What is Turmeric and What Is It Used for?

Turmeric is a spice that comes from the root of curcuma longa, a plant in the ginger family. Its main active ingredient is a compound called curcumin, which gives turmeric its yellow color. 

Curcumin is high in antioxidants and has anti-inflammatory properties. However, curcumin has poor bioavailability, which means your body doesn’t absorb it well. You’ll learn about some strategies to overcome this below. 

Research has shown it may help you better manage conditions in which inflammation plays a role.

Turmeric Health Benefits

Turmeric is best known for its antioxidant properties. One study showed that it may help protect your body from free radicals and another study found that turmeric’s antioxidant effects may also stimulate the action of other antioxidants in your body.

Although most research studies have been small, early results seem promising.

Here’s a deeper dive into some of the health benefits of turmeric. 

Reduce Inflammation

According to a 2017 research review called Curcumin: A Review of Its’ Effects on Human Health, turmeric “aids in the management of oxidative and inflammatory conditions, metabolic syndrome, arthritis, anxiety, and hyperlipidemia”.

In one study of patients with ulcerative colitis, a common autoimmune disease, patients who took 2 grams of curcumin / day along with prescription medication were more likely to stay in remission than those who took the medication alone. Since many medications for autoimmune disorders come with unwanted side effects, this research is promising. 

Turmeric may also reduce joint swelling and stiffness from rheumatoid arthritis. 

However, a 2019 review found that “Turmeric or curcumin did not decrease several inflammatory markers in patients with chronic inflammatory diseases.” 

Clearly more research is needed to understand the effects of turmeric / curcumin supplements on inflammation. 

Boost Memory

A 2018 clinical trial showed that taking 90 milligrams of curcumin twice daily for 18 months helped improve memory in adults. Researchers from this study found that: 

  • Curcumin led to significant memory and attention benefits.
  • Curcumin’s cognitive benefits may stem from its anti-inflammatory and/or anti-amyloid brain effects.

Reduce Arthritis Pain

A 2016 metaanalysis found that taking turmeric extract could potentially reduce arthritis pain. 

And a 2021 study showed turmeric supplements had similar pain reduction effects on osteoarthritis knee pain as NSAIDs. A 2017 research review stated: Curcumin may offer an alternative to NSAIDS for patients with OA seeking treatment but experiencing negative side effects. 

Support Heart Health

Due to its ability to help reduce inflammation, turmeric may also lower the risk of heart disease.

A 2017 study showed that turmeric may help reverse heart disease. In healthy adults who took curcumin capsule supplements for 12 weeks, resistance artery endothelial production (which plays a significant role in high blood pressure) was increased significantly. 

Another study found that patients who took 4 grams of curcumin a day saw a 65% decreased risk of having a heart attack in the hospital following coronary artery bypass surgery. 

And a 2017 metaanalysis that reviewed results from 7 studies found that turmeric may protect those at risk for heart disease by lowering certain levels of cholesterol. 

Helps Combat Depression

In a 2020 metaanalysis, researchers concluded that “curcumin, if added to standard care, might improve depressive and anxiety symptoms in people with depression.” 

While scientists are still uncovering the exact mechanisms for how curcumin/turmeric may help with depression, it appears as if curcumin can boost BDNF levels (BDNF, or brain-derived neurotrophic factor, is a protein that is reduced when you’re depressed). 

Another study found that curcumin may be just as effective as fluoxetine (Prozac) in reducing symptoms of depression. 

And finally, curcumin / turmeric also appear to increase levels of serotonin and dopamine — which are brain chemicals that regulate mood and other body functions. Researchers had this to say: 

The coadministration of curcumin along with piperine may prove to be a useful and potent natural antidepressant approach in the management of depression.

Turmeric Safety and Risks 

Doses of up to 8 grams of turmeric / curcumin have not been shown to cause serious adverse effects in humans. However, larger studies are needed. Here are some potential side effects that may occur: 

  • High doses of curcumin may produce nausea and gastrointestinal complaints. 
  • Use of curcumin with piperine may cause adverse drug reactions, as piperine greatly increases intestinal permeability. 
  • Turmeric may cause bloating, and there is a theoretical concern that it may interact with blood-clotting medications. 
  • Avoid turmeric if you have gallbladder disease.

Always talk to your doctor before starting a dietary supplement, since they could potentially interact with other medications you’re taking. Turmeric can help supplement your conventional care, but it’s not a substitute for medicine.

While the risk of side effects is low and drug interactions are unlikely, stop taking turmeric / curcumin supplements if you notice ill effects. 

Turmeric Optimal Dosage: How Much Should You Take Per Day? 

As a dietary supplement, research shows that 500 milligrams twice daily with food appears to be effective for most people. The dose that’s right for you depends on your overall health. More isn’t always better, so talk to your doctor.

On its own, curcumin is poorly absorbed. So look for a curcumin / turmeric capsule with piperine (a black pepper extract) or combine it with some healthy fats (olive oil, avocado, nuts, etc.). 

It’s usually best to take turmeric with or immediately before a meal to avoid any side effects. 

Best Time to Take Turmeric

The best time of day to take turmeric really depends on what you’re using it for. Turmeric can be used in the morning to reduce minor aches and pains and sharpen your mental focus and memory or in the evening to reduce anxiety and stress, if you prefer. 

How Long Does Turmeric Take to Work? 

Turmeric generally takes 30-60 minutes to take effect. Pairing it with healthy fats and/or black pepper extract will improve absorption time. 

How Is Turmeric Best Absorbed? 

It’s widely known that turmeric is not absorbed well by your body. However, there are several ways to help your body absorb it better, to exert maximum benefit. 

A number of all-natural compounds have been studied to help increase the bioavailability of curcumin. 

One of the most popular is piperine, also known as black pepper extract. 

One study showed that curcumin bioavailability was increased by 2,000% at 45 minutes after co-administering curcumin orally with piperine. 

So make sure whatever turmeric supplement you’re choosing has black pepper extract (like BioPerine, a safe, proven, and patented extract) to improve absorption. 

How to Find the Best Turmeric Supplement

There are a few things to look for to find the best turmeric supplement for you. 

  1. Seek out turmeric / curcumin supplements with organic ingredients, so you ingest  less pesticides/chemicals. 
  2. Choose a product with the optimal dose of 500–600 mg of turmeric per capsule. 
  3. Look for turmeric pills with 5 mg or more of black pepper extract (like BioPerine) because the black pepper extract makes the turmeric easier for your body to absorb. 
  4. Look for a turmeric supplement made in the USA in a GMP-compliant, FDA-approved facility that’s been third party lab tested for purity and safety. 

Learn More About Pure Food Turmeric + Ginger 

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