Updated: Jan 7, 2021
By Kris Gunnars
Turmeric may be the most effective nutritional supplement in existence.
Many high-quality studies show that it has major benefits for your body and brain.
Here are the top 10 evidence-based health benefits of turmeric.
1. Turmeric Contains Bioactive Compounds With Powerful Medicinal Properties Turmeric is the spice that gives curry its yellow color. It has been used in India for thousands of years as a spice and medicinal herb. Recently, science has started to back up what Indians have known for a long time — it really does contain compounds with medicinal properties (1Trusted Source). These compounds are called curcuminoids, the most important of which is curcumin. Curcumin is the main active ingredient in turmeric. It has powerful anti-inflammatory effects and is a very strong antioxidant. However, the curcumin content of turmeric is not that high. It’s around 3%, by weight (2Trusted Source). Most of the studies on this herb are using turmeric extracts that contain mostly curcumin itself, with dosages usually exceeding 1 gram per day. It would be very difficult to reach these levels just using the turmeric spice in your foods. Therefore, if you want to experience the full effects, you need to take a supplement that contains significant amounts of curcumin. Unfortunately, curcumin is poorly absorbed into the bloodstream. It helps to consume black pepper with it, which contains piperine, a natural substance that enhances the absorption of curcumin by 2,000% (3Trusted Source). The best curcumin supplements contain piperine, substantially increasing their effectiveness. Curcumin is also fat soluble, so it may be a good idea to take it with a fatty meal.
SUMMARY Turmeric contains curcumin, a substance with powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Most studies used turmeric extracts that are standardized to include large amounts of curcumin.
2. Curcumin Is a Natural Anti-Inflammatory Compound
Inflammation is incredibly important. It helps your body fight foreign invaders and also has a role in repairing damage. Without inflammation, pathogens like bacteria could easily take over your body and kill you. Although acute, short-term inflammation is beneficial, it can become a major problem when it becomes chronic and inappropriately attacks your body's own tissues. Scientists now believe that chronic, low-level inflammation plays a major role in almost every chronic, Western disease. This includes heart disease, cancer, metabolic syndrome, Alzheimer's and various degenerative conditions (4Trusted Source, 5Trusted Source, 6Trusted Source). Therefore, anything that can help fight chronic inflammation is of potential importance in preventing and even treating these diseases. Curcumin is strongly anti-inflammatory. In fact, it’s so powerful that it matches the effectivenessof some anti-inflammatory drugs, without the side effects (7Trusted Source, 8Trusted Source, 9Trusted Source ). It blocks NF-kB, a molecule that travels into the nuclei of your cells and turns on genes related to inflammation. NF-kB is believed to play a major role in many chronic diseases (10, 11Trusted Source). Without getting into the details (inflammation is extremely complicated), the key takeaway is that curcumin is a bioactive substance that fights inflammation at the molecular level (12Trusted Source, 13, 14).
SUMMARY Chronic inflammation contributes to many common Western diseases. Curcumin can suppress many molecules known to play major roles in inflammation.
3. Turmeric Dramatically Increases the Antioxidant Capacity of the Body Oxidative damage is believed to be one of the mechanisms behind aging and many diseases. It involves free radicals, highly reactive molecules with unpaired electrons. Free radicals tend to react with important organic substances, such as fatty acids, proteins or DNA. The main reason antioxidants are so beneficial is that they protect your body from free radicals. Curcumin is a potent antioxidant that can neutralize free radicals due to its chemical structure (15Trusted Source, 16Trusted Source). In addition, curcumin boosts the activity of your body's own antioxidant enzymes (17, 18, 19Trusted Source). In that way, curcumin delivers a one-two punch against free radicals. It blocks them directly, then stimulates your body's own antioxidant defenses.
SUMMARY Curcumin has powerful antioxidant effects. It neutralizes free radicals on its own but also stimulates your body's own antioxidant enzymes. 4. Curcumin Boosts Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor, Linked to Improved Brain Function and a Lower Risk of Brain Diseases
Back in the day, it was believed that neurons weren't able to divide and multiply after early childhood. However, it’s now known that this does happen. Neurons are capable of forming new connections, but in certain areas of the brain they can also multiply and increase in number. One of the main drivers of this process is brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is a type of growth hormone that functions in your brain (20Trusted Source). Many common brain disorders have been linked to decreased levels of this hormone, including depression and Alzheimer's disease (21, 22). Interestingly, curcumin can increase brain levels of BDNF (23, 24). By doing this, it may be effective in delaying or even reversing many brain diseases and age-related decreases in brain function (25Trusted Source). It may also improve memory and make you smarter, which seems logical given its effects on BDNF levels. However, controlled studies in people are needed to confirm this (26).
SUMMARY Curcumin boosts levels of the brain hormone BDNF, which increases the growth of new neurons and fights various degenerative processes in your brain. 5. Curcumin Should Lower Your Risk of Heart Disease Heart disease is the number 1 cause of death in the world (27Trusted Source). Researchers have studied it for many decades and learned a lot about why it happens. Unsurprisingly, heart disease is incredibly complicated and various things contribute to it. Curcumin may help reverse many steps in the heart disease process (28Trusted Source). Perhaps the main benefit of curcumin when it comes to heart disease is improving the function of the endothelium, which is the lining of your blood vessels. It’s well known that endothelial dysfunction is a major driver of heart disease and involves an inability of your endothelium to regulate blood pressure, blood clotting and various other factors (29Trusted Source). Several studies suggest that curcumin leads to improvements in endothelial function. One study found that it’s as effective as exercise while another shows that it works as well as the drug Atorvastatin (30Trusted Source, 31Trusted Source). In addition, curcumin reduces inflammation and oxidation (as discussed above), which play a role in heart disease as well. One study randomly assigned 121 people, who were undergoing coronary artery bypass surgery, either a placebo or 4 grams of curcumin per day, a few days before and after the surgery. The curcumin group had a 65% decreased risk of experiencing a heart attack in the hospital (32Trusted Source).
SUMMARY Curcumin has beneficial effects on several factors known to play a role in heart disease. It improves the function of the endothelium and is a potent anti-inflammatory agent and antioxidant. 6. Turmeric Can Help Prevent (And Perhaps Even Treat) Cancer Cancer is a terrible disease, characterized by uncontrolled cell growth. There are many different forms of cancer, which still have several things in common. Some of them appear to be affected by curcumin supplements (33Trusted Source). Curcumin has been studied as a beneficial herb in cancer treatment and been found to affect cancer growth, development and spread at the molecular level (34Trusted Source). Studies have shown that it can contribute to the death of cancerous cells and reduce angiogenesis (growth of new blood vessels in tumors) and metastasis (spread of cancer) (35Trusted Source). Multiple studies indicate that curcumin can reduce the growth of cancerous cells in the laboratory and inhibit the growth of tumors in test animals (36Trusted Source, 37Trusted Source). Whether high-dose curcumin (preferably with an absorption enhancer like piperine) can help treat cancer in humans has yet to be studied properly. However, there is evidence that it may prevent cancer from occurring in the first place, especially cancers of the digestive system like colorectal cancer. In a 30-day study in 44 men with lesions in the colon that sometimes turn cancerous, 4 grams of curcumin per day reduced the number of lesions by 40% (38Trusted Source). Maybe curcumin will be used along with conventional cancer treatment one day. It's too early to say for sure, but it looks promising and is being intensively studied.
SUMMARY Curcumin leads to several changes on the molecular level that may help prevent and perhaps even treat cancer.
7. Curcumin May Be Useful in Preventing and Treating Alzheimer's Disease Alzheimer's disease is the most common neurodegenerative disease in the world and a leading cause of dementia. Unfortunately, no good treatment is available for Alzheimer's yet. Therefore, preventing it from occurring in the first place is of utmost importance. There may be good news on the horizon because curcumin has been shown to cross the blood-brain barrier (39Trusted Source). It’s known that inflammation and oxidative damage play a role in Alzheimer's disease, and curcumin has beneficial effects on both (40). In addition, a key feature of Alzheimer's disease is a buildup of protein tangles called amyloid plaques. Studies show that curcumin can help clear these plaques (41Trusted Source). Whether curcumin can really slow down or even reverse the progression of Alzheimer's disease in people is currently unknown and needs to be studied properly.
SUMMARY Curcumin can cross the blood-brain barrier and has been shown to lead to various improvements in the pathological process of Alzheimer’s disease. 8. Arthritis Patients Respond Very Well to Curcumin Supplements Arthritis is a common problem in Western countries. There are several different types, most of which involve inflammation in the joints. Given that curcumin is a potent anti-inflammatory compound, it makes sense that it may help with arthritis. Several studies show this to be true. In a study in people with rheumatoid arthritis, curcumin was even more effective than an anti-inflammatory drug (42Trusted Source). Many other studies have looked at the effects of curcumin on arthritis and noted improvements in various symptoms (43Trusted Source, 44Trusted Source).
SUMMARY Arthritis is a common disorder characterized by joint inflammation. Many studies show that curcumin can help treat symptoms of arthritis and is in some cases more effective than anti-inflammatory drugs.
9. Studies Show That Curcumin Has Incredible Benefits Against Depression Curcumin has shown some promise in treating depression. In a controlled trial, 60 people with depression were randomized into three groups (45Trusted Source). One group took Prozac, another group one gram of curcumin and the third group both Prozac and curcumin. After 6 weeks, curcumin had led to improvements that were similar to Prozac. The group that took both Prozac and curcumin fared best (45Trusted Source). According to this small study, curcumin is as effective as an antidepressant. Depression is also linked to reduced levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and a shrinking hippocampus, a brain area with a role in learning and memory. Curcumin boosts BDNF levels, potentially reversing some of these changes (46). There is also some evidence that curcumin can boost the brain neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine (47, 48).
SUMMARY A study in 60 people with depression showed that curcumin was as effective as Prozac in alleviating symptoms of the condition.
10. Curcumin May Help Delay Aging and Fight Age-Related Chronic Diseases If curcumin can really help prevent heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer's, it would have obvious benefits for longevity. For this reason, curcumin has become very popular as an anti-aging supplement (49Trusted Source). But given that oxidation and inflammation are believed to play a role in aging, curcumin may have effects that go way beyond just preventing disease (50Trusted Source).
SUMMARY Due to its many positive health effects, such as the potential to prevent heart disease, Alzheimer’s and cancer, curcumin may aid longevity.
The Bottom Line
Turmeric and especially its most active compound curcumin have many scientifically-proven health benefits, such as the potential to prevent heart disease, Alzheimer’s and cancer. It’s a potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant and may also help improve symptoms of depression and arthritis.
If you want to buy a turmeric/curcumin supplement, there is an excellent selection on Amazon with thousands of great customer reviews. It’s recommended to find a product with BioPerine (the trademarked name for piperine), which is the substance that enhances curcumin absorption by 2,000%. Without this substance, most of the curcumin just passes through your digestive tract.