Thanks to qualified nutritionist Salma Dawood who studied Human Nutrition at the University of Dublin for researching and putting this piece together. Head to the bottom of the page to find out a little more about Salma.
From vibrant turmeric lattes outselling standard hot beverages in today’s coffee shops, to turmeric-infused face masks, chocolates, and juices, why is the golden spice sweeping the nation? Over the years, turmeric has gained popularity as a powerful ‘superfood’, with the potential to exert an array of health benefits. But what does the science have to say?
What is Turmeric?
A staple in Indian and Asian cuisine and Ayurvedic medicine, this aromatic spice has been around long before it made its way into your hot drink and chocolate bars. Over 4000 years ago, turmeric was used to remedy everything from sinuses, diabetic wounds, and respiratory conditions (1).
Derived from the Curcuma longa perennial plant, turmeric is jam-packed with compounds that are believed to benefit our health. Of particular importance, you’ve probably heard of curcumin, one of the most studied active compounds found in turmeric.
Curcumin is proposed to exert anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiviral, and antioxidant effects in the body. As long term inflammation and oxidative stress are root causes of disease progression, could this proclaimed superfood reduce the risk of detrimental conditions? Should you use turmeric more often?
Although curcumin has been researched for a wide range of uses, not all studies come back with conclusive evidence to support its role in that specific health issue.
However, curcumin demonstrates promise as an effective anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. Let’s take a closer look at the research.
Oxidative stress, caused by highly reactive molecules in the body, may damage our cells, DNA and fatty acids if they are not neutralized. In the long-term, it is now known that chronic oxidative stress is one of the mechanisms that contribute to diseases, such as neurodegenerative disorders, cancer, and more.
Curcumin is a potent anti-oxidant that may neutralize these harmful reactive molecules, thus reducing the risk of certain diseases (1). Curcumin may also increase the body’s production of anti-oxidant enzymes.
Evidence to suggest that curcumin is a potent anti-oxidant is quite significant. In a study conducted on patients with a blood disorder, curcumin supplementation (by 500mg/day) reduced oxidative stress markers in the blood after one year (2). Similarly, curcumin protected against DNA damage in 286 participants, and normalized the body’s anti-oxidant system (3). Therefore, the efficacy of curcumin supplementation as a potent anti-oxidant is quite established in trials to date. Clarify if it was a supplement or a food.
Anti-inflammatory: Arthritis Pain Relief
Inflammation and oxidative damage can lead to an exhaustive list of health disorders. Chronic inflammation in the body can trigger oxidative stress, which can induce tissue damage and promote disease progression. Curcumin has gained worldwide attention as an anti-inflammatory agent, potentially providing pain relief for sufferers of inflammatory conditions. Such conditions driven by chronic inflammation include osteoarthritis, cardiovascular diseases, depression, colitis and more (5). It is suggested that curcumin can suppress the action of the inflammatory compounds that are released by the body in response to these diseases.
Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disorder that is characterized by inflammation of the joints, leading to pain, stiffness, and disability in chronic cases. In a recent review of research trials conducted by J. Daily et.al, it was observed that curcumin supplementation effectively relieved symptoms of osteoarthritis compared to placebo (6). In particular, curcumin reduced pain severity and swelling in the joints, as measured by the studies. Curcumin may bring hope to sufferers of inflammatory disorders, but more definitive recommendations are needed to use this spice as a possible therapeutic solution.
The Verdict: To Turmeric or Not to Turmeric?
Does turmeric have medicinal benefits? It could do, but more evidence is required.
The reviewed evidence displays that turmeric, specifically curcumin, shows promising therapeutic effects on human health, by targeting inflammation and oxidative damage. In particular, turmeric has been shown to complement treatment for arthritis in order to relieve painful symptoms. However, there is always a need for additional research to build concrete evidence.
Unfortunately, sprinkling a pinch of turmeric onto your meal is not sufficient. Trials to date used therapeutic doses that are generally only achievable by supplementation (200-1000mg/day). If you would like to add a turmeric supplement into your daily regimen, always remember to consult your healthcare practitioner, and do your research to assess if it will target your health concerns.
You cannot rely on one specific nutrient or food to improve your health. Sure, turmeric consumption can contribute to potential health benefits, but it is not a miracle drug that will magically make your health issues disappear. Complementing a healthy diet and exercise routine with turmeric may possibly relieve symptoms of inflammatory diseases. Health is not a quick-fix, it’s a long-term process!