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Nutrition

Health Benefits of Turmeric – Scientific Evidence

Turmeric is an orange spice that comes from a plant related to ginger. It is commonly used in Asian countries as well as Central America.

Turmeric is mainly used to make curry powders and is a key ingredient in many Asian dishes. Curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric. This compound gives turmeric a golden yellow dye which can be used to dye clothes and colour foods.

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Long before evidence-based medicine, turmeric was used by communities as a traditional medicine to treat many health conditions. Our recent obsession with superfoods has led to turmeric becoming more popular than ever in Western countries – turmeric lattes, turmeric juices anyone?

SOURCE: Osha Key (Unsplash)

But is turmeric really what it’s hyped up to be? At least on the scientific side of things?

Keep reading below as I’ll be going through the recent studies that have investigated the potential health effects of turmeric and curcumin.

Difference Between Turmeric and Curcumin

Curcumin is the main active ingredient in turmeric.

Laboratory studies have shown that curcumin possess anti-inflammatory, anti-neoplastic, anti-proliferative and anti-oxidant properties.

Many studies investigating the health benefits of curcumin and turmeric will use a sample extract that has been designed to have high levels of curcumin. These high levels are usually achieved by taking a curcumin supplement and are not equivalent to our daily average turmeric consumption.

Skin Health

Several studies have suggested the possibility of using curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, to treat dermatological diseases.

Some dermatological diseases that have shown to improve with turmeric/curcumin use include acne, alopecia, atopic dermatitis, facial photoaging, psoriasis and vitiligo.

A study by Vaughn, Barnum and Sivamani in 2016 examined the evidence for using turmeric/curcumin topically and orally to modulate skin health and function.

They looked at 16 studies and collated their data. Vaughn and his colleagues found that there is some early evidence that turmeric/curcumin products, both ingested and topical, may provide therapeutic benefits for skin health. However, there were limitations in some of the studies and further research into exact mechanisms and efficacy needs to be done.

SOURCE: Kamila Maciejewska (Unsplash)

Arthritis

Turmeric and curcumin extracts have long been used to treat arthritic joint pain and swelling due to its anti-inflammatory properties.

But is there any efficacy of these treatments for alleviating the symptoms of joint arthritis?

Several studies provide scientific evidence that supports the use of 1000mg/day of curcumin (turmeric extract) in treating arthritis. However, there were limitations in the studies that suggest larger studies are needed to confirm if turmeric actually provides therapeutic benefit for arthritis patients.

SOURCE: Clem Onojeghuo (Unsplash)

Depression

Due to the unfavourable side effects of anti-depressants, many people are quick to try to find better alternatives.

One such alternative is turmeric. Historic and anecdotal evidence suggests that turmeric alleviated depressive symptoms.

How has this fared with current scientific evidence?

There has been some evidence that curcumin supplements have a positive effect in reducing depression and anxiety scores. However, the majority of these studies are laboratory and animal studies. There has been few good quality clinical trials to suggest this. So further research must be done to assess this health claim.

Source: Zulmaury Saavedra (Unsplash)

Cancer

Curcumin has been shown to have anti-neoplastic and anti-oxidant properties.

There are multiple studies – animal and molecular – that show curcumin reducing the growth of cancer cells, the formation of new blood vessels in tumours and spread of cancer.

Although there is promising evidence in the laboratory, there is lack of clinical evidence and trials to suggest that curcumin can actually treat cancer.

In terms of cancer prevention, a 30 day study in 44 men with pre-cancerous lesions showed that 4g of curcumin reduced these lesions by 40%.

Heart Disease

Heart disease is a complicated disease process. Research has shown how curcumin can improve the function of the cells lining of your blood vessels and therefore can help improve blood pressure and blood clotting.

It’s anti-inflammatory properties also can reduce your heart risk of heart disease.

A study compared two groups, one on placebo and one on 4 grams of curcumin per day and evaluated their risk of experiencing a heart attack after undergoing a coronary artery bypass surgery. They found that the curcumin group had a 65% reduced risk of a heart attack in the hospital.

A study found that curcumin decreased a person’s risk of experiencing a heart attack after undergoing coronary artery bypass surgery by 65%

Conclusion

There is no doubt that curcumin is a potent compound found in turmeric that has been shown to possess anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer and anti-oxidant properties.

Studies have also shown some evidence that these properties could extend to treating arthritis, depression, skin diseases and preventing heart disease and cancer.

However, not all of these studies are clinical trials that show a clear association. Many of these are still animal and laboratory studies. Some clinical trials also have limitations.

So even though there is promising evidence about the health benefits of turmeric, more studies of better quality and on a larger scale must be conducted.

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By Karen (MBBS VI, PT)

Thank you for visiting my blog! I'm a certified personal trainer and medical student with one more year (finally!) of study until I'm a doctor. I believe in a preventative and holistic approach to medicine which means I love sharing my passion for fitness and nutrition with you guys! I hope that we all can strive to be a better version of ourselves everyday.

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