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People have started trusting the efficacy and health benefits of herbal medicine and herbal extracts. And turmeric is that one herbal spice with predominant popularity for the same but a better favorite for its minimum side effects. That’s why it is known as the ‘Golden Spice of Life’.
Turmeric is one of those spices that are known throughout the world. It is a traditional Indian spice in use for almost 4000 years as a culinary spice and for some religious purposes. The most interesting use however remains its medicinal applications in traditional Chinese medicine.
Recent studies have revealed that curcumin is the most important chemical constituent responsible for most of its health benefits. Here, in this article, we will be looking at all the health benefits and adverse effects of turmeric supplementation in the light of research and medical evidence.
Understanding Turmeric and Curcuma
Turmeric is an Indian spice obtained from the rhizomes of the perennial herb called Curcuma longa. This plant is native to tropical South Asia and belongs to the ginger family called Zingiberaceae. The family of Curcuma herb has various species and various different types of turmeric are obtained from each of them.
The yellow variety of turmeric comes from the Curcuma longa. Another common variety of turmeric called Javanese turmeric is obtained from Curcuma xanthorrhiza.
The most important active components of turmeric are curcuminoids, especially curcumin. These potent substances affect cancer growth, boost our immune system, reduce inflammation, and protect against heart disease and colorectal cancer. Curcumin maintenance therapy in ulcerative colitis and before and after various surgeries is now in practice.
The yellow color of turmeric is due to three main pigments:
Proven Health Benefits of Turmeric
Chronic inflammatory conditions such as colorectal cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) only benefit from holistic, chronically acting substances with predominantly antioxidant properties.
1. Turmeric has Anti-inflammatory Properties
Turmeric obtained from the roots of the plant Curcuma longa has anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties. Curcumin is the bioactive compound with the most pronounced anti-inflammatory role.
Inflammation is the body’s natural response to injury, infection, and stress. But only acute inflammation is beneficial. If it resides longer than a few days, the root cause of the inflammation subsides but the inflammation itself becomes chronic. And you do not want chronic inflammation to stay in your body.
The anti-inflammatory activity of Curcuma is comparable to that of aspirin and other drugs from the same family. The deposition of lipid and the resultant blood vessel injury is also a form of chronic inflammation. Slow damage to the heart tissue, compromise in joint health, progression of arthritis, metabolic syndrome, and degenerative brain diseases are all forms and consequences of chronic inflammation. Aging and diabetes also progress and worsen with time due to the chronic inflammatory agents.
Turmeric contains the anti-inflammatory agent, curcumin which limits and fights off pro-inflammatory cytokines and other substances. In this way, chronic consumption of turmeric or the bioactive Curcuma compound curcumin can help prevent the development and progression of chronic inflammatory conditions.
Curcumin powder also has the ability to slow blood clotting mechanisms and act as a blood thinner agent. This prevents clotting and accumulation of inflammatory cytokines around the clot.
2. Turmeric has Antioxidant Properties
Some of the most potent anti-inflammatory properties of the Curcuma longa and Curcuma xanthorrhiza are also due to the antioxidant effects of curcumin. Free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS) are produced in the body all the time as a result of metabolism and exposure to toxic metals in the environment.
These free radicals and reactive species react with the proteins, fatty acids, and even DNA of the cells. As a result of damage to the cellular DNA and cell membranes by lipid peroxidation, inflammatory conditions may set in and even cancer may develop.
Turmeric from the Curcuma longa or the Javanese turmeric from the Curcuma xanthorrhiza has antioxidant properties to neutralize the reactive free radicals and prevent injury to the membranes.
One study also suggests that turmeric can stimulate the action of other natural antioxidants in the body. However, further clinical trials are required to confirm this.
3. Turmeric may play a role in the Treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Arthritis is a chronic inflammatory condition associated with inflammation and degeneration of joints. It builds up, develops, and appears as the years of life pass. Its development may be associated with a sedentary lifestyle, high proinflammatory cytokine levels, diet, and genetics. But after it develops, the more important aspect of the disease is its progression.
Turmeric and curcumin derivatives have anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties that help limit the inflammatory damage to the joints with increasing age.
When a certain number of patients with rheumatoid arthritis were given curcumin and an equal number of patients were given non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), the group with turmeric or Curcuma showed better results.
The pattern of side effects was almost the same, but Curcuma performed better than the prescription anti-inflammatory drugs in reducing pain and inflammation.
4. Turmeric helps prevent Cancer
The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of Javanese turmeric or Curcuma xanthorrhiza help prevent cancer by keeping in check the cell cycle progression mechanisms.
Curcumin and other phenolic compounds in turmeric have shown immunomodulatory benefits and hence prospects in cancer treatment.
Pro-inflammatory cytokines such as Interleukin IL-1, IL-2, and interferon-gamma are directly involved in the proliferation of the cancerous cells by promoting inflammation and cell growth. The main transcription factor in the transcription of these protein substances is the Nuclear Factor KB. Another mechanism by which Nuclear Factor KB promotes the growth and development of cancer is by blocking apoptosis and promoting angiogenesis.
Curcuma longa and Curcuma xanthorrhiza and their bioactive compound curcumin block the NF-KB activity by inhibiting its phosphorylation. in the same way, curcumin also inhibits angiogenesis.
Scientific evidence and animal studies suggest that turmeric can help prevent colon cancer, which has gained quite a popularity in the western world. Another way of preventing the development of cancer and its progression is by downregulation of the factors involved in angiogenesis. The main transcription pathway involved here is the PI3K/Akt signaling pathway.
Curcumin in the turmeric induces apoptosis and cell death in the breast cancer tissue and thus can be used in synergistic therapy to treat cancer patients. The Nuclear factor kappa-B inhibition by the Curcuma plays an important role in the treatment of breast cancer too.
Curcumin in turmeric has shown beneficial effects against human prostate cancer. Curcumin inhibits proliferation of LNCaP prostate cancer cells. Turmeric and curcumin supplements hence can be good synergists to the anticancer drugs in cancer chemotherapy.
5. Turmeric and Curcumin Derivatives have Cardioprotective Properties
As discussed earlier, inflammation and oxidation by the free radicals play a key role in damaging cells and cell membranes and setting in chronic inflammatory conditions. Atherosclerosis, due to the deposition of lipid along the walls of the blood vessels, is one such chronic inflammatory condition that is the root cause of most cardiovascular disorders such as heart disease.
Clinical trials have shown that supplementation with the turmeric or Curcuma extracts containing curcuminoids decreases the blood levels of the inflammatory markers, mainly C-Reactive Protein (CRP). C-Reactive Protein (CRP) is the most important biomarker of cardiovascular disease, mainly heart disease.
Not only that, the medicinal properties of turmeric may help manage the level and deposition of cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood vessels. And by this way, turmeric can delay or slow down the development of cardiovascular disease in patients with a genetic potential to develop cardiovascular disease.
By improving the function of the endothelium of the blood vessels of the body, Turmeric plays a key role in regulating the blood pressure in patients with chronic atherosclerosis too.
The risk of developing myocardial infarction with coronary artery bypass surgery is life-threatening. A study showed a reduced risk of developing a heart attack in patients undergoing coronary artery bypass surgery, who were given turmeric or curcuminoids before and after the surgery.
Taking turmeric supplements also improves vascular endothelial function and improves the blood pressure profile of the patient.
In one study, turmeric showed comparable results to aerobic exercise in controlling atherosclerosis, blood pressure, and heart disease in postmenopausal women. The same beneficial effects of Curcuma can be used to delay the worsening type 2 diabetes with signs and symptoms of lipids and fatty acids in the blood, hardening of the arteries, and heart disease.
6. Turmeric has the Potential to Prevent Kidney Injury
Animal studies in rats show that curcumin can prevent renal injury consequent the shock wave lithotripsy (SWL) in rats. The mechanism for the renal injury is mediated by the Nuclear Factor kappa-B (NFKB) and inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS), and we also know that curcumin in Curcuma longa and c. xanthorrhiza acts as an inhibitor to these pathways.
One group of rats that underwent the shock wave lithotripsy were given turmeric a day before and five days after the procedure. The control however was not given the Curcuma extract. The histochemical profile of the blood in both groups was studied under a light microscope.
There was a significant difference in the necrosis and fibrosis of the kidney tissue in both groups. The group of rats who were given curcumin along with SWL showed a reduction in the post-procedure kidney injury.
Clinical studies suggest that the curcumin extract, containing anti-inflammatory agents can also help protect a diabetic kidney. Chronic inflammation around the deposited lipids results in chronic renal injury, and eventually renal failure.
In fact, it is a positive loop where inflamed and injured kidney results in the buildup of uremic toxins and toxic metabolites in the gut, more importantly, inflammatory cytokines. So, this again breaks the ground for widespread chronic inflammation in the human body.
Turmeric, on one hand, fights off inflammatory agents. Besides, by managing hyperlipidemia and hyperglycemia, Curcuma keeps the nephrons and renal tubular system protected against the damage and injury caused by diabetes.
7. Turmeric has medicinal benefits in Treating Alzheimer’s Disease
The medicinal properties of the turmeric dietary supplement (Curcuma longa and c. xanthorrhiza) also benefit the patient’s with a progressive, chronic neurodegenerative disease of the brain, Alzheimer’s. We don’t know much about Alzheimer’s but it is thought to be caused by the formation of plaques or clumps of a protein called amyloid-beta.
The most prominent manifestation of Alzheimer’s is memory loss, confusion, and lack of attention. Before we talk about how exactly Curcuma benefits the disease and its underlying mechanism, let us look at how turmeric helps with the signs and symptoms alone.
Even if a patient does not have Alzheimer’s, turmeric extracts and c. xanthorrhiza help improve memory and cognitive function. Curcuma has shown these effects in the elderly, and thus also has potential as an oral supplementation in patients with brain injury.
So, not just for the disease, Curcuma and turmeric extracts can help improve the quality of life of Alzheimer’s patients. The actual mechanism of Curcuma doing so has not yet been discovered.
Key events in the pathology and development of Alzheimer’s disease include toxic metal accumulation, inflammatory processes, free radical reactions, loss of protein structure and b-amyloid plaque formation, and oxidative stress.
Curcuma has been shown to reduce the formation of b-amyloid plaques in the brain of an Alzheimer’s patient. Besides, it helps halt the disease by various other mechanisms: slows the neuronal loss and degradation, fights off pro-inflammatory cytokines, chelation of toxic metals, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effect.
On the whole, Curcuma through these mechanisms helps alleviate symptoms of Alzheimer’s such as dementia, confusion, the decline in cognitive function, and attention deficit. At the same time, it prevents the development of Alzheimer’s in the elderly who have a genetic predisposition by keeping the inflammatory contributors in check and getting rid of the toxic metals from the body.
8. Curcuma and Turmeric Extracts help Prevent and Treat Diabetes
Clinical studies and trials conducted on diabetic rats revealed the positive effects of Curcuma on diabetes mellitus, its development, progression, and signs and symptoms.
The underlying mechanisms that this perennial herb uses are multi-faceted and help prevent and treat diabetes.
On the cellular level, the traditional medicine turmeric from Curcuma longa and c. xanthorhizza improve the health of B cells of the pancreas, improve their function, and prevent B-cell death. This way, they perform their function of insulin secretion effectively.
The bioactive compound curcumin in the turmeric powder improves the Peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR) activity and hence improves the insulin sensitivity in the body.
The series of events that result from these activities are:
- Inhibition of gluconeogenesis
- Increase in glycolysis
- Stimulation of secretion of insulin from the pancreas
- Increase in the gene expression of glucose transporters GLUT-4, and GLUT-2, and hence increase in the uptake and use of glucose by the cells.
Turmeric contains various bioactive compounds that counter diabetes by various mechanisms.
One important consequence of diabetes mellitus is atherosclerosis due to high levels of triglycerides and lipids in the blood, which eventually results in high blood pressure and heart disease. A randomized crossover trial showed a significant decrease in the serum triglyceride levels in obese patients.
Turmeric extracts improve the blood lipid profile of the body by reducing triglycerides and cholesterol levels. C. xanthorrhiza plays a special role in modifying the composition of the bile acids excreted in the feces by increasing their amount.
Another important mechanism that keeps the progression of diabetes and the resultant injury to the organs is by suppressing the reactions of oxidative stress and inflammation. By keeping lipid peroxidation in check, turmeric slows down the process of blood vessel damage and the development of cardiovascular disease.
One important complication with patients with diabetes mellitus, especially type 2 diabetes mellitus is obesity. Obesity leads to metabolic syndrome, which worsens the clinical picture of a diabetic patient. By reducing the deposition of lipids and promoting their dissolution in the adipose tissue, Curcuma prevents the onset and worsening of obesity.
A study shows Curcuma can not only decrease the blood glucose levels in the body by the above-discussed mechanisms but also prevent diabetes in susceptible persons.
9. Turmeric may Help Treat Liver Disease
A liver injury such as those caused by hepatitis virus and free radical injury also benefits from the medicinal benefits of the Curcumin. Through its effects on dyslipidemia, blood glucose levels, and obesity, Curcuma longa, and c. xanthorrhiza help promote liver health in non-diseased adults, as proved by the experiments performed on the rat liver.
In patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), Curcuma reduces lipid peroxidation, levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines, and liver enzymes. These effects help ameliorate the signs, symptoms, and worsening of an alcoholic fatty liver.
Human studies have also shown the effects of Curcuma dosage on the liver injury caused by exposure to xenobiotics.
The bioactive chemical constituent of Curcuma, curcumin has been shown to reverse liver cirrhosis. It reduces the expression of tumor growth factor (TGF-B) and acts as a fibro lytic drug in the treatment of chronic liver diseases.
10. Health Benefits of Turmeric for Diseases of the Digestive System
Curcumin supplements generally help improve digestion. Chronically, dietary curcumin promotes gut health by reducing inflammation and promoting healthy microbiota. More importantly, due to its anti-inflammatory potential, turmeric can treat and alleviate chronic inflammatory conditions of the gastrointestinal system.
The most common chronic inflammatory conditions of the gut include inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis.
Ulcerative colitis is a chronic health condition of the gut characterized by diarrhea which may be watery or hemorrhagic, and urgency. It is progressive with time and growing age, and severely affects the quality of life.
The main contributing factor in developing ulcerative colitis is inflammation, and we know that curcumin supplements reduce inflammation. A placebo-controlled trial showed that curcumin therapy combined with the standard medications proved three times more efficacious than any of them alone.
Curcumin in turmeric works by the cyclooxygenase pathway to reduce inflammation in the gut and thus shows bright prospects in the treatment of irritable bowel disease.
11. Health Benefits of Turmeric for Nervous Diseases
Apart from its role in improving brain function and memory, and alleviating the symptoms and progression of Alzheimer’s, curcumin supplement can also benefit nerve health and depression.
A study conducted in 2014 showed the health benefits of turmeric for neuropathy caused as the side effect of chemotherapy.
One important mechanism by which curcumin promotes nerve and brain health is by stimulating the production and release of the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) improves cognition and protects the human body against neural diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
Benefits of Turmeric Essential Oil
Using the distillation and extraction methods with volatile solvents, turmeric essential oil is extracted from this medicinal herb Curcuma longa. Turmeric oil can be taken internally i.e., by oral administration, applied topically, or used as an aromatherapy essential oil.
The two most important chemical constituents of turmeric essential oil are Turmerone and ar-Turmerone. The most important mechanism of action of these two compounds is the nervous system. they decrease microglia formation and help treat and prevent neurodegenerative diseases.
Apart from the non-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties, turmeric essential oil has a holistic effect on the human body just like the turmeric oral supplementation and its health benefits discussed above.
Turmeric essential oil has a mildly earthy, woody scent. Turmeric essential oil has the following benefits:
- Strengthen the immune system against a foreign body or infection
- Relaxes the mind and uplifts the mood
- Improves aerobic response and lung function and prevents blood clotting
- Soothes fatigued muscles
- Alleviates symptoms of allergy, rhinitis, colds, heart disease, and respiratory disease such as asthma
Turmeric essential oils are believed to be the best for joint inflammation as occurs in arthritis, muscle fatigue, stiffness, and weak limbs. Add a few drops of turmeric oil with a base oil such as coconut or olive oil and gently massage into your skin.
Massage gently over the inflamed joints and muscles, preferably in the morning.
3. Cosmetic Applications
When applied directly to the skin, turmeric essential oil has the following benefits:
- Has antibacterial, antiviral, and antiseptic properties; beneficial for bruises and cracked broken skin
- Healthy, plump skin due to improved blood circulation through the capillaries of the skin
- Provides resilience and firmness to the skin; especially useful for aging skin
- Moisturizes the skin and alleviates dry, irritated, inflamed skin conditions such as eczema
- Removes the dead skin cells
4. Oral Supplementation
Oral supplementation with turmeric oil has been in use for patients with arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and other chronic inflammatory diseases. Taking turmeric oil internally has the following benefits:
- Promotes healthy cellular system
- Anti-inflammatory properties of the Curcuma oil improve the overall health of the body
- Promotes a stronger and healthier immune response
- Supports healthy blood sugar and lipid metabolism
- Promotes skin health
- Prevents the development of cardiovascular disease due to its antioxidant effects and anti-inflammatory properties
- Curcuma supplements affect cancer growth and provide protection against various types of cancer such as advanced pancreatic cancer by inhibiting the transcription factors that promote the growth and angiogenesis of cancerous tumors
- slows the blood clotting processes and helps with thrombosis and complications of atherosclerosis
Can Turmeric Burn Fat?
Turmeric stimulates the production and release of bile salts and acids in the stomach. These compounds are involved in the dissolving and emulsification of fats in the intestine. The fats and lipids as a result do not get absorbed.
Not just that, regular, chronic consumption of turmeric extract can help burn the already deposited belly fat in your body too.
Turmeric comes in both spice, and powder form, and as a turmeric extract. Taking turmeric extract is the most potent form of curcuminoid supplementation. Turmeric extract contains almost 95 % curcumin while the spice turmeric powder only has almost 3 % curcuminoid content.
Researches and studies usually use 500-2000 mg of turmeric per day. And till now this range is deemed safe and beneficial. You can consume turmeric in any form within this recommended dosage range.
Contraindications of Turmeric Supplements
Is taking turmeric extract safe and beneficial for all? for most people, it is completely safe to consume. but because of the drug interactions between alternative therapies, there are some contraindications to turmeric dietary supplements:
- Turmeric supplements have not yet been established as safe or very beneficial for pregnant and breastfeeding women.
- Turmeric is a blood thinner. It impairs the ability of the blood to clot. So, if you have an underlying bleeding disorder, a turmeric dietary supplement is not recommended for you.
- Turmeric is protective against kidney injury and nephrotoxicity. But it also contains a large number of oxalates. If proper hydration is not ensured, it can cause kidney stones or exacerbate an existing kidney stone.
- Curcumin supplements are used alongside diabetic medications to lower blood sugar levels. But if the patient does not observe the recommended dosage, blood sugar may reduce to a dangerous level.
- Avoid turmeric supplements if you have gall bladder disease. Curcumin may worsen the condition.
Side Effects of Turmeric Dietary Supplement
You may need medical expertise to make sure if turmeric supplements are safe for you to consume because some health conditions contraindicate taking turmeric. It is especially important for patients with Alzheimer disease and stomach ulcers because if proper dosage is not maintained, the following side effects may occur:
Mild side effects that may occur in most people include upset stomach, diarrhea, and nausea despite its antioxidant properties. Curcumin crosses the blood-brain barrier easily and hence can produce the symptoms of dizziness and weakness.
These are the short-term side effects of taking a curcumin supplement and do not stay long if the dosage stays in the safe, recommended range.
In very large doses, however, turmeric can cause precipitation of oxalates in the kidney tubules and lead to the formation of kidney stones.
The Bottom Line
Turmeric is a yellow spice with immense antioxidant properties and potent anti-inflammatory properties. it has shown great potential to help treat cancer, especially colon cancer, and prostate and breast cancers, and regulate blood triglyceride and cholesterol levels. Studies also revealed prospects for the treatment of experimental arthritis in the laboratory.
Except for the health conditions that contraindicate the use of these supplements, you should definitely incorporate turmeric into your diet for its holistic health-benefiting properties.