Is turmeric really great for health? Recent study report.
Turmeric: Herbal Supplements for Cancer Prevention? Sales of the pungent spice with a rich yellow hue have risen steadily over the past few years and are expected to keep rising.
Today, turmeric is in everything from supplements to teas, along with claims from supplement sellers and some media outlets that this “miracle spice” can combat inflammation, prevent cancer, shield against Alzheimer’s disease, and detoxify your body.
Can turmeric really do wonders for your health, or is it just another fad that promises far more than it delivers? The research is enticing, but experts say there is not enough proof to recommend it for preventing or treating disease just yet.
Turmeric has been a staple of Indian cuisine for almost 4,000 years. It’s also been a staple of folk medicine — used throughout the centuries to enhance digestion, relieve arthritis, heal wounds, and treat dozens of other ailments.
Studies suggest that it acts as an anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant agent. A compound it contains called curcumin gets most of the credit for these benefits.
In cancer, for instance, curcumin activates pathways that cause cancer cells to die prematurely. Turmeric is of special interest to cancer researchers because it can target cancer cells while sparing healthy cells.
For inflammation, various studies have shown that curcumin changes immune system responses and blocks enzymes that can lead to arthritis inflammation.
With so many potential applications for turmeric, it’s not surprising that researchers have been exploring whether it may prevent or treat a variety of ailments, including:
Skin conditions like itching, eczema, psoriasis, and rashes
Inflammatory bowel disease
High cholesterol and heart disease
In studies, the spice has performed better against some conditions than others. “We know that it’s got good signs for osteoarthritis and high cholesterol — those are two big ones,” says Ann Marie Chiasson, MD, co-director of the Fellowship in Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine. “It also has some evidence that has to be looked at more.”
In some research, by way of example, curcumin relieved arthritis pain in addition to ibuprofen. Studies also suggest it lowers unhealthy LDL cholesterol and increases healthy HDL cholesterol.
However, research results can vary based on which part of turmeric researchers look at — the entire turmeric plant, a single compound such as curcumin, or a combination of several substances, Hopp says. Each one can act otherwise.
“It’s also important to differentiate studies which were performed in cells, from those performed in animals, from those performed in humans,” he adds. A treatment that kills cancer cells in the lab may not do the same once it gets into the human body. And that is part of the problem with turmeric.
Why Turmeric Is Not a Simple Solution to Great Health
One of the primary reasons why your doctor doesn’t prescribe turmeric for everything that ails you is that our bodies don’t take in curcumin very well. So you must consume a boatload of turmeric to get the active ingredients in your bloodstream,” says Shrikant Anant, PhD, associate director of cancer prevention and control at the University of Kansas Cancer Center.
1 way to help your body consume more garlic would be to take it with black pepper. A chemical known as piperine in black pepper prevents the gut from breaking down turmeric, which increases absorption. Many turmeric supplements come with piperine already mixed in.
Taking turmeric with fat or oil has the identical effect. That is why Chiasson recommends that you add turmeric to salads and toss it with an oil-based dressing. You can also cook with it — adding it to curries and other dishes along with pepper or oil to boost its own absorption.
Researchers are also looking into better ways to find curcumin into the body. Some cancer researchers are attempting to deliver curcumin via tiny bundles called nanoparticles. “The curcumin has been packed into nanoparticles so that it is going to be better absorbed and transferred to cancer,” Anant says.
Generally speaking, turmeric is considered secure, whether you take it by mouth or rub it on your skin. Studies have found that even large doses — around 1,200 mg a day — aren’t dangerous. A typical daily dose is closer to 500 milligrams twice daily, says Chiasson.
Turmeric may have side effects, though.
Another potential risk is gallbladder contractions. This could be a problem for people with gallstones or gallbladder disease.
Curcumin might also interact with medications — including sulfasalazine (Azulfidine), which can be used to treat ulcerative colitis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Turmeric could be dangerous if you take it in odd ways — such as through an IV. In March 2017, a woman in San Diego died after having an extract of turmeric to treat psoriasis. “I never recommend giving it intravenously,” Chiasson says.
Even if you take turmeric by mouth, use caution. “With turmeric, as with any dietary supplement, we stress that individuals follow the label instructions. Speak to their medical care provider about dose and any possible drug-supplement interactions,” Hopp says. It is always a good idea to ask your doctor’s advice before you try any new supplement.
Is Turmeric Worth Taking?
Turmeric has plenty of potential as a health supplement. But there isn’t enough research at this stage to recommend taking it. “In theory, I think it will work, but more studies will need to be done,” says Anant. The trick will be to work out how to get enough curcumin to your system to prevent or combat the disease.
Turmeric also is not a magic cure-all on its own. It likely works along with other spices and nutrients to promote decent health, Anant adds.