Turmeric is a root plant native to Asia that has been used for millennia. It’s known by its signature golden hue — what gives curries and mustards their vibrant color.
For centuries this ancient spice has been popular in condiments, cooking, and textile dyes. But turmeric has been used for medicinal purposes for nearly 4,000 years. In traditional Indian Ayurvedic medicine, it’s long been a treatment for health issues like skin conditions, allergies, and joint pain.
Researchers continue to study the potential of these benefits and turmeric’s role in managing or preventing a range of chronic health conditions. While the full extent of the spice’s health effects is yet to be discovered, it’s shown to have high nutritional value and is a healthy addition to any diet.
Over 1 billion people use turmeric daily, and the spice is widely available at supermarkets and health food stores. It’s easy to add to your diet, from rich golden lattes and traditional curries to easy-to-take supplements.
Research has focused on the health effects of curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric and also what gives turmeric its yellow color. Clinical studies have shown that curcumin has anti-inflammatory properties and acts as a powerful antioxidant.
These properties within turmeric can provide health benefits like:
Inflammation is a natural response to stress or infection, but when uncontrolled it can have harmful effects throughout your body, from your gut to your joints. It can also affect the quality of your sleep. One study found that turmeric taken in medicinal doses had a similar effect in reducing inflammation as ibuprofen.
Lower Risk of Chronic Disease
Curcumin seems to increase the levels of antioxidants in your body. Antioxidants help control free radicals that build up in your body in response to environmental and behavioral factors like pollution and cigarette smoke. In excess, free radicals can harm the function of your proteins, fatty tissues, and cell DNA. Over time, this damage is linked to the development of chronic diseases like Alzheimer’s, diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
According to one study lasting one month, Turmeric’s anti-inflammatory properties are also shown to alleviate symptoms caused by chronic pain and osteoarthritis.
Alleviating Symptoms of Depression
While not an alternative to treatments like therapy or medication, clinical trials have shown promising results of turmeric’s effect on easing symptoms of depression and anxiety. The causes of depression are complex, but scientists believe that health issues like inflammation, hypothyroidism, and damage from free radicals can contribute to poor mental health — all of which curcumin has been shown to relieve. Turmeric is also a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are linked to good cognitive health.
Turmeric also works as an antimicrobial. Research shows promise that when applied to the skin, it may help treat a number of skin conditions including acne, eczema, psoriasis, and even signs of aging.
Turmeric’s active ingredient curcumin is an anti-inflammatory. Researchers are looking into its potential role in the prevention of cancer and other diseases as well.
In addition, it’s an excellent source of:
Nutrients per Serving
A 2 teaspoon serving of turmeric (the amount typically added to recipes or drinks) contains:
- Calories: 19
- Protein: 0.6 grams
- Fat: 0.2 grams
- Carbohydrates: 4 grams
- Fiber: 1.4 grams
- Sugar: 0.2 grams
Studies show that turmeric’s good effects are based on the amount of curcumin taken. Scientists advise consuming between 500 and 1,000 milligrams of curcumin a day.
Two teaspoons of fresh turmeric contain around 400 milligrams of curcumin, but this amount can vary depending on the spice’s quality. Supplements are a popular alternative, and provide more accurate amounts of curcumin. When choosing a turmeric supplement, it’s important to go with reliable, doctor-recommended brands.
Turmeric can be a great part of your diet and doesn’t have significant side effects. But in high doses (more than 8 grams or about ½ tablespoon), the curcumin can cause upset stomach, dizziness, and diarrhea.
Turmeric supplements are also not recommended for pregnant women, people who take blood pressure medication, or people who have gallstones or gastrointestinal problems. Talk to your doctor before adding any supplements to your diet.
How to Use Turmeric
On its own, curcumin is often poorly absorbed in the bloodstream. Its health effects are tied to how much is taken and how it’s prepared.
Studies have found that turmeric’s health benefits are enhanced by taking it together with:
- Black pepper: Peperine, the active ingredient in black pepper, increases turmeric absorption by up to 2,000 percent.
- Healthy fats: Turmeric is fat soluble (it dissolves in fat). When it binds to fat, your body absorbs it more slowly, meaning more curcumin makes it into your bloodstream.
- Quercetin: This purple plant pigment found in berries, onions, and grapes (including red wine) is an antioxidant that encourages curcumin absorption.
- Heat: Low levels of heat (less than 15 minutes) can increase the rate of curcumin’s absorption and heighten its effects.
Here are some ways to use turmeric in your diet:
- Add turmeric, black pepper, and a healthy fat like coconut milk or avocado oil to soups and curries
- Heat turmeric in a golden latte or tea with a sprinkle of black pepper
- Blend it into a berry-packed smoothie
- Give your plain white rice a dash of color with subtle flavor
- Mix it into dips and spreads like hummus or cream cheese
- Use it to add color to vegan foods like tofu scrambles and non-dairy cheese
- Add extra nutrition and a hint of flavor to popcorn, breads, stir-fries, and roasted vegetables and nuts