18 Proven Health Benefits of Turmeric & Curcumin

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated - Medically reviewed by Emily Borth(MS, RDN)

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The amazing health benefits of turmeric and curcumin include the ability to reduce inflammation, heal wounds, improve skin health, protect cognitive abilities, and ease menstrual difficulties. Turmeric also helps prevent depression, alleviate pain, slow down aging, protect the digestive tract, and prevent cancer.

What is Turmeric?

Closely related to the other members of the ginger family, turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a perennial herb native to IndiaThe herb itself is derived from the rhizome of the plant, which is dried before the useful powdered form can be acquired. It needs a rather specific temperature and environment to thrive, so it is not widely cultivated throughout the world but is exported due to its desirability. The bright yellow color of this herb, due to the curcumin it contains, is perhaps its most striking characteristic. You’ve certainly seen it, even if you haven’t recognized it, and if you have ever enjoyed Indian food, you have almost certainly consumed it.

Turmeric smells slightly like mustard but has a hot, almost pepper-like bitterness to it that complements a variety of dishes. The herb has also been praised as one of the most comprehensive and powerful herbal medicines in Ayurvedic treatments and other traditional cultural remedies. Curcumin is the most important active ingredient of this “super herb”.

Nutrition Facts

Spices, turmeric, ground
Serving Size :
NutrientValue
Water [g]12.85
Energy [kcal]312
Energy [kJ]1305
Protein [g]9.68
Total lipid (fat) [g]3.25
Ash [g]7.08
Carbohydrate, by difference [g]67.14
Fiber, total dietary [g]22.7
Sugars, total including NLEA [g]3.21
Sucrose [g]2.38
Glucose (dextrose) [g]0.38
Fructose [g]0.45
Calcium, Ca [mg]168
Iron, Fe [mg]55
Magnesium, Mg [mg]208
Phosphorus, P [mg]299
Potassium, K [mg]2080
Sodium, Na [mg]27
Zinc, Zn [mg]4.5
Copper, Cu [mg]1.3
Manganese, Mn [mg]19.8
Selenium, Se [µg]6.2
Vitamin C, total ascorbic acid [mg]0.7
Thiamin [mg]0.06
Riboflavin [mg]0.15
Niacin [mg]1.35
Pantothenic acid [mg]0.54
Vitamin B-6 [mg]0.11
Folate, total [µg]20
Folate, food [µg]20
Folate, DFE [µg]20
Choline, total [mg]49.2
Betaine [mg]9.7
Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol) [mg]4.43
Tocopherol, beta [mg]0.01
Tocopherol, gamma [mg]0.72
Tocotrienol, alpha [mg]0.12
Tocotrienol, gamma [mg]0.05
Vitamin K (phylloquinone) [µg]13.4
Fatty acids, total saturated [g]1.84
8:0 [g]0
10:0 [g]0.85
12:0 [g]0
14:0 [g]0.39
16:0 [g]0.16
17:0 [g]0.34
18:0 [g]0
20:0 [g]0.1
Fatty acids, total monounsaturated [g]0.45
14:1 [g]0.15
17:1 [g]0.16
18:1 [g]0.13
18:1 c [g]0.08
Fatty acids, total polyunsaturated [g]0.76
18:2 [g]0.67
18:3 [g]0.08
18:3 n-3 c,c,c (ALA) [g]0
18:3 n-6 c,c,c [g]0.08
Fatty acids, total trans [g]0.06
Fatty acids, total trans-monoenoic [g]0.06
18:1 t [g]0.06
Tryptophan [g]0.17
Threonine [g]0.33
Isoleucine [g]0.47
Leucine [g]0.81
Lysine [g]0.38
Methionine [g]0.14
Cystine [g]0.15
Phenylalanine [g]0.53
Tyrosine [g]0.32
Valine [g]0.66
Arginine [g]0.54
Histidine [g]0.15
Alanine [g]0.33
Aspartic acid [g]1.86
Glutamic acid [g]1.14
Glycine [g]0.47
Proline [g]0.48
Serine [g]0.28
Sources include : USDA

Nutrition

Turmeric is one of the most nutritionally rich herbs. As per the USDA, it contains some protein, vitamin C, vitamin B6 calcium, iron, dietary fiber, sodium, and about 29 calories in a 1 tablespoon serving of turmeric powder. It also provides a rich supply of potassium, magnesium, and manganese.

Benefits of Turmeric & Curcumin

The top health benefits of turmeric and curcumin include the following:

Anti-inflammatory

Turmeric, due to the presence of curcumin, acts as a potent anti-inflammatory agent, say researchers from the University of Arizona, Tucson, USA. The curcumin in turmeric works by inhibiting several different molecules that play a role in inflammation. In fact, a topical salve made with turmeric can even reduce the inflammation of hemorrhoids.

Skin Care

Turmeric helps keep your skin healthy in many ways.

  • It keeps acne at bay by inhibiting the growth of pimple-causing bacteria and reducing the oil secretion by the sebaceous glands.
  • The constant use of turmeric clears acne scars, which makes your skin flawless and glowing.
  • Its antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties accelerate the healing of a cut and soothe skin irritation.
  • Curcumin present in turmeric is an antioxidant that fights signs of aging like wrinkles and pigmentation by scavenging dangerous free radicals.
Fresh turmeric and a bowl and a spoon with turmeric powder

Turmeric has a plethora of skin benefits. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Rich in Antioxidants

Curcumin present in turmeric is a great antioxidant agent that helps in numerous ways including its many cosmetic and medicinal benefits. It has even shown a protective effect against potential damage caused by exposure to mercury. A study conducted by researchers of the University of Edinburgh, published in the Antioxidants & Redox Signaling journal, highlights the potent antioxidant and oxygen radical scavenging activity of curcumin.

Treatment of Metabolic Syndrome

The golden spice, turmeric, helps reduce percent body fat, fasting blood glucose, total cholesterol, and triglycerides in men with metabolic syndrome.

Also, due to the curcumin, turmeric can be an ideal supplement in the treatment of metabolic syndrome as it lowers LDL (unhealthy) and improves HDL (healthy) cholesterol levels, one of the symptoms of this disease. It is also responsible for suppressing markers of inflammation including serum c-reactive protein levels.

Promotes Liver Health

Turmeric and its active organic compounds have also been found to improve liver function through the stimulation of bile production via the liver and excretion via the gallbladder, which in turn helps with fat digestion. Research published in the journal, Food and Chemical Toxicology, also indicates that turmeric lowers lipid peroxidation through enhancing antioxidant enzymes, thereby helping to protect the liver. According to a 2018 review of research, the antioxidant activities of turmeric can be effective in reducing liver damage and the spice can be included as a complementary treatment for liver ailments such as cirrhosis and fatty liver disease.

Improves Brain Function

In traditional medicine, turmeric was often relied on to boost cognitive abilities, increase concentration, and boost memory retention. Many of those traditional beliefs have now been legitimated through research, and turmeric is still considered a brain-boosting herb today. It can also protect the neural pathways from long-term oxidative stress and the build-up of plaque.

Prevents Blood Clots

Turmeric powder is a very powerful anticoagulant due to the presence of curcumin. Curcumin extends blood clotting times, working to prevent tiny cells called platelets from clumping together when they shouldn’t.

Improves Heart Health

Turmeric rich in curcumin and vitamin B6 boosts your cardiovascular health. Vitamin B6 is a cofactor in the metabolizing of homocysteine, which is a risk factor for coronary heart disease and stroke.

Curcumin also helps balance cholesterol levels by reducing LDL (unhealthy) cholesterol while increasing serum HDL (healthy) cholesterol. This can help prevent atherosclerosis and when combined with stronger blood vessels, the herb represents a promising addition to treatment for a wide range of heart issues.

Anti-cancer Properties

study conducted on mice by the researchers at the Cancer Research Institute, Tata Memorial Center, Mumbai, India documents the potential protective effect of turmeric on stomach and skin cancer. The most extensive research on turmeric’s cancer prevention effects has been in colon cancer, whereas other types of cancer research related to curcumin are currently underway. Additionally, an animal study by Ramadasan Kuttan et al. (Cancer Letters Journal) indicated that the turmeric extract and curcumin inhibited the growth of the tumor. Researchers at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center found that curcumin’s potential ability to kill cancer cells may be helpful in future drug development. Additional studies need to be done to confirm and better understand the health benefits of this spice pertaining to cancer. 

Prevents Alzheimer’s

As a powerful antioxidant herb, turmeric decreases the main chemical responsible for inflammation and therefore may have a role in the prevention and treatment of certain forms of dementia including Alzheimer’s. As per a study by Srikant Mishra from the Department of Neurology, Plummer Street, Sepulveda, CA, curcumin is highly efficient in clearing out the amyloid plaque, which is a major indicator of Alzheimer’s progression. A study also found that turmeric supplements improved mood and cognitive function in healthy adults.

Other Benefits

Other turmeric and curcumin benefits include:

Reduces Pain

In a study published in the journal, Surgical Endoscopy, turmeric was found to improve postoperative pain. There is also evidence showing that turmeric may help relieve the pain associated with osteoarthritis, menstrual cramps, and even dental pain.

Treats Depression

A study by Dr. Yousef Tizabi et al., of Howard University College of Medicine, demonstrates the antidepressant-like effects of curcumin in a rat model. Multiple studies have shown similar results regarding depression, as summarized in a meta-analysis published in the Journal of the American Medical Directors Association.

There is even evidence that curcumin has a similar effect like Prozac on patients suffering from depression, mood swings, anxiety, and stress. This makes it a potentially powerful alternative to pharmaceutical routes, which often have dangerous or addictive side effects.

Delays Aging

The herb’s major component curcumin acts as a powerful with antioxidant, fighting signs of aging like wrinkles and pigmentation by scavenging free radicals and preventing the damage they cause. Curcumin also aids in decreasing age-related disorders like atherosclerosis, according to a study published in Immunity and Ageing.

May Help Prevent Diabetes

Curcumin in turmeric powder helps to lower blood sugar levels in the body and inhibits key enzymes linked to type 2 diabetes.

Treats Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

Turmeric supplement is often recommended for patients suffering from inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and even more serious conditions such as Crohn’s disease.

Treats Gastrointestinal Issues

Turmeric powder has long been used as a stomach soother and is particularly useful in treating constipation, cramping, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The anti-inflammatory activity of curcumin also comes into play here, as it lowers the risk of developing ulcers, bleeding in the bowels, and reduces inflammation throughout the gut.

Treats Menstrual Issues

If you suffer from severe menstrual discomfort, cramping, bloating, excessive bleeding, or mood swings, turmeric may be precisely what you’ve been looking for. The anti-inflammatory and soothing nature of the herb’s natural compounds can relieve some of the pain associated with menstruation.

Treats Cystic Fibrosis

Although this crippling, fatal genetic disease is not discussed as often as cancer or heart disease, this particular condition clogs the lungs and pancreas with thick mucus. The curcumin found in turmeric has been shown to correct the protein-folding mutation that can cause the development of this deadly disease.

Uses

This herb has both culinary as well as traditional cosmetic uses.

Cosmetic Uses

Turmeric juice is perhaps the most common form of the herb in medical use, but it can also be mixed into topical salves and creams. The essential oil of turmeric is also a powerful health agent.

  • Soap: This amazing anti-microbial and antioxidant agent has been used in herbal soaps for wound treatment of HIV patients. Itching symptoms were decreased in patients using this soap.
  • Sunburn treatment: A study conducted on rabbits showed that turmeric had a preventive effect that helped to ameliorate the body’s stress response to damage caused by UV radiation.
  • Wounds: Turmeric is known to reduce inflammation and oxidation associated with wounds helping them heal more quickly. Furthermore it “enhance[s] granulation tissue formation, collagen deposition, tissue remodeling, and wound contraction.”
  • Face mask: Turmeric face masks have been used since ancient times as they improve skin luster and prevent acne. It can be mixed with yogurt, glycerine, honey, aloe vera, or vitamin E.

Culinary Uses

The herb also makes it a popular ingredient in soups, sauces, curries, meat dishes, biscuits, rice preparations, and as a general spice flavoring for dozens of other cultural dishes and specialties.

  • Smoothies: It can be added to smoothies as it gives them a uniquely sweet taste, something similar to pina colada, along with health benefits.
  • Milk: Warm milk mixed with a teaspoon of the herb to enjoy delicious “golden milk.”
  • Tea: Mix 1 teaspoon of turmeric with warm water to make the tea. This tea offers health benefits and also helps in ensuring radiant skin.

Side Effects

Although not commonly considered to be an allergic substance, turmeric can have certain side effects on the body, particularly when consumed in large quantities. These include the following:

In certain cases, excessive amounts of curcumin consumed in a medicinal capacity have caused heart irregularities. Also, it may slow blood clotting by increasing the effects of anti-clotting medicines. Therefore, people on anticoagulant or blood-thinning medication are advised to speak with their doctor before adding turmeric. Always speak to a medical professional before significantly changing your diet or supplement regimen, and remember – everything should be taken in moderation!

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About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer with English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (USA). He co-founded the literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and now serves as the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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