If you’ve ever eaten chicken curry or cooked with curry powder, you’ve likely tasted ground turmeric root or rhizome, a slightly bitter and nutritious spice that doubles as a free radical scavenging herb with active compounds and antioxidant properties that have long been praised in the natural health world.
How It Works
The turmeric root and rhizome contain nutrients and bioactive compounds that are believed to support optimal health. According to Herbal Medicine, the main component of turmeric root is a volatile oil, containing turmerone, in addition to nutritional pigments called curcuminoids.
Curcuminoids are fat-soluble, biologically active pigments found in turmeric. Curcumin (diferuloylmethane), the most bioactive type of curcuminoid, is a bright yellow-orange compound with antioxidant properties. Other curcuminoids found in turmeric include desmethoxycurcumin and bisdemethoxycurcumin.(4)
Curcuminoids are also polyphenols. Polyphenols are active substances found in many medicinal plants. These micronutrients have antioxidant properties that play a role in helping to prevent various diseases associated with oxidative stress by supporting the activity of enzymes and cell receptors. Polyphenols are found naturally in the diet or consumed through dietary supplementation. Their potential health benefits are based on the amount consumed and their bioavailability.(5)
The therapeutic properties of curcumin, specifically, are vast. Curcumin’s antioxidant properties help protect the healthy development of cells and tissues during the normal aging process and help support a healthy immune system. Curcumin also helps maintain histamine levels already in the normal range, promotes the production of cortisone by the adrenal glands, protects the liver from toxins, promotes a healthy response to internal challenges (especially in the cardiovascular system), and slows platelets from forming blood clots, which promotes healthy blood circulation.
Curcumin is also relied upon for its supportive response to occasional pain related to joint swelling and irritation, allowing for temporary ease of mobility and joint comfort during daily tasks and physical activity.(6)
Potential Health Benefits of Turmeric
The University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) reports about studies that have taken place on the potential health benefits of various forms of turmeric. Turmeric root and the rhizome are the most common parts of the plant to be used medicinally. The consensus seems to be that turmeric supplementation may support the health of the following bodily systems:(15)
• Blood Circulation
• Cellular, Skin, and Tissue
• Digestive System
• Immune System
• Respiratory System
Healthy Blood Circulation
The body normally forms blood clots to stop wounds from bleeding. Sometimes blood clots can also be caused by poor diet and poor health, which clogs the arteries and may put people at risk for a stroke or a heart attack. Anticoagulants (also called “blood thinners,” even though they don’t actually make the blood thinner) help to prevent blood clots, supporting blood circulation.(16)
It is believed that curcumin may serve as a natural anticoagulant by hindering platelets from forming blood clots. One study reported that the daily consumption of curcumin and its derivative, bisdemethoxycurcumin (BDMC), helped to maintain anticoagulant status by interrupting the process involved in the formation of blood clots.(17)
Curcumin, the most active antioxidant in turmeric root, has been shown to cross the blood-brain barrier, although there is some confusion as to whether oral supplements or injections work best for this purpose.(18)
Curcumin has also been linked to supporting brain function in a study on aging rats, which found that curcumin supplementation enhanced memory and neuroprotective properties. However, human clinical studies are needed to understand this concept.(19)
Another study suggests that curcumin may help prevent a buildup of protein tangles called Amyloid plaques, which may contribute to age-related brain diseases.(20)
Cellular, Skin, Tissue, and Immune System Health
Many of curcumin’s potential health benefits are attributed to its antioxidant properties. Antioxidants help neutralize free radicals, which are highly reactive molecules with unpaired electrons that can damage DNA, cells, and tissues in the body.
Even though, according to the Pharmacognosy Review, “a balance between free radicals and antioxidants is necessary for proper physiological function if free radicals overwhelm the body’s ability to regulate them, a condition known as oxidative stress ensues. … [But] antioxidants can assist in coping with this oxidative stress.”(21)
Oxidative stress may be caused by exposure to environmental toxins, pollution, a poor diet, lack of sleep, lack of exercise, and other factors, including inflammatory processes in the body. Oxidative stress and chronic inflammation are believed to reduce cellular antioxidant capacity and are deemed a major cause of age-related diseases and cancer, according to the National Institutes of Health.(22)
Oxidative stress in tissue cells may trigger an inflammatory response by the NF-kappa B nuclear signaling pathway.(23) It is believed that curcumin may inhibit the molecules known to play major roles in inflammation, including NF-kappa B, by inhibiting their activation.(24)
Curcumin has also been shown to inhibit an inflammatory response from cytokines, chemokines, adhesion molecules, growth factors, and enzymes, while also promoting the activity of phase II detoxification enzymes.(25)
According to the Journal of Biological Chemistry, “Curcumin has been shown to block many reactions in which NF-kappa B plays a major role. … The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of curcumin have been well documented. How these inhibitory responses are modulated by curcumin is not understood.”(26)
While the specifics are complex, it is believed that curcumin from turmeric helps to block free radicals directly, and then stimulates the body’s own antioxidant enzyme mechanisms to support a healthy immune system by supporting glutamate-cysteine ligase (GCL), the rate-limiting enzyme in the synthesis of glutathione, an antioxidant that helps cells adapt to stress.(27)
A few studies suggest that curcumin may inhibit the growth of tumors in laboratory rats.(28,
) A different study published in the Asian-Australasian Journal of Animal Sciences found that turmeric root powder and mannan-oligosaccharides (MOS) are satisfactory alternatives to antibiotics in broiler chicken feed (the food given to chickens bred for human consumption).(30)
When it comes to human trials, a clinical study on 44 male smokers with lesions in the colon found that the subjects who took 4 grams of curcumin per day for 30 days reduced their number of lesions by 40%.(31)
Digestive System Health
According to Herbal Medicine, turmeric root can be incorporated into meals with rice and beans to support digestion without unwanted side effects such as gas or bloating. It is also considered a cholagogue, stimulating bile production to support the body’s ability to digest fats.
There is some evidence that orally administered curcumin may even help protect intestinal mucosa in the gastrointestinal tract against oxidative DNA damage. However, due to its limited oral bioavailability, curcumin concentrations in plasma or tissue are likely to be much lower than other fat-soluble antioxidants, such as vitamin E.(32)
As the human body ages, it has less function in its vascular endothelium (the lining of blood vessels). When this lining is compromised, it may lead to an inability to regulate blood pressure and increase the risk for cardiovascular disease. Curcumin is believed to support healthy function of the vascular endothelium, which could support heart health.
A study on postmenopausal women found that oral curcumin supplementation, in conjunction with an exercise regimen, helped to improve vascular endothelium function.(33) Another study found that for patients undergoing coronary artery bypass surgery, taking 4 grams of curcumin per day before and after surgery gave the group a 65% decreased risk of experiencing a heart attack.(34)
In a study of patients with an autoimmune disease causing chronic inflammation of the joints and other areas of the body, patients receiving oral supplementation of curcumin (500 mg) and diclofenac sodium (50 mg) – alone or in a combination – reported a reduction in joint tenderness and swelling.(35)
Another clinical study on the bioavailability of curcuminoids investigated the effects of a patented formulation, BCM-95®CG (Biocurcumax™) – a highly-absorbent, synergistic blend of curcumin and turmeric essential oil derived from 100% pure turmeric (with no additional ingredients or cofactors) – on a human volunteer group. The results of the study indicated that the bioavailability of BCM-95®CG was 6.93 higher than normal curcumin formulas, meaning that it was absorbed earlier and retained longer in the body, offering support for temporary pain relief.(36)
Terry Naturally is a popular and trusted brand that produces CuraMed pain reliever products containing BCM-95. You can find the CuraMed product line on Natural Healthy Concepts.(37)
Turmeric can also be used as a poultice (cloth with herbs soaked in hot water) for use as a topical compress to help relieve joint pain or muscle strains.
In a controlled study of 60 patients with symptoms of depression, 1 gram of daily curcumin supplementation led to positive improvements in mood.(38)
A double-blind, placebo-controlled study of healthy adults with a mean age of 68.5 years investigated if oral curcumin supplementation could improve their ability to cope with mental stress. Results showed a significant reduction in mental fatigue and higher levels of calmness and positive mood.(39)
These results may be attributed to curcumin supporting healthy function of the “feel good” brain neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine.(40)For instance, in a study on mice, curcumin produced more serotonin in both the frontal cortex and hippocampus.(41)
In a separate double-blind, placebo-controlled study on 70 women with a variety of physical, mental, and behavioral symptoms during their menstrual cycle, taking 0.2 g of curcumin for 10 days for three consecutive menstrual cycles significantly reduced the severity of their symptoms.(42)
Inhalation of turmeric volatile oil has been found to support respiratory tract health by relieving symptoms such as coughing and excess sputum (saliva and mucus in the respiratory tract as a result of infection) – also sometimes called phlegm.(43)
Turmeric Dosage Recommendations for Adults*
• Cut root: 1.5 to 3 g per day
• Dried, powdered root: 1 to 3 g per day
• Standardized powder (curcumin): 400 to 600 mg, 3 times per day
• Fluid extract (1:1) 30 to 90 drops a day
• Tincture (1:2): 15 to 30 drops, 4 times per day
* According to the UMMC
Turmeric supplements have not been studied in children, so there is no recommended pediatric dose.
The turmeric plant usually only contains about 3% curcumin content, so to get the recommended daily dosage of curcumin, try taking a dietary supplement of turmeric root and rhizome that contains significant amounts of curcumin.