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10 Health Benefits of Turmeric and Curcumin

Written by Markita Lewis, MS, RD

Published on July 22, 2021

Turmeric is a spice that has more than a little kick to it. You may have had turmeric with curries or golden milk, but turmeric (and its main active ingredient curcumin) offers many additional benefits to your health.

10 Health Benefits of Turmeric and Curcumin

Turmeric is a yellow-colored spice common in Middle Eastern and Indian cuisine.

It contains an active ingredient called curcumin that has received a lot of attention for its possible health benefits related to its anti-inflammatory properties.

In this article, we’ll evaluate some of these benefits and help you decide if you should add turmeric or curcumin to your daily routine.

What Are Turmeric and Curcumin?

Turmeric, or Curcuma longa, is a plant from the ginger family native to Southeast Asia. The roots of the turmeric plant are the part used in traditional medicine and cooking.

As a culinary spice, turmeric gives a vibrant yellow-orange color and warming flavor to various foods and beverages.

It is commonly used in various Asian and Middle Eastern cuisines but has gained popularity around the world.

In medicine, turmeric has been used in Indian and Chinese traditional medicines but is now increasingly being used in modern medicine.

While turmeric has several active components that contribute to its medicinal uses, the major active component in turmeric is called curcumin.

Curcumin is the substance that gives turmeric its familiar yellow-orange color.

Curcumin belongs to a group of polyphenols called curcuminoids. It is widely studied for its ability to reduce oxidative stress while providing a number of benefits to the body.

Many of the benefits of turmeric and curcumin come from anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, and antimicrobial effects.

1. May Promote Skin Health

The skin is the largest organ of our bodies and is often a target of oxidative stress and immune system reactions. Curcumin may play a role in the treatment of chronic skin conditions.

Psoriasis is a chronic inflammatory and autoimmune skin condition that can cause thick, red, and scaly patches of skin to appear.

Curcumin supplementation is shown to reduce symptoms of psoriasis and improve cholesterol in psoriasis patients.

Oral curcumin can improve symptoms of atopic and iatrogenic dermatitis by reducing inflammatory markers and increasing the activity of the body’s natural antioxidants.

Curcumin may also protect the skin against damage caused by UV-B light and increase the production of hyaluronic acid in the skin.

Summary:

Curcumin can help reduce symptoms of chronic skin conditions such as psoriasis and dermatitis and may protect against aging caused by sun damage.

2. May Promote Gut Microbiota and Gut Health

Curcumin may impact gut health by decreasing gut permeability caused by inflammation and improving the gut microbiota.

Research finds that oral curcumin supplements decrease the abundance of bacteria associated with systemic disease. It may also act similar to a prebiotic to improve gut bacteria diversity.

Dysfunction of the intestinal barrier can result in increased inflammation and harmful substances passing from the gut into the body.

This can lead to chronic disease onset or increased severity of existing conditions.

Curcumin can help maintain the gut barrier by protecting against oxidative stress, regulating immune system response, increasing the organization of cells lining the gut, and more.

Summary:

Curcumin promotes gut health by increasing the diversity of bacteria in the gut, decreasing “bad” bacteria, and strengthening the intestines against permeability.

3. May Help Prevent Cancer Progression

Cancer is a condition in which abnormal cells grow uncontrollably and potentially invade other healthy tissues. Common treatments for cancer to stop growth include surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.

Curcumin and curcumin-related derivatives may be effective in combination with chemotherapy drugs to help in cancer treatment.

Studies on breast cancer, prostate cancer, and colon cancer find that curcumin combined with anticancer drugs has a synergistic in inhibiting tumor initiation, preventing metastasis and invasion of healthy tissues, and inhibiting blood flow to cancer cells.

Other active components of turmeric (known as non-curcuminoids) show potential in fighting cancer, but more clinical studies need to be done to confirm their benefits.

Summary:

Curcumin supplements, when combined with chemotherapy medications, can have a synergistic effect in preventing cancer progression. Other components of turmeric may have these same effects, but there is not much clinical research to prove its effectiveness.

4. May Help with Pain Relief

Two types of anti-inflammatory medications, called corticosteroids and NSAIDs help with pain relief by inhibiting the activities of certain enzymes that cause inflammation.

Curcumin can work in a similar way to these powerful medications. It can selectively inhibit enzymes that cause inflammation and pain in the body, without causing some of the long-term effects of typical pain-relieving medications.

In a 2014 observational study, patients with osteoarthritis taking a curcumin supplement significantly decreased or even discontinued pain medications over 6 months.

Curcumin also has the potential to reduce post-surgical pain and inflammation and to reduce the use of pain medications and anti-inflammatory medications.

Summary:

Curcumin may be an effective pain-reliever and anti-inflammatory supplement.

5. May Support Heart Health

Curcumin may support cardiovascular health as a useful supplement for heart disease prevention and treatment.

Supplementation with curcumin may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease (such as heart attack and stroke) by reducing the occurrence of blood clot formation.

Curcumin can affect the metabolism of fats in the body and improve the function of HDL (the good cholesterol) to reduce cardiovascular risk.

Animal studies suggest that turmeric and curcumin supplements have the potential as a complementary therapy for managing heart failure and preventing diabetic cardiovascular disease.

Summary:

Curcumin may support heart health by reducing the risk of blood clots, improving HDL function, and preventing diabetic cardiovascular disease.

6. May Support Joint Health

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. Common symptoms of this condition include pain, stiffness, loss of flexibility, and swelling.

As mentioned earlier, curcumin can help reduce pain and use of pain medications in patients with osteoarthritis, but these are not curcumin’s only benefits.

Clinical studies find that curcumin supplementation can also improve physical function, quality of life, and reduce the activation of inflammatory pathways within the body.

Daily turmeric extract or curcumin supplementation of 1,000 mg per day was found to be effective in treating symptoms of arthritis, according to a 2016 review and meta-analysis of clinical trials.

There were limitations in the meta-analysis concerning sample size and quality of studies included in the review, so larger and better-designed studies need to be done concerning turmeric’s benefits for arthritis.

Summary:

Turmeric and curcumin supplements may improve symptoms of osteoarthritis. Daily supplementation of 1,000 mg may be effective for helping symptoms, but more research needs to be done.

7. May Support Brain Health

Curcumin may be effective in treating neurodegenerative diseases through gut activity and direct activities in the brain.

Gut dysbiosis, or a lack of bacterial diversity in the gut, has been considered a factor in Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington disease.

Curcumin may protect brain health by balancing the gut-brain axis through reducing inflammation and free radicals, increasing gut microbe diversity, and increasing protective substances produced in the gut.

In patients with Alzheimer’s disease, curcumin and curcumin derivatives may be effective as therapy by inhibiting the amyloid-beta formation and decreasing oxidative stress in the brain.

A recent 2020 study found that curcumin supplementation may affect working memory and mood in older adults.

Summary:

Curcumin may improve brain health by balancing the gut-brain axis, reducing oxidative stress and plaque formation, and helping memory and mood.

8. May Help with Exercise Performance and Recovery

Intense exercise can result in muscle damage and some pain in the post-exercise recovery period.

Due to curcumin’s ability to act as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent, researchers believe it may be useful in speeding up muscle recovery.

A 2020 review of curcumin on performance and post-exercise recovery suggests that curcumin has the ability to improve self-perceived pain, reduce muscle damage, increase antioxidants, and decrease inflammation. However, some of these effects are not consistent across the research.

More research needs to be done on how to best individualize curcumin supplementation to support exercise performance and get more consistent results.

Summary:

Curcumin supplements can be helpful in post-exercise recovery, but there are currently inconsistencies in the research concerning how to optimize curcumin for this purpose.

9. May Help with Diabetes Management

Curcumin may be effective in reducing the incidence of diabetes and combatting some of the oxidative damage, inflammation, and clinical symptoms of diabetes.

In a 2012 randomized trial, daily supplementation of 250 mg curcumin for 9 months reduced the incidence of type-2 diabetes in individuals with prediabetes.

As mentioned earlier, curcumin supplementation may reduce the risk of diabetic cardiovascular disease.

In a 2019 review of the effects of curcumin on type-2 diabetes, studies showed that curcumin supplementation decreased inflammatory markers, improved cholesterol profile, slightly improved blood glucose after meals, and improved lipid metabolism.

Summary:

Curcumin may reduce the risk of type-2 diabetes and be effective for treating some of the complications of diabetes.

10. May Help Maintain Oral Hygiene

Gingivitis (and subsequentially periodontal disease) is caused by dental plaque made of bacteria and other microorganisms protected by a film.

The main ways that we fight against dental plaque are through toothbrushing, flossing, and rinsing with mouthwash.

Turmeric has active components that protect against bacteria, fungi, viruses, inflammation, and oxidation that make it optimal for controlling dental plaque.

In fact, short-term studies find that turmeric or curcumin in a gel or mouthwash was just as effective in decreasing plaque buildup as chlorhexidine (the gold standard ingredient in gingivitis prevention).

Summary:

Turmeric and curcumin as part of toothpaste or mouthwash can be effective in preventing gingivitis. However, longer studies need to be done to see if these effects are continued long-term.

Dosage, Side Effects, and Safety

Doses of turmeric and curcumin supplements vary widely and may range between 500 mg to 8,000 mg in a single day.

The research is quite variable in the dosages and length of time needed to have any benefit, so it would be best to speak with your doctor concerning turmeric dosing to see what may fit your needs.

Amounts of up to 12,000 mg per day have been tolerated during studies without serious side effects. Still, recently there was a group of acute hepatitis cases associated with high dose/high bioavailability turmeric supplements.

Milder side effects that people may experience with turmeric supplements include hypertension, tachycardia, tongue redness, nausea, diarrhea, stomachache, gas, and other stomach discomforts.

Turmeric supplements may interact with chemotherapy medications or anticoagulant medications.

If you are taking any of these medications, I recommend speaking with your doctor first to avoid any drug interactions.

Turmeric Supplementation

The amount of turmeric and curcumin needed to result in health benefits is difficult to achieve in a regular diet, so it may be necessary to take a turmeric supplement to see the best results.

Curcumin is an unstable molecule that is poorly absorbed by the body and rapidly metabolized, which can limit its effectiveness.

Finding a turmeric supplement that optimizes the availability of curcumin may be beneficial to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth.

When selecting a turmeric supplement, it is best to choose one that contains black pepper extract as an ingredient.

That’s because studies show that combining piperine (the active component of black pepper extract) with curcumin can increase curcumin’s bioavailability up to 2000% and significantly increase the therapeutic effects of a curcumin supplement.

The Bottom Line

Turmeric is a supplement that is well-researched and has benefits across all areas of the body.

Not only does turmeric and curcumin reduce oxidative stress and inflammation, but it also has several mechanisms to balance the functioning of your body.

Adding turmeric to your favorite dishes may give you some benefits (at the very least, a tasty dish!).

However, to get the best results, a supplement will provide the amount of daily curcumin needed for health effects.

Before starting turmeric supplements, speak with your doctor to get advice if turmeric is right for you.

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