The primary active component of turmeric — and the one that gives the spice its characteristic yellow color — is curcumin.
Indeed, you can credit curcumin with most of turmeric’s potential health benefits.
“Curcumin is a natural antioxidant that has anti-inflammatory benefits, as well as [possible] benefits related to slowing the aging process and preventing Alzheimer’s disease and, potentially, depression,” says Elizabeth Ann Shaw, RDN, the owner of Shaw Simple Swaps Consulting in San Diego.
Unfortunately, turmeric (and curcumin on its own) doesn’t absorb well into the bloodstream, and having it in curry once a month is unlikely to give you the desired anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits, says Dana Angelo White, RD, the owner of Dana White Nutrition. To reach the amounts of turmeric and curcumin shown to offer benefits in research studies, you’ll have to turn to supplements. It is important to note, however, that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has no established safe or recommended daily value for curcumin or turmeric, and the FDA does not regulate any supplements.
For instance, a past animal study found that 20 milligrams per kilogram of body weight (mg/kg) of piperine along with 2 grams per kilogram of body weight (g/kg) of curcumin increased bioavailability by 2,000 percent.
Of course, further research is needed to determine if the results would be the same in humans. Here, we outline the many potential benefits of turmeric and curcumin.
1. Curcumin Is an Anti-Inflammatory
One of turmeric’s main claims to fame is that it’s commonly used to fight inflammation, and the bulk of turmeric’s inflammation-fighting powers can be assigned to curcumin. In fact, in the right dose, curcumin may be a more effective anti-inflammatory treatment than common inflammation-fighting medications such as Advil and aspirin, according to a past study.
More research is needed in this area as well.
Because chronic inflammation contributes to many chronic diseases, curcumin may help treat conditions like inflammatory bowel disease, pancreatitis, and arthritis, according to a past review.
We’ll get into some of those specific benefits later.
2. Curcumin May Help Protect Against Heart Disease
A past study shows that curcumin may improve endothelial function, or the health of the thin membrane that covers the inside of the heart and blood vessels. This membrane plays a key role in regulating blood pressure.
Lower endothelial function is associated with aging and an increased risk of heart disease. Thus, curcumin may help protect against age-related loss of function and reduce your likelihood of developing heart disease.
3. Curcumin May Help Prevent (and Possibly Treat) Certain Types of Cancer
As inflammation is linked to tumor growth, anti-inflammatory compounds such as curcumin may play a role in the treatment and prevention of a variety of cancer types, including colorectal, pancreatic, prostate, breast, and gastric cancers.
Research in mice suggests that curcumin may help slow the spread of tumor cells and may even prevent tumors from forming in the first place.
It may do this in several ways, including disrupting the formation of cancerous cells at various stages in the cell cycle, interfering with cell signaling pathways, and even causing those cancerous cells to die.
Whether curcumin can help treat cancer in humans has yet to be determined, but the research is ongoing.
4. Curcumin May Help Ease Symptoms of Osteoarthritis
Thanks to its potent anti-inflammatory properties, curcumin may be a safe and effective long-term treatment option for people with osteoarthritis (OA). At least, that was the conclusion of the authors of a recent review of the clinical use of curcumin for the treatment of osteoarthritis. The review was first published online in August 2021 as part of the Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology book series.
5. Curcumin May Help Treat or Prevent Diabetes
According to a past review of studies,
curcumin may help treat and prevent diabetes, as well as associated disorders like diabetic nephropathy (also called diabetic kidney disease), which affects people with type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes.
6. Curcumin May Help Delay or Reverse Alzheimer’s Disease
As common brain disorders like Alzheimer’s are associated with lower levels of BDNF, turmeric (curcumin in particular) may help delay or reverse brain degeneration.