Turmeric is one of those natural ingredients that pops up again and again. It’s been found in kitchens across the world for thousands of years and these days, it’s finding its way into our smoothie bowls, supplement cabinets, and even our favorite taco recipes.
Its most recent return to the public eye is due to its health benefits — particularly its ability to fend off the chronic inflammation that’s at the root of so many of our health problems today.
But what is turmeric — and what does it really do for inflammation? Read on for the full intell.
What is turmeric?
Many of us know turmeric as the main ingredient in curry powder, responsible for its bright yellow color that leaves a lasting stain on clothes, countertops, and even the skin. It’s mainly grown in India but can also be found in parts of Central America and Asia.
Turmeric has always been a staple in Ayurvedic and traditional Chinses medicine and has historically been used to treat any number of health woes—anything from breathing problems and pain to fatigue and menstrual cycle issues.
Today, alternative medicine practitioners, such as acupuncturists and naturopathic doctors, regularly lean on turmeric supplements for their patients with inflammatory conditions or chronic pain. Turmeric has certainly withstood the test of time; and it’s enduring popularity provides some level of evidence that it works.
But let’s go deeper to find out just how, exactly, turmeric fights inflammation and why it’s so beneficial for such a wide range of health concerns.
How does turmeric fight inflammation?
In large part, turmeric owes its anti-inflammatory properties to its curcuminoid content. “Turmeric has natural anti-inflammatory compounds called curcuminoids, and these curcuminoids have been associated with a positive effect on various diseases,” said dietician Anya Guy on the Mayo Clinic News Network. According to Guy, Type 2 diabetes, obesity, inflammatory bowel disease and cancer are all on the list of diseases for which turmeric shows promise. Unlike many supplements and herbs, there are actually a ton of research studies on turmeric. In fact, in addition to the diseases above it’s also been studied for heart attack prevention, knee pain, and even as an ingredient in mouthwash to reduce plaque. (Honestly, is there anything it can’t do?)
The most well-studied curcuminoid is curcumin, a polyphenol compound that makes up about 3% of turmeric, according to a study published in Nutrition and Cancer.
So how does curcumin do all that? This gets complicated fast, but as the authors of a paper titled “Curcumin: A Review of Its’ Effects on Human Health” wrote: “[Curcumin] has been shown to target multiple signaling molecules while also demonstrating activity at the cellular level.” In one example of this, curcumin has demonstrated an ability to block tumor necrosis factor (TNF-α) activation, which is a major mediator of inflammation and plays a role in many inflammatory diseases.
Is turmeric safe?
You can find turmeric as a capsule, powder, pill, and even as a topical paste or balm. According to Cleveland Clinic, 500 mg of turmeric twice a day — with food! — is typically the recommended dose for supplements. According to the National Institutes of Health, “Turmeric in amounts tested for health purposes is generally considered safe when taken by mouth or applied to the skin.”
Turmeric has been tested at doses up to 8,000 mg/day and maintained good tolerability and safety profiles. That said, taking high doses of turmeric over a very long period of time has been connected to gastrointestinal symptoms like bloating, acid reflux, and diarrhea. It may also interact with certain medication like blood thinners — so it’s best to work with a doctor if you have a chronic health condition that requires regular medication.
Should you be supplementing with turmeric?
If you’re not sure if supplement is right for you, there’s good news. Turmeric is such a versatile ingredient that you don’t really — *need* — to supplement. If you’re looking for some turmeric inspo, try whipping up quick golden milk latte a few times a week. This traditional ayurvedic drink is naturally caffeine-free and low in sugar, making it the perfect after-dinner beverage or substitute for that sugary coffee drink (as tempting as it might be).
Alternatively, you can add it to your smoothie or sprinkle turmeric powder into your morning scrambled eggs. There’s more than one way to add this beneficial spice to your wellness routine.
If you do supplement with turmeric, make sure to find a product that also contains black pepper. Research has shown that combining turmeric and black pepper increases the bioavailability of turmeric by as much as 2000% (yes, really.)