I’ve noticed an exponential growth in the number of articles about the health benefits of turmeric on health-focused food sites as well as an uptick in mainstream media mentions – the root that gives curry its bright yellow color and its warm, bitter flavor that makes a curry sing. It is a cousin of ginger, another so-called magic root.
I armed myself with a healthy dose of skepticism (Facebook has a fake news problem, as we all know) and tucked in to do some research. I found that science is on the side of turmeric having the potential to be a wonder plant.
Turmeric is used to treat conditions from arthritis and other joint pain to intestinal/digestive disorders such as Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis and IBS. It’s used topically for skin inflammation from radiation and itchy/irritated skin. People use it to treat headaches, fibromyalgia and depression in addition to colds, infections and fevers. (It is important to know that taking turmeric can cause problems if you are on any medication with anti-coagulant properties)
That’s a bit of a tall order for a plant (or mineral or medication). So, is it really helpful? Scientists are working on the answers.
So how might it help?
The compound that gives turmeric its bright yellow color, curcumin, has been studied and found to have a few demonstrable health benefits. Other studies show the whole root to be a benefit.
In 2012 there was a study that showed that curcumin could prevent heart attacks in bypass patients. It was a small study but it showed 17% lower incidence of heart attacks over the patients who took a placebo. It’s not a replacement for medication, but it can lead to up to a 65 percent lower chance of heart attack among bypass patients.
While not a miracle cure, it was found that patients who took curcumin capsules were found to delay the onset of diabetes when they had prediabetes. All of the patients who took a course of the compound during the nine month study did not develop diabetes while 16% of the control group did. Researchers believe it is the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant powers of the compound.
Ward off cancer
We can’t get too ahead of ourselves here, the science is preliminary and mostly from animal studies. But they have shown that curcumin might affect cancer. In a good way. It “interferes with several important molecular pathways involved in cancer development, growth and spread,” according to the American Cancer Society. Curcumin has even been shown to kill cancer cells in a lab setting and while in animals it has been shown to shrink tumors and boost the effects of chemotherapy.
Animal studies are showing that turmeric might just help with depression. A human study published in the journal Phytotherapy Research showed that a group of 60 volunteers with major depressive disorder found that curcumin worked as well as Prozac. According to the authors, “This study provides first clinical evidence that curcumin may be used as an effective and safe therapy for treatment in patients with Mild Depression.”
Because curcumin is an anti-inflammatory, it is showing promise working in the digestive systems of patients with stomach issues where they may have already compromised the stomach flora and medications might make it worse. A study of patients with inflammatory bowel disease (Chron’s, Colitis, etc.) found that many were able to stop taking their medications. Which is important because medications for these conditions may cause long-term damage while only temporarily masking symptoms.
So, should I add it to my regime?
There are few side effects, unless you are taking an anticoagulant, so you might as well. There seem to be many studies showing benefits of turmeric and the body of evidence for its benefit are growing. While you might not find me drinking yellow milk or caking turmeric on my face to brighten my under eye circles, you might just find me sneaking it into my food in a few more ways or picking supplements that include this potentially magic root.
Mary Fran Wiley is a well known gluten-free and positive living blogger from Chicago where she writes Curiouser and Curiouser, maintains the Chronic Positivity Project, founded the organization hope.dance and has been featured in Allergic Living Magazine, Care2.com and Today.com.