Turmeric is a natural spice that is commonly used in Indian dishes, particularly in curries.
While turmeric has been used for many years as herbal medicine in Asian countries, more recently, the benefits of turmeric are being uncovered by the scientific community. Here we review the medical studies using turmeric supplements to treat a variety of conditions.
What is turmeric?
Turmeric is a flowering plant that belongs to the ginger family. This plant is native to India and Southeast Asia. It is the root of the turmeric plant that is dried and ground into a fine turmeric powder that is then used in cooking.
Turmeric contains an antioxidant – curcumin. Antioxidants work to protect your body’s cells from the damaging effects of free radicals. Curcumin is also anti-inflammatory, which means that it can also reduce the damage that occurs due to increased inflammation in the body.
What are the claims?
There are many claims regarding the health benefits of turmeric and its active component, curcumin, specifically related to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. But what does the science say? Is there any evidence that curcumin is beneficial for health or fighting disease? Below is a review of turmeric supplement clinical trials for a range of medical conditions.
Curcumin for arthritis
There is evidence that curcumin has anti-arthritic effects in patients with arthritis – both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Clinical trials that assigned patients to take curcumin supplements reported improvements in pain and physical functioning ability when patients were taking curcumin supplements that also contained piperine. In some studies, a reduction in indicators of inflammation was also observed in patients taking curcumin supplements. Similar pain reduction has been noted in patients taking curcumin compared with those taking ibuprofen for arthritis pain.
A systematic review of scientific evidence concluded that taking curcumin supplements for eight to twelve weeks was associated with reduced symptoms of arthritis, reaching effectiveness similar to diclofenac sodium and ibuprofen. Based on this evidence, the researchers concluded that “turmeric extracts and curcumin can be recommended for alleviating the symptoms of arthritis, especially osteoarthritis”.
Curcumin for metabolic syndrome
Since obesity is associated with chronic inflammation, it would follow that the anti-inflammatory effects of turmeric could also be beneficial for people who are overweight or obese. Clinical trials have found that patients with metabolic syndrome who took curcumin supplements containing piperine had a reduction in molecules associated with inflammation. Curcumin supplements have also been found to reduce the amount of bad cholesterol in the blood while increasing levels of good cholesterol.
Curcumin for mood & memory
The effects of curcumin on mood and cognition were assessed in a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. This trial reported a significant improvement in participants’ ability to complete attention and memory activities. The study also reported beneficial effects of curcumin supplements on mood – which included fatigue, contentedness, and calmness.
Curcumin for anxiety & depression
Participants in a randomized double-blind cross-over trial were given either a curcumin supplement complex or a placebo (no curcumin), followed by a period of no treatment and then a ‘cross-over’ to the alternate treatment group. In this study, measures of anxiety were significantly reduced after taking curcumin supplements. However, the study reported no difference in depression scores following treatment. Another randomized clinical trial reported that curcumin treatment was associated with significant improvements in depressive symptoms in patients with major depressive disorder.
Curcumin for irritable bowel syndrome
Some evidence exists to suggest that curcumin may also be beneficial for patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). One clinical trial combined curcumin with fennel essential oil – due to its known calming effects on the bowels. The study reported that the combination provided significant relief of symptoms after a period of 30 days. This included reductions in abdominal pain and improved quality of life. The study found that after the treatment period, the proportion of patients who were ‘symptom-free’ was significantly greater in the group that were taking the supplements.
Curcumin for allergies
A two-month long clinical trial that administered curcumin or placebo control to over 200 patients with allergic rhinitis reported on nasal symptoms following treatment. The study found that curcumin reduced amount of sneezing and nasal congestion, which was associated with changes to a range of molecules that are involved in the immune response that occurs during allergic reactions. Although a pilot study, this trial demonstrated the ability of curcumin to improve symptoms associated with allergic rhinitis, resulting in improved air flow through the nasal passages.
Curcumin for weight loss
In addition to the anti-inflammatory effects of curcumin investigated in patients with metabolic syndrome, the effect of curcumin on weight loss in patients with metabolic syndrome has also been investigated. After taking a curcumin supplement, patients had an increase in weight loss, reduced percent of body fat and greater reductions to waistline, hip and BMI measurements compared to patients who did not take curcumin.
Curcumin for endometriosis
Studies have found that curcumin reduces inflammation by blocking signalling of the same inflammatory molecules that play a role in endometriosis. Other processes known to play a role in endometriosis such as oxidative stress and angiogenesis (the formation of blood vessels) are also prevented by curcumin.
Are there any side effects of taking curcumin supplements?
Curcumin is generally considered to be safe and well tolerated, with recommended daily intake of 0-3mg per kg of body weight. The side effects associated – typically with high doses – of curcumin can include yellow stool, rash, headache, nausea, and diarrhea.
What are the best curcumin supplements?
According to research studies, the best curcumin supplements to take are those that are contained in a complex with a molecule that increases the bioavailability of curcumin – for example, piperine (the bioactive compound found in black pepper). In this way, you increase the absorption of curcumin by your body in order to maximize the associated health benefits. Before taking any supplements, you should consult your doctor to make sure that they are right for you.
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