Health Benefits of Turmeric

By Michael Stanclift, ND

The rich orange color of turmeric is a signature of this powerfully healthy Indian spice. Even if you don’t dig the flavor of it in food, you might take turmeric in one of its many supplement forms for health benefits. Curcuma longa is the Latin name for turmeric and also hints at the name of the most talked about molecule in it, curcumin. Many people use “turmeric” and “curcumin” interchangeably, but surprisingly there isn’t that much curcumin in turmeric—curcumin makes up only about 3% of dried turmeric.1 But when we’re talking about the health benefits of turmeric, we’re usually really referring to its famous derivative, curcumin, which is the most studied component.

So why has this orange molecule become the darling of healthy living? Curcumin offers a host of health perks, is safe, and is well-tolerated by nearly every patient I’ve recommended it to. Many of the effects essentially boil down to curcumin’s ability to function as an antioxidant or balance the immune response to cellular injury.2 It can improve markers of oxidative stress and increase circulating antioxidants, such as superoxide dismutase, sometimes referred to as SOD.2 Curcumin can block the activation of NF-κB, which is involved in the immune response and can lead to undesirable effects.2

So how are these effects meaningful? Here are some of the research-backed ways I’ve utilized curcumin with the patients I’ve seen:

  • Relieving joint discomfort2
  • Improving insulin sensitivity2
  • Maintaining healthy blood pressure2
  • Reducing fat cell development2
  • Reducing stress and fatigue3
  • Having neuroprotective effects4
  • Rebalancing the gut microbiome from a state of dysbiosis4
  • Improving athletic performance and reducing exercise-induced muscle discomfort5

Before you get started

There are a few things you should know about curcumin before you run out and start taking it. First, curcumin isn’t very well absorbed, so it is often combined with other natural substances to help improve absorption. I have used it in formulations where it is combined with a black pepper extract (piperine), which can increase the availability about 20 times, and a fenugreek extract, which can increase the availability about 45 times.2,6

The second thing to know is that while curcumin has a great safety record, there have been cases of people taking a curcumin supplement experiencing liver injury.7,8,9 There’s some speculation that the effect may have come from another ingredient, not the curcumin, and many of the products involved contained piperine, the black pepper extract.7,9,10 In response to these concerns, I found a 90-day study of healthy volunteers who were investigated for signs of toxicity when the subjects were given highly bioavailable curcumin (with fenugreek extract).11 With this formulation no adverse effects were noted in the study, and liver enzymes remained within the normal range.11 There are two morals to this story: Always look for manufacturers with a solid reputation and transparent quality testing for their products, and seek the guidance of an experienced healthcare provider to ensure you’re taking the proper precautions and monitoring.

In healthy individuals, doses between 150-1,500 mg have been studied and appear to be beneficial, well-tolerated, and safe.5 The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is a bit more conservative and established an acceptable daily intake (ADI) of curcumin at 3 mg/kg/day.9 For readers in the United States, that translates to roughly 1.36 mg/lb/day or a dose equivalent to about 205 mg/day of curcumin per day for a 150-pound person.

Turmeric, along with its most active component curcumin, is clinically versatile and offers a wide range of health benefits. These qualities make it an attractive candidate to include in your healthy lifestyle. Ask your healthcare provider if you might benefit from turmeric or curcumin!

References:

  1. Tayyem RF et al. Curcumin content of turmeric and curry powders. Nutr Cancer. 2006;55(2):126-131.
  2. Hewlings SJ et al. Curcumin: a review of its effects on human health. Foods. 2017;6(10):92.
  3. Pandaran Sudheeran S et al. Safety, tolerance, and enhanced efficacy of a bioavailable formulation of curcumin with fenugreek dietary fiber on occupational stress: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot study. J Clin Psychopharmacol. 2016;36(3):236-243.
  4. Di Meo F et al. Curcumin, gut microbiota, and neuroprotection. Nutrients. 2019;11(10):2426.
  5. Fernández-Lázaro D et al. Modulation of exercise-induced muscle damage, inflammation, and oxidative markers by curcumin supplementation in a physically active population: a systematic review. Nutrients. 2020;12(2):501.
  6. Kumar D et al. Enhanced bioavailability and relative distribution of free (unconjugated) curcuminoids following the oral administration of a food-grade formulation with fenugreek dietary fibre: A randomised double-blind crossover study. Journal of Functional Foods. 2016;22:578-587.
  7. LiverTox: Clinical and Research Information on Drug-Induced Liver Injury [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases; 2012-. Turmeric. [Updated 2021 May 11]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK548561/
  8. Chand S et al. A rare case of turmeric-induced hepatotoxicity. Intern Med J. 2020;50(2):258-259.
  9. Menniti-Ippolito F et al. Turmeric (Curcuma longa L.) food supplements and hepatotoxicity: an integrated evaluation approach. Ann Ist Super Sanita. 2020;56(4):462-469.
  10. Chand S et al. Author reply. Intern Med J. 2021;51(1):154.
  11. Pancholi V et al. Safety assessment of a highly bioavailable curcumin-galactomannoside complex (CurQfen) in healthy volunteers, with a special reference to the recent hepatotoxic reports of curcumin supplements: A 90-days prospective study. Toxicol Rep. 2021;8:1255-1264.  
Michael Stanclift, ND
Michael Stanclift, ND is a naturopathic doctor and senior medical writer at Metagenics. He graduated from Bastyr University’s school of naturopathic medicine and practiced in Edinburgh, Scotland, and Southern California. He enjoys educating other healthcare providers and impacting the lives of their many patients. When he’s not working, he spends his hours with his wife and two children.

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