Turmeric (turmeric) is a spice but is also used as a dietary supplement. Because the yellowish root has an antioxidant, detoxifying, and anti-inflammatory effect. We present the health-promoting effects and possible uses of turmeric.
Turmeric: Turmeric from the ginger family
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) – also known as turmeric or goldenseal – is a plant from the ginger family. It is originally from India and Southeast Asia. Turmeric requires temperatures between 20 and 30 degrees all year round and sufficient rainfall. The yellowish rhizome (rootstock) of the plant is used.
This rhizome – so one reads again and again – is visually similar to ginger, but this is not really the case. Because the rootstock of the ginger is not only larger and thicker but also beige to light yellow, while the turmeric roots – at least in organic quality – are significantly smaller and narrower and orange-colored.
Turmeric as coloring E100
The turmeric arhizome is available both fresh and dried (ground as a powder or in pieces). Turmeric powder is used, but also the grated fresh root as a spice, sometimes just as a yellow dye (food coloring), which is why turmeric is sometimes referred to as Indian saffron. In the food industry, the dye from turmeric has the E number E100.
The yellow color not only stains food but also hands, kitchen utensils, and textiles, which is why it is better to wear gloves when grating the fresh root and be prepared for the cutting board, etc. to be colored yellow afterward.
The dried pieces of the rhizome can be used – like turmeric powder – for vegetables, soups, and rice dishes or for tea preparation. Turmeric tastes spicy, earthy, and slightly bitter.
Turmeric powder as part of the curry spice
A few years ago, hardly anyone knew about turmeric, in fact, most people didn’t even know that turmeric is an important component of the well-known curry powder and is responsible for its yellowish color. In addition to turmeric, curry powder consists of coriander, fenugreek, black pepper, cumin, and many other spices.
Of course, turmeric is also included in many other spice mixtures, e.g. B. in the fiery Cajun spice from the American southern states or in rice spice mixtures. In the meantime, pure turmeric powder is already being offered in large packs due to the high demand.
The nutritional values of turmeric
The nutritional value of turmeric isn’t really of much interest, as you only consume small amounts of turmeric, so the nutrients you get from it are hardly relevant. For the sake of completeness, you will find the nutrient composition of turmeric powder below (or a selection of some nutrients).
However, two aspects are interesting:
- Turmeric powder provides 2 mg of iron per 5 g, which corresponds to 16 percent of the daily iron requirement (approx. 12.5 mg).
- Turmeric is 10 percent fat, so it itself provides some of the fat that can help absorb its fat-soluble compounds.
Turmeric as a remedy in TCM and Ayurveda
For thousands of years, turmeric has not only been used as a spice but also as a remedy in traditional medicine, such as traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and in Ayurveda. In recent years, numerous studies have also been published that confirm what has long been known in old folk medicine: turmeric has many health-promoting and healing properties and effects.
In most of the studies presented below, however, the isolated active ingredient turmeric – curcumin – was used, not the well-known spice from the dried and ground rootstock.
Curcumin: The active ingredient complex from turmeric
Curcumin is considered the main active ingredient in turmeric root. Curcumin belongs to a group of plant compounds called curcuminoids. Turmeric root contains 3 to 5 percent curcuminoids, most of which are in the form of curcumin.
It is often claimed that curcumin or curcuminoids are so poorly bioavailable that an effect of the same is almost impossible since they are not digestible at all, i.e. cannot be absorbed by the intestine and therefore can hardly get into the bloodstream. Apart from the fact that you can increase the bioavailability of curcumin and curcuminoids with certain tricks, it is quite conceivable that the plant substances also have a healing effect on the intestines and the intestinal flora.
In particular, the plant substances may inhibit inflammatory processes in the intestine and contribute to the regeneration of the intestinal mucosa and intestinal flora. However, the healthier the intestines, the intestinal mucosa, and the intestinal flora are and the better the digestion works, the healthier the person is.
So don’t let the discussion about bioavailability drive you crazy and think that just because the curcuminoids are not fully bioavailable, there can be no healing effect. Many mechanisms of action of natural substances are not yet known and therefore cannot be ruled out.
Effects of Turmeric: Better than Medicines?
Some studies suggest that turmeric could even replace medication in some cases. In our corresponding article (Can turmeric replace medication?), we described that turmeric, for example, has an effect similar to statins (cholesterol-lowering drugs), can work as well as metformin in diabetes, has a blood-thinning effect and could therefore possibly be used instead of blood thinners and also accompanying antidepressants could increase their effectiveness.
We have already described in our article on natural blood thinners that turmeric can improve the flow properties of the blood.
Turmeric inhibits inflammatory processes
One study found that patients who took curcumin for more than 4 weeks experienced falling CRP levels. A high CRP value speaks for chronic inflammatory processes in the body and is considered a harbinger and risk factor for cardiovascular diseases (e.g. arteriosclerosis) and many other chronic diseases.
A study also showed the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of curcumin. 117 participants, all suffering from metabolic syndrome, had taken a supplement containing 1000 mg curcumin plus 10 mg piperine or a placebo supplement daily for 8 weeks. After the test phase, three inflammatory markers improved. The CRP values and also the malondialdehyde values decreased, while the SOD values (a measure of the antioxidative effect) increased.
Another study on inflammation looked at cytokine levels. Cytokines are messenger substances that are released during inflammatory processes and can promote the development of chronic metabolic diseases, especially if a metabolic syndrome already exists (high blood pressure, (precursor) diabetes, obesity, high blood lipid levels). However, when the respective patients took a daily supplement containing 1000 mg of curcumin, the cytokine levels decreased within 8 weeks.
Turmeric has an antioxidant effect
Antioxidant properties also automatically lead to anti-inflammatory effects. A 2015 meta-analysis found that curcumin (taken for more than 6 weeks) could increase the levels of endogenous antioxidants (SOD, glutathione). At the same time, the levels of free radicals in the blood dropped in the participants.
A study was published in 2016 that confirmed the above results. Here, too, the SOD and glutathione levels increased when the subjects – patients with knee osteoarthritis – took a preparation with curcumin (daily 1500 mg (plus 15 mg piperine) divided into three doses) for six weeks. It was concluded that these antioxidant effects may be responsible for curcumin’s pain-relieving and overall healing effects on osteoarthritis.
Turmeric for osteoarthritis
A randomized, double-blind, and placebo-controlled study with 40 subjects suffering from mild to moderate knee osteoarthritis was published in November 2014. To test the pain-relieving effect of turmeric or curcumin, they received a preparation with 1500 mg of curcumin (in three daily doses) or a placebo preparation for six weeks.
At the end of the six weeks, the curcumin group was clearly doing better. Participants had less pain and enjoyed better mobility compared to the placebo group. No side effects were observed.
In 2014, Japanese researchers wrote that highly bioavailable curcumin was able to significantly reduce the need for painkillers in 50 patients who also suffered from knee osteoarthritis in a randomized, double-blind, and placebo-controlled study. The participants had taken a supplement containing 180 mg of water-soluble curcumin daily for 8 weeks.
Turmeric or curcumin is said to be so effective at relieving pain in osteoarthritis that it can even achieve an effect similar to that of a painkiller – as a study from March 2014 showed. In this study, 367 knee osteoarthritis patients received either 1500 mg curcumin or 1200 mg ibuprofen daily for 4 weeks. Significant pain relief was seen in both groups.
However, a year later a study was published in which no improvement was found in knee osteoarthritis patients who took 1500 mg of curcumin daily for six weeks. Curcumin can therefore be tried for osteoarthritis, but curcumin should not be relied upon alone. In the case of arthrosis, it is better to use a comprehensive, holistic concept that can be excellently supplemented by curcumin.
Can you take turmeric for diabetes?
Bring many beneficial effects on diabetes, as you can read in detail in the previous link. The yellow root helps regulate blood sugar, inhibits chronic inflammatory processes (diabetes is considered a chronic inflammatory disease), and reduces the risk of typical diabetes-related complications such as kidney, eye, or nerve diseases.
A September 2018 study aimed to find out how the heart damage of two diabetes drugs (metformin and pioglitazone) could be reduced. The following was found: If curcumin was given together with the diabetes medication, the heart was better protected, so according to this study curcumin was recommended as adjunctive therapy to the usual drug therapy for diabetes (diabetes can contain turmeric).
Turmeric can lower cholesterol levels
On the subject of cholesterol levels, a placebo-controlled study showed that blood lipid levels and cholesterol levels were significantly reduced in 100 participants if they had taken a preparation containing 1000 mg of curcumin (plus piperine in a ratio of 100: 1) daily for 8 weeks. Curcumin can therefore be used to accompany and support therapies aimed at lowering cholesterol.
Turmeric for erectile dysfunction
Initial animal studies showed that curcumin could be used instead of or together with the relevant drugs for erectile dysfunction. However, the dose required for humans for this purpose is not yet known.
Turmeric for the cardiovascular system
Since turmeric – as explained above – lowers cholesterol levels, has an antioxidant effect (thereby reducing the dangerous oxidation of cholesterol), regulates blood lipid levels, helps keep blood sugar in check, thins the blood, and protects blood vessels, all of these factors otherwise reduce the risk of stroke and can increase the risk of heart attack, turmeric definitely helps to protect against these undesirable events.
Of course, the overall way of life and nutrition should also be designed in a correspondingly healthy way. Because turmeric can of course not all the negative effects of obesity, and unhealthy nutrition and compensate for lack of exercise.
Turmeric and Alzheimer’s
A special feature of curcumin is that it can pass the blood-brain barrier and therefore also shows its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects in the brain. It is thus believed that turmeric may protect against neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s or other dementias, which are known to be associated with oxidative stress and inflammatory responses.
A study from April 2018 reviewed the previous study situation and came to the conclusion that curcumin definitely has a certain potential to prevent or at least alleviate the pathological processes that lead to Alzheimer’s, but whether this is sufficient to actually protect against the disease to protect is not yet known.
A Chinese review from the same year, on the other hand, comes to the conclusion that curcumin should be used to prevent and treat Alzheimer’s because the scientific basis is sufficient to assume a protective effect.
Turmeric and Cancer
Turmeric is said to be a cancer inhibitor. On the one hand, it should be able to prevent tumor formation, i.e. have a cancer-preventing effect. On the other hand, one study indicates that turmeric can also have anti-cancer effects on pre-existing breast cancer, preventing it from metastasizing so that cancer does not spread to the lungs.
Turmeric acts as a switch for special transcription factors. These transcription factors regulate all genes that are required for tumor formation. Apparently, turmeric simply switches off the relevant transcription factors, and the growth and spread of the cancer cells are stopped.
Curcumin also has a cancer-inhibiting or cell-protecting effect via another mechanism. According to American scientists, it strengthens the membranes of the body’s cells and thus increases their resistance to pathogens. It is interesting that only the healthy cells are strengthened and stabilized, while the membrane of cancer cells in the relevant studies became even more permeable and lost stability due to the influence of curcumin.
American researchers from Rutgers University in New Jersey reported that the combination of turmeric and vegetables from the cruciferous family (which contain e.g. sulforaphane) had an anti-cancer effect in their study, inhibited prostate cancer growth and was therefore used for treatment and prevention of prostate cancer regularly z. B. Eat cauliflower or broccoli with turmeric.
Turmeric for severe lung diseases such as pulmonary fibrosis
Lung diseases continue to spread. The causes are often unknown, especially when professional and environmental stress (dust, air pollution, chemicals at work, cigarette smoke) and special therapies or medication (chemotherapy and radiotherapy) can be ruled out.
Initial studies (e.g., a 2010 review) tested curcumin in pulmonary fibrosis and lung metastases. Curcumin (in animals) has been found to moderate lung injury and pulmonary fibrosis caused by radiation, chemotherapy drugs, and toxins. However, the cancer cells of the lung metastases were not protected by the curcumin, so the radiation therapy could work even better in the presence of the curcumin.
Various studies also suggest that curcumin generally has a protective function in many other respiratory diseases, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), acute inflammatory pulmonary disease (ALI), and allergic asthma.
The mechanism of action can probably be explained by the strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant potential of curcumin, which can change important inflammatory signaling pathways in such a way that the massive inflammation in the airways is weakened.
How turmeric affects the gut
Also presented in Molecular Nutritional and Food Research, a study found that intestinal inflammation could be completely prevented if the subjects (mice) consumed curcumin five days before the appearance of an intestinal-damaging substance.
The researchers involved confirmed that curcumin exerts this protective effect due to its antioxidant effects. In addition, curcumin is able to suppress the activation of NFkappaB, a cellular regulator molecule. Active NFkappaB is considered critical for the development of inflammation.
It is also known that turmeric has a positive effect on intestinal flora, which in itself has a comprehensive effect on overall health since a healthy intestinal flora is a prerequisite for well-being and healing.
Turmeric for macular degeneration or other eye diseases
According to a February 2018 review, curcumin could delay the development of age-related macular degeneration and in some cases even reverse it. Other eye diseases such as diabetic retinopathy or even retinal cancer (cancer of the retina) could also be treated with the yellow plant substance due to the cancer-inhibiting effect of curcumin.
Turmeric in dental care
In their home countries, turmeric is also regularly used in dentistry. The yellow powder is said to reduce swelling in the mouth, have beneficial effects on oral flora, and even reduce the risk of dental foci.
Since turmeric can also support detoxification, it can also be used as an accompaniment to mercury drainage after amalgam removal.
Turmeric for detox
A 2010 study showed that turmeric can be taken during mercury elimination to aid in detoxification. On the one hand, curcumin reduces the oxidative stress that mercury causes in the body.
On the other hand – according to the study results published in the Journal of Applied Toxicology – the administration of curcumin leads to a reduced concentration of mercury in the tissue and also to improved liver and kidney values, which means that the drainage and detoxification organs are protected.
In an experiment with rats, curcumin showed a protective effect against liver damage caused by mercury.
Turmeric for bile and digestion
Almost the best-known and traditionally most common use of turmeric is for digestive problems, especially when they occur after eating high-fat foods, such as bloating, gas, and nausea. Because turmeric is considered digestive. The root stimulates the formation of digestive juices and the flow of bile, thus improving digestion, especially that of dietary fats.
In the case of so-called biliary dyskinesia, high-fat meals can even lead to colicky pain, which can be avoided with the help of the digestive effect of turmeric. Biliary dyskinesia is a functional disorder of the gallbladder and bile ducts. Functional means that there is no organic cause, e.g. B. a narrowing of the bile ducts or gallstones.
In this case, the flow of bile from the gallbladder and bile ducts is disturbed and slows down. Regular consumption of turmeric can stimulate the biliary system, speed up the flow of bile and improve fat digestion. Turmeric is therefore also a natural means of preventing gallstones. Because gallstones tend to form when the flow of bile comes to a standstill.
As a daily dose for the treatment of digestive problems, 3 g turmeric root (fresh or dried) is recommended in phytotherapy (even by the WHO), as Professor Dr. Sigrun Chrubasik-Hausmann from the University of Freiburg writes in her work on turmeric.
However, you should also make sure that you spread the amount of fat you consume over several portions throughout the day, i.e. do not eat a very greasy meal all at once, which would further overwhelm a weakened bile system. Also, choose high-quality sources of fat.
Turmeric side effects and contraindications
Even in very high doses, there are no side effects after taking turmeric. Regarding pure curcumin, many studies have been done with daily dosages of 1500 mg. No side effects were observed here either.
A 2018 review confirms curcumin’s safety. Not even in a dose of 6 grams per day for 4 to 7 weeks did curcumin trigger any undesirable side effects – apart from occasional gastrointestinal complaints.
For more risks and possible side effects of turmeric, see our article on using turmeric for diabetes, e.g. B. also that it could increase the effect of some medication (e.g. diabetes medication, blood thinners, etc.) and that it is, therefore, best to use turmeric or curcumin therapeutically if you have a chronic disease or if you have to take medication discussed with the doctor or naturopath.
There have not yet been many studies on curcumin in nano preparation (micellar curcumin). Initial research indicates that taking 500 mg twice a day for 30 days is safe.
It is often warned against taking turmeric in the presence of gallstones. This applies to high-dose curcumin preparations. Seasoning with turmeric is also allowed if you have gallstones.
Turmeric can also be taken during pregnancy
Food and drinks seasoned with turmeric can also be enjoyed during pregnancy. How isolated and high-dose curcumin affects pregnant women is not known due to a lack of relevant studies. So far, there have been no problems with curcumin intake in pregnant animals.
These dietary supplements are available with turmeric or curcumin
Turmeric is now also available as a dietary supplement in capsule form. The capsules can either contain turmeric powder or an extract that contains particularly high amounts of curcumin, the main active ingredient in turmeric. The capsules are available with black pepper or with black pepper extract (piperine). Pepper or piperine is added at a rate of 1 percent to increase the bioavailability of curcumin by about 20 times.
So-called micellar curcumin is also available, a dietary supplement for which curcumin, which is actually fat-soluble, was made water-soluble. The bioavailability is said to be many times higher than that of “normal” curcumin or turmeric.
However, a higher bioavailability does not automatically mean a better effect. Micellar products also always contain questionable additives, so that we would not currently advise them – and if so, only for short-term use, e.g. B. 4 weeks. For more information on micellar curcumin, see the link that appears at the end of the paragraph after the next (increasing the bioavailability of turmeric).
If you cannot tolerate turmeric or curcumin preparations with pepper, there are also high-quality preparations without pepper that still promise high bioavailability:
Does curcumin work better than turmeric?
It is usually assumed that the isolated and highly concentrated extracts of a substance work better than the original raw material. For example, it is believed that isolated and higher doses of vitamin C have a better effect than eating an orange.
When it comes to turmeric, it is also said that isolated and high-dose curcumin is more effective than turmeric powder or fresh turmeric roots. Finally, most turmeric studies have been done with curcumin, not turmeric.
This is how you can increase the bioavailability of turmeric
Curcumin is not soluble in water, which is why you should always eat turmeric with a little fat. The bioavailability and thus the effect of curcumin can be increased many times over if it is taken together with piperine, an active ingredient from black pepper.
Therefore, if you cook with turmeric, always add some fat and also black pepper to the respective dishes.
If you want to take turmeric as a dietary supplement, it is usually offered in combination with piperine. Simply take the capsules with a meal that contains some fat.
All information on increasing the bioavailability of turmeric, e.g. B. also how cooking affects the bioavailability or whether it is better to eat turmeric raw and whether you can benefit from a turmeric tea at all due to the low water solubility of curcumin.
You should pay attention to this when buying turmeric powder or fresh turmeric root
Turmeric is available almost everywhere as a ground spice. Fresh root is also becoming more and more common in stores. It is best to use organic turmeric, as conventionally produced and processed spices are often irradiated or otherwise treated.
Curry also contains turmeric. Although the proportion here is rather small, it is said that the other curry ingredients reinforce each other in their effects, so that curry can of course also be used again and again.
How to use turmeric in the kitchen
Turmeric goes with almost every dish, even in fruit salads. The yellowish root goes particularly well with rice, potato, and vegetable dishes, with soups, pancakes, spreads, and bread or roll recipes.
Turmeric can also be stirred into hot water and drunk as turmeric tea enjoyed in smoothies or golden milk or added to the morning quark-linseed oil combination on the Budwig diet.
Turmeric even tastes wonderful in cakes and tarts, for example in a golden milk cake or in a raw plum cake. It is best to experiment for yourself and always add some turmeric powder or freshly grated turmeric root to your favorite recipes.