastern and Indian cuisines.
It contains an active ingredient called curcumin, which has received a lot of attention for its possible health benefits due to its anti-inflammatory properties.
In this article, we’ll evaluate some of these benefits and help you decide whether you should add turmeric or curcumin to your routine.
What are Turmeric and Curcumin?
Turmeric, or Curcuma longa, is a plant in the ginger family native to Southeast Asia. The root of the turmeric plant is the part used in traditional medicine and cooking.
As a culinary spice, turmeric brings a vibrant yellow-orange color and warm flavor to a variety of foods and beverages.
It’s commonly used in a variety of Asian and Middle Eastern cuisines but has gained worldwide popularity.
Medicinally, turmeric was once used in traditional medicine in India and China but is now increasingly used in modern medicine.
Curcumin is the substance that gives turmeric its familiar yellow-orange color.
Curcumin belongs to a group of polyphenols called curcuminoids. It has been extensively studied for its ability to provide many benefits to the body while reducing oxidative stress.
Many of the benefits of turmeric and curcumin come from anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antimicrobial effects.
May Promote Skin Health
The skin is our body’s largest organ and is often the target of oxidative stress and immune system responses. Curcumin may play a role in treating chronic skin conditions.
Psoriasis is a chronic inflammatory and autoimmune skin disease that causes thick, red, scaly patches of skin.
Curcumin supplementation reduces psoriasis symptoms and improves cholesterol levels in psoriasis patients.
Curcumin also protects the skin from damage caused by UV-B light and increases the production of hyaluronic acid in the skin.
May Promote Gut Microbiome and Gut Health
Curcumin may affect gut health by reducing inflammation-induced gut permeability and improving gut microbiota.
Oral curcumin supplementation reduces bacterial counts associated with systemic disease, research has found. It may also act like a prebiotic to improve the diversity of gut bacteria.
Gut barrier dysfunction can lead to inflammation and the entry of harmful substances from the gut into the body.
This can lead to the onset of chronic disease or increased severity of existing conditions.
May Help Prevent Cancer Progression
Cancer is a disease in which abnormal cells grow uncontrollably and can invade otherwise healthy tissue. Common treatments to stop cancer growth include surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.
Curcumin and curcumin-related derivatives are effective in aiding cancer treatment when used in combination with chemotherapy drugs.
Turmeric’s other active components (called non-curcuminoids) have shown anticancer potential, but more clinical research is needed to confirm their benefits.
May Help Relieve Pain
Two types of anti-inflammatory drugs called corticosteroids (such as prednisone or hydrocortisone) and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (such as Advil or Aleve) help relieve pain by inhibiting the activity of certain enzymes that cause inflammation.
However, some people prefer natural alternatives because these drugs may have long-term side effects such as stomach ulcers, bleeding, gastrointestinal distress, bone fractures, and increased blood pressure.
Curcumin is a natural alternative that works similarly to these pain relievers. It selectively inhibits enzymes that cause inflammation and pain in the body without causing some of the long-term effects of typical painkillers.
In a 2014 observational study, osteoarthritis patients who took curcumin supplements significantly reduced or even stopped their pain medication for 6 months.
Curcumin also has the potential to reduce postoperative pain and inflammation and reduce the use of pain relievers and anti-inflammatory drugs.
May Support Heart Health
Curcumin supports cardiovascular health and is a useful supplement in the prevention and treatment of heart disease.
Supplementation with curcumin may reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack and stroke by reducing the occurrence of blood clot formation.
Curcumin can affect the metabolism of body fat, improve the function of HDL (good cholesterol), and reduce cardiovascular risk.
Animal studies suggest that turmeric and curcumin supplements have the potential as complementary therapies in the treatment of heart failure and in the prevention of diabetic cardiovascular disease.
May Support Joint Health
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. Common symptoms of this condition include pain, stiffness, loss of flexibility, and swelling.
As mentioned earlier, curcumin can help reduce pain and pain relievers in people with osteoarthritis, but these are not the only benefits of curcumin.
Clinical studies have found that curcumin supplementation can also improve physical function, and quality of life, and reduce the activation of inflammatory pathways in the body.
According to a 2016 review and meta-analysis of clinical trials, supplementation with 1,000 mg of turmeric extract or curcumin per day was found to be effective in treating arthritis symptoms.
The meta-analysis in this review had limitations regarding sample size and study quality, so larger and better-designed studies of turmeric’s benefits for arthritis are needed.
May Support Brain Health
Curcumin may be effective in treating neurodegenerative diseases through gut activity and direct activity in the brain.
Gut dysbiosis, or a lack of gut bacterial diversity, is thought to be a factor in Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s diseases. Curcumin may protect brain health by reducing inflammation and free radicals, increasing gut microbial diversity, and increasing the production of protective substances in the gut to balance the gut-brain axis.
For Alzheimer’s disease patients, curcumin and curcumin derivatives may exert effective therapeutic effects by inhibiting the amyloid formation and reducing oxidative stress in the brain.
A recent 2020 study found that curcumin supplementation may affect working memory and mood in older adults.
May Aid Workout Performance and Recovery
Intense exercise can lead to muscle damage and some pain in the recovery period after exercise.
Because curcumin has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, researchers believe it may help speed muscle recovery.
A 2020 review of curcumin for exercise performance and post-exercise recovery showed that curcumin has the ability to improve self-perceived pain, reduce muscle damage, increase antioxidants, and reduce inflammation. However, some of these effects were not consistent across studies.
More research is needed on how best to personalize curcumin supplements to support athletic performance and achieve more consistent results.
May Aid in Diabetes Management
Curcumin is effective in reducing the incidence of diabetes and combating some oxidative damage, inflammation and clinical symptoms of diabetes.
In a 2012 randomized trial, supplementation with 250 mg of curcumin per day for 9 months reduced the incidence of type 2 diabetes in people with prediabetes.
As mentioned earlier, curcumin supplementation may reduce the risk of diabetic cardiovascular disease.