Turmeric or Curcuma Longa L, is an aged old spice that has been used both as a seasoning, imparting distinctive flavours to food worldwide, particularly in Asian cuisine, where it is treasured both as a spice as well as part of traditional medicine for the treatments of wounds, inflammation, pain, digestive disorders among others due to its potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidants properties.
However, most of us are familiar with one of its infamous bi-product – Curry Powder which is usually a combination of spices and herbs such as pepper, cumin, coriander, ginger and of course, turmeric. Nonetheless, while the seasonings in curry may differ as per country or region, the one ingredient that remains constant is that of ‘turmeric.’
Several researches have shown that turmeric along with its bio-active curcuminoid polyphenols could possible benefit many chronic conditions such as arthritis and diabetes. To this extent, this infamous spice is said to be widely used in the Middle East and Asia as well as in many western households due to its purported benefits to human health.
For example, in India, turmeric is often used in curry dishes while in Japan it is widely used for teas and served in drinks in Korea. It is also used in mustard sauces, cheese, butter and chips in the United States. However, in countries like Thailand, China and Malaysia it is often used in cosmetics, as a colorant and as an antiseptic respectively (Gupta et al. 2013). Curcumin, a major compound of the turmeric root, is usually used in capsules, tablets, ointments, energy drink as well as in soaps (Gupta et al. 2013)
However, research has shown that raw turmeric is constrained due to its poor bioavailability when it comes to human consumption. Nonetheless, over the years, many clinical studies have advanced scientists understanding of this famed spice, especially as it relates to ways in which it can be formulated to become more absorbable and thus beneficial to human health. Let’s discuss!
Turmeric is a botanical spice that belongs to the Zingiberaceae family which includes the likes of ginger, cardamom and arrowroot. It is widely used in Asian countries due to its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory (Lestari et al. 2014), antimutagenic, antimicrobial (Mahady et al. 2002; Reddy et al. 2005) and anticancer properties (Vera-Ramirez et al. 2013; Wright et al. 2013).
It has three (3) main curcuminoids namely – curcumin, demethoxycurcumin, and bisdemethoxycurcumin, all these three compounds are collectively known as curcuminoids. Of the three (3), curcumin, which is also called diferuloylmethane is the main natural polyphenol that is found in the rhizome of Curcuma Longa (turmeric) as well as in other Curcuma species (Aggarwal et al. 2003). It is also the most popular and the most researched due to its levels of bioavailability to humans.
Curcumin or diferuloylmethane is that substance that gives curry its ‘yellow’ pigment. Diferuloylmethane makes up sixty (60) to seventy (70) percent of crude turmeric extract and is the main curcuminoid that is investigated due to its health-promoting activities (Nelson et al, 2017). In addition to it potent curcumin contents, turmeric also contains sugars, proteins, resins and volatile oils such as turmerone, atlantone and zingiberene, some of which may be bioavailable to humans (Nelson et al, 2017; Eke-Okoro et al. 2018; et al).
Several pre-clinical investigations have identified many potential health benefits of turmeric. Some of the purported benefits of turmeric include that of helping with heart health, arthritis pain, Alzheimer disease, digestive disorders and metabolic syndrome (MetS) (Singletary, 2015). In fact, report indicates that prior to 2019, over One Hundred and Fifty (150) pre-clinical and clinical reports have been published on the impact of turmeric on both the prevention and treatment of arthritis and type 2 diabetes (Metabolic Syndrome). (Singletary, 2015).
It is also said to help in the management of inflammatory and degenerative eye conditions [Mazzolani and Togni, 2013; Allegri et al. 2010). Turmeric is also shown to benefit the kidneys (Trujillo et al. 2013).
In spite of its purported health benefits, many studies have shown that the small amounts of curcuminoids in turmeric powder are very poorly absorbed by humans. In fact, research shows that curcuminoids from raw turmeric has an exceptionally low absorbable rate which is considered to be about 3% (Qin et al. 2017; Sahebkar, 2014).
Further, the culinary proportion that is added to foods is stated to unlikely provide any meaningful health benefits, especially for conditions such as arthritis and inflammation, which are some of the conditions mostly studied.
Nonetheless, over the years, considerable researches through clinical trials have been exploring many mechanisms that could assist with the delivery of both turmeric and curcuminoids. Some of the methods of delivery tested or observed include that of adding the compound piperine. Piperine is a phytochemical that can enhance intestinal uptake of curcumin among other novel delivery systems (Sanidad et al. 2019; Prasad et al. 2014; et al.).
Piperine is a major active component of black pepper and is said to be able to enhance the bioavailability of turmeric by up to Two Thousand percent (2000%) (Shoba et al. 1998). As such, turmeric poor bioavailability could simple be resolved by adding a little black pepper before consuming its powder or the raw root as well as to ensure that black pepper or some other methods of bioavailability is included into your turmeric related products.
Another method of delivery that has been researched is that of having curcuminoids encapsulated with the essential oils of turmeric, particularly the oil – turmerone which could enhance intestinal permeability. Researchers have observed that both methods, the adding of piperine or turmeric essential oils have shown remarkable improvements in the oral bioavailability in humans (Singletary, 2015).
In this article, we will be exploring Five (5) health benefits of turmeric namely, its effects on arthritis pain, diabetes and oxidative stress, its cardiovascular health benefits, nerve and cognitive function properties and its effects on the management and treatment of infections and parasitic diseases.
You can learn more on how you can add turmeric to your morning routine via this video:
Is there a difference between Turmeric and Curcumin?
Yes! Notably, when it comes to health, turmeric and curcumin are not considered the same even though they are sometimes used interchangeably. Curcumin comes from turmeric. It is the main natural polyphenol that is found in the rhizome of the turmeric plant as well as other curcuma species. It is this extracted compound that gives turmeric root that bright yellow colour as well as what is present in ‘curry powder.’
As such, curcumin is usually that compound that is found in many supplements (capsules or tablets) or turmeric related products such as drinks, cosmetics, ointments etc.
Due to its interchangeable used, there is a constant debate as to which is more beneficial to the body, the whole food (root), powdered versions or its extract – curcumin. Well the research varies, as some researchers believe that the whole food – turmeric is more beneficial as foods eaten in its whole state often have other nutrients that tend to bolster its benefits. On the other hand, some researchers argue that the extract or isolated compound – curcumin, is more beneficial as it may have more potent antioxidant activity.
Nonetheless, I have not seen one definitive answer as to which may be better. Importantly though, one must ensure that whichever form is available to them is ‘absorbable’ by the body. As this is the only way you will reap the nutrients. You can read more on its methods of absorbability throughout the article.
Five (5) Awesome ‘must know’ Health Benefits of Turmeric:
- Alleviation of Arthritis Pain.
- Management of Diabetes and Oxidative Stress.
- Cardiovascular Health.
- Nerves and Cognitive Function.
- Management and treatment of Infections and Parasitic Conditions.
1. Turmeric and Arthritis
According to research, arthritis is a chronic condition that is said to affect over Two Hundred and Fifty (250) million people worldwide (Hunter et al. 2014; Vos et al. 2013). Arthritis affects the joints of the body which then becomes stiff and painful due to inflammation. While several pharmaceutical options exist for the treatment of this condition, researchers have been experimenting with natural ways in which to manage it.
Additionally, over Twenty-one (21) clinical trials have been conducted to investigate the impact of turmeric powder or curcuminoids containing supplements on both the signs and symptoms of arthritis (Singletary, 2015).
Majority of the clinical trials looked at arthritis, especially knee osteoarthritis. Further, many of the patients who participated were female, at least Seventy-five (75) percent and were from countries of the Middle East and Asia. The trial investigated the intensity of the pain as well as the improvements in the patients physical functioning.
The curcuminoids used were administered orally in different dosage formulations (Deodhar et al, 1980; Pinsornsak and Niempoog, 2012; Kuptinratsaikul et al. 2014 and Srivastava et al. 2016; et al.). The curcuminoid formation was primarily turmeric powder or dried organic solvent which were extracted from the powder and which may have contained the volatile oil portion.
The doses administered in most of these studies were 90 mg/day to 1.2 g/day for a two (2) week period. The results showed that the participants experienced significant improvement in arthritic symptoms such as stiffness and walking pain (Deodhar et al. 1980; Kuptniratsaikul et al. 2014). All the studies showed some improvement in the arthritis symptoms of the patients.
Further, according to research, systematic reviews and meta-analysis of particular arthritis trials provided evidence that supported the efficacy of curcuminoids in the treatment of arthritis with far less adverse effects than with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) (Rahimnia et al. 2015; Haroyan et al. 2018; Gaffey et al. 2017; WuJ et al. 2019; et al.).
Nonetheless, due to several limitations, some of the clinical trials have not been implemented. One thing that was clear though, was that curcumin could improve the quality of life of arthritis patients, if it is used in absorbable formats (Singletary, 2015). Therefore, more research is certainly warranted.
2. Turmeric and Diabetes and Oxidative Stress
Several experimental studies on mice suggest that curcumin administered at 80 mg/kg, for say 21 days can alleviate some of the risks factors for diabetes as it is able to reduce blood sugar (hyperglycemia) – (Pari et al. 2008; Aggarwal and Harikumar, 2009). In addition, to a reduction in blood glucose level, studies have shown that curcumin has the potential of increasing plasma insulin levels, prevent diabetic cataracts and renal dysfunction as well as relieve neuropathic pain associated with diabetes (Pari et al. 2008; Chiu et al. 2009).
Further, an alcohol extract of turmeric (1.5g/day) given to pre-diabetic individuals for a period of nine (9) months showed significant reduction in fasting glucose, hemoglobin and insulin resistance compared with controls (Chuengsamarn, 2012). The study also showed that the alcohol extract reduced the prevalence of newly diagnosed type 2 diabetes mellitus.
As such, the research concluded the importance of long term used in the examination of the photo-chemicals of turmeric, especially in the early stages or progression of diabetes. Additionally, a study by (Tariq et al. 2016) also observed improvement in blood lipid profile when turmeric was consumed in a tea format.
Nonetheless, limited evidence has been found in human studies on the efficacy of curcumin. However, in a study from way back as 1972, it was found that curcumin had the potential to alter blood glucose levels in persons suffering from diabetes (Srinivasan, 1972). In addition, a more recent study by (Ushatani et al. 2008) using a formulation of curcuminoids showed a positive effect on blood levels of inflammatory stress biomarkers of individuals with type 2 diabetes.
3. Turmeric and Cardiovascular Health
Studies have shown that curcumin have displayed many cardio-protective properties. This is due in large to its anti-inflammatory properties which is slated could potentially protect cardiac injuries as per several animal studies. According to these studies, curcumin administered intravenously between 70 to 100 umol/kg was observed to protect the heart against damage after a cardiac ischemia and reperfusion (Aggarwal et al. 2009, Srivastava and Mehta , 2009; Ali et al. 2009).
Further, a meta-analysis of seven (7) trials with One Hundred and Thirty (130) patients that exhibited baseline risk factors of cardiovascular disease, showed that turmeric and curcuminoids significantly reduce both low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and Triglycerides’ levels in the blood. However, it did not observed to improve high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or total cholesterol levels. On the other hand, in a study by Sahebkar (2014), it was found that there were no significant effects of curcuminoids on blood lipid parameters.
While several factors could have contributed to the inconsistencies in some of the findings, research suggests that turmeric formulation, dosage, one’s diets, lifestyle and health will dictate the impact of turmeric on one’s overall health. Research also suggests that the impact, significant or otherwise will be dependent on the duration of usage.
Research has shown that long term usage may produce the best results especially when it comes to certain conditions as seen above in the Nine (9) months study by Chuengsamarn, (2012).
4. Turmeric and Nerve and Cognitive Function
Studies have shown that curcumin may be able to lessen the development as well as the progression of Alzheimer disease. This was observed in an in vitro study which showed that the anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin exhibited signs of being able to counteract the degeneration of nerve cells (Aggarwal and Harikumar, 2009; Strimpakos and Sharma, 2008; Ringman et al. 2005; et al.).
Further, in an animal study, it was found that curcumin administered at dosages of 160-5000 ppm was able to suppress the build-up of plaque and other neurodegenerative conditions (Aggarwal and Harikumar, 2009; Strimpakos and Sharma, 2008; Ringman et al. 2005). In addition, several animal studies have shown that curcumin was able to improve memory function and cognition (Ringman et al. 2005; Ahmed and Gilani, 2009; et al.) as well as improve symptoms of dementia (Ringman et al. 2005).
It was also noted to be able to effectively counteract oxidative stress as well as impaired cognition caused by traumatic brain injury (Wu et al, 2006, Sharma et al. 2009).
5. Turmeric and Infections and Parasitic Conditions
Research has been mixed as it relates to curcumin effects in inhibiting microbial and viral infections. This was due to the fact that some research showed it was ineffective in reducing viral loads in individuals with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) even though it was purportedly able to reduce diarrhea cause by HIV (Hsu & Cheng, 2007; Conteas et al. 2009).
However, a study by Agarwal et al. (2008) showed curcumin antibacterial activity in human clinical study of helicobacter pylori as well as its potential to significantly reduce gastric damage caused by the pylori bacterium.
In another study conducted with mice administered with curcumin at 400 mg/kg per day, it was found that curcumin was able to decrease the parasitic burden in the body as well as liver pathology (Allam, 2009). Further, preliminary findings also suggest that curcumin may be beneficial in the prevention and treatment of conditions such as psoriasis Hsu & Cheng, (2007) as well as could be used as a non-toxic agent in the treatment of many types of other skin disorders (Aggarwal et al. 2009; Kurd et al. 2008).
Safety and Side Effects of Turmeric
Turmeric or its essential oils are considered generally safe by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, as per cucuminoids containing products or supplements, no safety limits or precautions have been published by the FDA. As such, it is simply approved by the FDA as ‘Generally Recognized As Safe’ (GRAS) [Gupta et al. 2013] and thus, is said to have a good tolerability profile even at doses up to 8000 mg/day (Basnet & Skalko-Basnet, 2011).
Further, animal studies have shown relatively low toxicity potential of curcuminoids up to 12g/day (Anand et al. 2007; Aggarwal et al. 2007). As such, generally, human intake of up to 8g/day has been touted as tolerable with only minor negative effects such as gastrointestinal distress.
Nonetheless, studies have shown that there are some negative effects of consuming turmeric. This was reported in a study conducted by (Lao et al. 2006) with Seven (7) individuals receiving 500-1200 mg per day. Within Seventy-two (72) hours of consuming the curcumin, the participants reportedly experienced diarrhea, headache, rash and yellow stool.
Negative effects were also reported by participants in another study conducted by (Sharma et al. 2004). In this study, the participants received 0.45 to 3.6 grams of curcumin per day for a duration of One (1) to Four (4) months. The participants reported side effects of nausea, diarrhea as well as increased in serum alkaline phosphatase and lactate dehydrogenase contents.
Alkaline phosphatase is a type of enzyme that is found in the body. Enzymes, in general are proteins which helps with the body’s chemical reactions. Lactate dehydrogenase is also a special type of enzyme that is found in almost all cells of the body and helps the body to produce energy among other critical functions.
There is also the possibility of drug interaction following curcuminoids intake as it can both inhibit as well as enhance the effects of particular drugs in humans as reported by (Eke-Okoro et al. 2018; Jurenka, 2009). As such, as with any herbal supplement, one must seek medical advice before consumption, especially if on medications.
Here is a summary of the Five(5) ‘must know’ health benefits of TURMERIC.
Let’s Sum Up!
The use of turmeric has become an extensively popular due to its many purported potential health benefits which includes its effects on cardiovascular health, diabetes, arthritis pain, and cognitive function as well as the treatment of infections and parasitic conditions, including psoriasis.
Nonetheless, while it is largely touted for its anti-inflammatory properties, research contends that most of the benefits of turmeric may not be experienced due to its low absorption rate by humans.
However, researchers have found ways in which this potent spice can become absorbable by the human body. One such means is that of the addition of the substance – piperine. Piperine is an active compound that is found in black pepper. According to research, adding black pepper to your turmeric dishes can enhance its bioavailability by up to Two Thousand (2000) percent.
While turmeric is largely considered safe, research has shown that intake of up to 1200 mg/day or in some cases even lower can cause digestive discomfort, diarrhea and even headaches. Turmeric may also potentially inhibit as well as enhance the effectiveness of certain medications. As such, it is always best to consult your health care professional before consuming turmeric or its related compounds.
Nonetheless, this little ginger-like spice can be a beneficial addition to one’s diet due to its myriad of potential health benefits, especially those on a health and wellness journey. Turmeric can also be added to one’s diet via many different means including curry dishes, tea, rice and milk among others, the possibilities are endless.
You can find a few of these recipes below to get you on your way. You can also check out our Recipe EBook which contains some of our most popular recipes from the blog, including a turmeric dish.
- Recipe – Turmeric Milk
- Recipe – Turmeric Rice – White Rice with a Nutritional Punch!
- Recipe EBook – Just Say You Saw It On the Blog!
You can also see how you can implement turmeric in the long term in this video:
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