Turmeric is a nutritional supplement that’s one of the most popular supplements at the present moment. For thousands of years, turmeric has been used in India as a spice, which provides curry its distinct yellow color—and (like fenugreek) as an herb for medicine.
6 Potential Benefits of Turmeric
- Relieves Arthritis
- Aids Weight Loss
- Powerful Antioxidant
- Reduces Inflammation
- Decreases Depression
- Reduces Muscle Soreness
High-quality studies back the claim that turmeric is a potent herb, providing evidence that turmeric offers many benefits as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. These studies prove that turmeric contains compounds with potent medicinal properties. These compounds are known as curcuminoids, the most prominent of which is curcumin, turmeric’s principal active ingredient.
Curcumin offers anti-inflammatory properties that are quite powerful, and it’s also a strong antioxidant. However, although curcumin is the main ingredient of turmeric, the curcumin content isn’t that high—at approximately about 3 percent.
As a result, most of the studies conducted on curcumin used turmeric extracts that contained just curcumin itself, and participants took doses higher than 1 gram per day. If you only add turmeric spice to your food, it would be challenging to get this type of dosage. However, if you want the full effects of curcumin, you should take a supplement that offers significant amounts of curcumin.
It should also be noted that the bloodstream does not absorb curcumin very well. Typically, curcumin supplements contain black pepper as an additional ingredient. This is because black pepper contains piperine, a natural substance that enhances the absorption of other compounds. If you consume black pepper, you’ll enhance your body’s absorption of curcumin by as much as 2,000 percent.
Turmeric and Inflammation
Inflammation is very important, as it helps your body fight off foreign invaders and plays an essential role in repairing any damage that occurs in the body.
If you don’t experience inflammation, bacteria and other pathogens could potentially take over and lead to death. Inflammation in the short -term (acute inflammation) is beneficial, but it becomes a problem if you end up experiencing inflammation over the long-term (chronological inflammation).
In the case of chronic inflammation, inflammation inappropriately attacks the natural tissue of your body, not foreign invaders. Scientists believe that low-level chronic inflammation has a major role in many chronic Western diseases. These diseases include various degenerative conditions, Alzheimer’s, metabolic syndrome, cancer, and heart disease. Therefore, any assistance you can get with combating chronic inflammation is important.
Curcumin has strong anti-inflammatory properties. As a matter of fact, curcumin is so powerful that it’s as effective as many anti-inflammatory drugs, without many of the side effects.
Curcumin blocks a molecule that moves to your cells’ nuclei and turns on genes that lead to inflammation. This molecule is NF-kB, and it’s thought to have a central role in various chronic diseases. The key takeaway is that curcumin, as a bioactive substance, fights inflammation on a molecular level.
A Powerful Antioxidant
One of the mechanisms behind a variety of diseases and aging, in general, is oxidative damage. This type of damage involves free radicals, which are molecules that have unpaired electrons and are highly reactive.
Free radicals tend to interact with organic substances such as DNA, protein, and fatty acids that are important for your body. Antioxidants are so beneficial mainly because they protect you from these free radicals. Curcumin has been proven to be a potent antioxidant that can help to neutralize free radicals, due to the way that curcumin is chemically structured.
On top of this, curcumin can provide a boost to the antioxidant enzymes within your body. This is how curcumin can deliver multiple hits to free radicals: it not only blocks these radicals directly, it is also able to stimulate your body’s natural defense against antioxidants.
Turmeric Reduces Muscle Soreness
Muscle soreness is essentially a side effect of putting stress on the muscles during exercise. More specifically referred to as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), muscle soreness appears anywhere from 24 to 72 hours after exercising and is often triggered by exercise.
The micro-tears that happen during this type of training are one of the main culprits of muscle soreness. When trauma occurs to muscle cells, immune cells migrate to the site of injury to initiate the repair cascade, which results in pain and inflammation.
A study looked at the effect of curcumin supplementation on athlete recovery. The study looked at differing doses of a highly bioavailable form of curcumin on muscle damage and recovery by assessing levels of plasma cytokines (IL-6, IL-10, and TNF-alpha), creatine kinase (CK), and perception of muscle soreness at different periods before and after exercise.
Researchers found that participants taking the highest dose of curcumin, 200mg, reported significantly lower levels of muscle soreness and lower levels of creatine kinase.
Similarly, research published in the American Journal of Physiology set out to determine the effect of curcumin on inflammation and performance recovery levels following eccentric exercise-induced muscle damage.
Researchers found that curcumin supplementation offset some of the adverse side effects elicited on running performance. Downhill running caused an increase in inflammatory cytokines, both 24 and 48 hours post-run, and creatine kinase 24 hours following exercise; these effects were blunted by supplementing with curcumin.
The results show that curcumin can help to reduce inflammation and offset some of the deficits associated with high-intensity exercise-induced muscle damage.
Benefits for Females
For female athletes, the menstrual cycle can present as a bit of a challenge during times where training intensity and frequency increase. Aside from the long list of general health benefits associated with turmeric/curcumin supplementation, turmeric also has several unique benefits specific to women.
A study published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine looked at the beneficial effects of curcumin on PMS symptoms. Participants received either a placebo or two curcumin capsules daily for seven days before menstruation and three days after menstruation over three successive cycles.
The severity of symptoms was recorded throughout the study via a daily questionnaire. Researchers found that the group supplementing curcumin showed a reduction in the severity of PMS symptoms, indicating that curcumin may be beneficial for reducing symptoms; this may be attributed to curcumin’s anti-inflammatory effects.
Similarly, in a large-scale study, researchers found a link between inflammatory biomarkers and PMS’s severity, suggesting that acute inflammation could be the underlying cause of symptoms like cramps and bloating.
Results showed a positive correlation between PMS severity and the levels of high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP) in the body. The higher the levels of hs-CRP are, the more PMS symptoms an individual is likely to experience.
As a potent anti-inflammatory agent, turmeric, or curcuminoids in general, it may help reduce circulating CRP levels, thus reducing inflammation and the severity of PMS symptoms.
What’s more, rodent studies show promise for curcumin supplements aiding in weight and fat loss. A study published in 2009 showed that mice regularly given curcumin in their diets exhibited substantially less weight gain than mice not given curcumin.
Researchers concluded that curcumin could decrease the rate of fat cell division, thereby helping to prevent weight gain and obesity. Whether this study applies to humans is yet to be determined.
Turmeric Can Help Fight Cancer
Cancer is a horrible disease because it involves the uncontrolled growth of cells. There are a variety of different types of cancer, yet each type shares certain things in common.
For years, curcumin has been studied as a beneficial herb to the treatment of cancer. It’s been found to impact the spread, development, and growth of cancer cells at the molecular level. Other studies have shown that curcumin contributes to the death of cancerous cells, and reduces the growth of new blood vessels within tumors (known as angiogenesis), as well as the spread of cancer (metastasis).
More than one study has indicated that curcumin affects the growth of cancerous cells in labs and inhibits test animals from growing further tumors. It should be noted that there has yet to be studies done on high dose curcumin supplementation, especially those supplements that contain an ingredient such as piperine to enhance the body’s absorption of curcumin.
However, evidence suggests that curcumin can help prevent the development of cancer—especially digestive cancers such as colorectal cancer. In a study over 30 days that involved 44 men who had lesions in their colons that potentially became cancerous, taking a supplement of 4 grams of curcumin per day reduced the number of lesions by 40 percent.
Perhaps conventional cancer treatment will involve curcumin supplements at some point; while it’s too early to say definitively, this option is being studied intensively and so far looks promising.
Curcumin Reduces Arthritis Symptoms
Many Western countries grapple with arthritis as a widespread problem. There are many different kinds of arthritis, but most of them involve joint inflammation. Since curcumin has potent anti-inflammatory properties, it seems that taking supplements containing this compound may help tackle arthritis.
Luckily, some studies support this idea. In one study that involved participants who had rheumatoid arthritis, curcumin supplements were more effective than traditional anti-inflammatory drugs.
Curcumin to Relieve Depression
Curcumin supplements have some incredible benefits and have shown promise in treating depression. In one controlled trial, 60 people suffering from depression were separated into three groups at random. One of these groups took 1 gram of curcumin, one took Prozac, and one took both curcumin and Prozac.
After six weeks, it was found that curcumin contained similar improvements to Prozac, and the group that took both of these types of medication ended up faring the best. According to this study, curcumin seems to be just as effective as traditional antidepressant medications.
Levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) have also been linked to depression, as well as a reduction to the hippocampus. The hippocampus is an area within the brain that has an important role in learning.
According to some studies, curcumin can potentially reverse some of these changes by boosting your levels of BDNF. There’s also further evidence that curcumin can increase dopamine and serotonin levels, which are neurotransmitters within the brain.
Turmeric’s Effect on Weight Loss
Research has examined the role turmeric may play in weight loss. Studies conducted around test tubes suggest that curcumin may suppress specific inflammatory markers that have an important role in obesity; typically, people who suffer from obesity or excess weight contain many of these markers.
Similarly, studies conducted on animals have indicated that turmeric can enhance sensitivity to the hormone insulin, curb weight regain, reduce fat tissue, and promote weight loss.
On top of this, a study was conducted over 30 days studying 44 participants who hadn’t lost weight. This study found that supplementing twice a day with 800 mg of curcumin, as well as 8 mg of piperine, ended up leading to significant reductions in waist/hip circumference, body mass index (BMI), and body weight.
A meta-analysis of more than 21 studies that reviewed more than 1,600 people found that curcumin reduced waist circumference, BMI, and weight. The meta-analysis also noted that curcumin supplements led to an increase in adiponectin levels—a hormone that helps you regulate metabolism.
More studies on humans need to be conducted before turmeric is officially recommended for weight loss, although research is promising.
Safety and Side Effects
The most common side effects of turmeric include vomiting, nausea, constipation, diarrhea, stomach pain, and allergic reactions. Overall, turmeric is thought to be safe for people in general. However, certain individuals should be careful. If you have the following conditions, you should consult with your doctor before taking turmeric/curcumin supplements.
Iron deficiency; it’s been shown that turmeric supplements might interfere with the absorption of iron.
Diabetes. Turmeric might cause a reduction in levels of blood sugar.
Bleeding disorders; turmeric might slow down your blood’s ability to clot. Since blood can’t clot, this can lead to an increase in problems of the ability to bleed
Kidney stones: turmeric supplements tend to have a high amount of oxalate. This compound can bind with calcium, which may lead to the formation and development of kidney stones.
Gallbladder disease: turmeric may cause a contraction within the gallbladder, which leads to symptoms becoming worse.
Breastfeeding or pregnancy: currently, there is not enough research conducted to fully determine whether supplements containing turmeric are safe for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
On top of all this, turmeric supplements may interact with specific medications negatively. These medications include diabetes medications and blood thinners.
In general, however, turmeric and curcumin supplements are safe within reasonable doses.
Whether you’re purchasing turmeric or curcumin, it’s essential to ensure the product is pure and free of fillers or additives that may cause reactions.
Remember that doses will differ between turmeric and curcumin supplements, as curcumin is significantly more concentrated than turmeric. Supplements are widely available in varying amounts, although the general intake appears to be around 1-3 500 mg capsules per day with or without food.
This may vary, as different clinical trials administer different amounts depending on the condition being treated. Keep in mind that the higher the dose, the higher the risk of adverse side effects.
It’s important to note that a more concentrated form of curcumin may be more effective than turmeric for certain conditions. Long term use of curcumin has shown limited adverse effects but is not recommended.
Effectiveness of Turmeric
Turmeric seems to provide a wide variety of health benefits. Current research shows that taking supplements containing turmeric and curcumin can boost your overall health by increasing antioxidants to promote weight loss to provide anti-inflammatory effects.
If you’re an athlete looking to maximize your physical performance and recovery, turmeric—or the more potent curcumin—supplements are worth consideration.
Turmeric’s powerful antioxidant properties may improve recovery rates and reduce the severity of delayed onset muscle soreness, alongside a host of other issues ranging from depression, inflammation, weight loss, and various chronic diseases.