The Health Benefits of Turmeric

The health benefits of turmeric

WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

Free curry on the NHS? Not quite, but Britain’s favourite dish, chicken tikka masala, could be good for your health.

The ingredient that gives it a distinctive yellow colour is turmeric, a spice with many potential health benefits.

What is turmeric?

Turmeric is the root stalk of a tropical plant that’s part of the ginger family. One of the main components of the spice is a substance called curcumin which has potentially healing properties.

You can buy fresh turmeric in Chinese and Indian supermarkets. It’s widely available in a dried powder form in supermarkets. The spice is used in lots of Asian dishes, mustards and pickles.

It’s also available in supplements at chemists and health food shops.

Turmeric has been used for many thousands of years in Chinese and Indian Ayurvedic medicine for conditions including heartburn, diarrhoea, stomachbloating, colds, fibromyalgia and depression. Followers of Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine also sometimes apply turmeric to the skin for ringworm and infected wounds as it’s said to have anti-bacterial properties.

In more recent years there have been some studies carried out on the effects of curcumin. However, there is little reliable evidence to support the use of turmeric for health conditions because too few clinical trials have been carried out so far.

Word of warning

While turmeric has a long history of health giving properties and there have been many hundreds of studies into its effects on a wide variety of ailments it can’t be regarded as a magic cure.

It’s worth bearing in mind that most of these are preliminary studies performed in a laboratory, and not in humans. Much more research is needed into the possible benefits. So it’s still too early to say whether or not turmeric has definite health benefits.

So what does the research find?


A study in 2009 in Ireland found that curcumin killed off oesophageal cancer cells in the laboratory. The researchers found that curcumin started to destroy thecancer cells within 24 hours and the cells also began to digest themselves.

Liver damage

Researchers in Austria and the US in 2010 suggested that curcumin may help in the fight against liver damage. It seems to delay the onset of cirrhosis. They say their work builds on previous research which has indicated that it has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties which may be helpful in combating disease.


A small study in Thailand in 2012 found it may help lower the risk of type 2 diabetes. It found that over 9 months a daily dose of a supplement containing curcumin, seemed to prevent new cases of type 2 diabetes among certain people at risk. However, more research is needed.

Alzheimer’s disease and dementia

There are numerous studies into the effect of curcumin on
Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. An Indian study in 2008 suggested that curcumin can block the formation of the beta-amyloid plaques that get in the way of brain function in Alzheimer’s disease. More research is needed before these possible benefits are translated into a clinical setting.

Tendonitis and arthritis

Researchers in Nottingham and Munich in 2011 found that curcumin could be helpful in treating painful inflammatory conditions, such as tendonitis andarthritis.

Their studies show that curcumin can be used to suppress biological mechanisms that spark inflammation in tendon diseases.

The researchers said it’s not a cure but it may offer scientists in the future an important new lead in the treatment of the conditions.

More popular

With the prolific research into turmeric, people in the West seem to be catching on to the potential benefits of taking it as a supplement.

Tove Biagi, owner of independent health food shop ‘Back to Nature’, is an advocate of turmeric as a useful remedy for many ailments.

“More and more people are coming into the shop and specifically asking for turmeric capsules.”

Although scientific research has not yet proven the possible benefits, in her opinion Tove believes: “It’s potentially helpful to prevent high blood pressure, strokes and for some cancers, especially in the gut. It’s even good for conditions like IBS and period pain.” However, always seek medical advice before taking turmeric.

Legendary actor Sir Michael Caine is apparently a strong believer in the power of turmeric. He revealed to US talk show host, Larry King, that he’s been taking capsules for 30 years to help keep his brain sharp.

His Indian born wife Shakira introduced him to the spice. He says he has a “memory like a computer” because of it.

Mike Geelan is a recent convert to the benefits of turmeric. The 59 year old businessman from Buckinghamshire tried turmeric on the suggestion of a friend to help with pain in his neck and back from a trapped nerve.

He was due to have an operation but his pain and symptoms improved so much the operation was cancelled. He puts this improvement down to turmeric: “I take 6 capsules a day to relax and reduce the inflammation around the vertebra. It makes the tingling sensation go away and if I don’t take the turmeric I feel it tingling again.” However, this is one person’s experience, and not based on scientific evidence.

Are there risks to taking turmeric?

It can sometimes causes nausea and diarrhoea in high doses or after long term use. It might also pose a risk of ulcers in high doses. As a topical treatment, it can cause skin irritation. Caution is advised when turmeric is taken by people known to have gallstones.

Talk to your GP before using turmeric supplements if you have any medical conditions, like gallbladder or kidney disease, bleeding disorders, diabetes, or immunity problems.

Also have a word with your doctor before taking turmeric supplements if you take medicines regularly which may interact with them for example, aspirin,painkillers, statins, diabetes drugs, blood pressure medicines, and blood thinners.

Pregnant or breast feeding women shouldn’t take turmeric supplements without asking their GP.

The future

There’s definitely a growing body of scientific evidence that points to the potential health benefits of turmeric. Thousands of years of Eastern medicine and anecdotal evidence suggest it has healing properties.

You can take it as a supplement, a tea or use it in your cooking. A chicken tikka masala probably won’t cure your ailments but it’s a step in the right direction.

Source: The health benefits of turmeric


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