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6 potential health benefits from turmeric

Published: March 7, 2023

Written by: Karla Walsh

A couple walking their golden retriever with a stick in its mouth on a brightly lit sidewalk.

What is turmeric?

You may be familiar with turmeric as an ingredient in your favorite curry dish, but the golden yellow spice might have more to recommend it beyond its savory flavor. In fact, thousands of years ago1 in Southeast Asia, traditional medicine practitioners turned to the plant (a relative of ginger) for its purported health-promoting properties, according to the National Institutes of Health National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.2

The main active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin, which has been shown to have antioxidant properties. Some research shows that it may have far-reaching benefits, such as reducing muscle soreness and even maintaining cognitive function in older adults when taken as a solid lipid formulation.3,4 “Considering a turmeric supplement may be beneficial,” says Lauren Manaker, MS, RDN, LD, a registered dietitian and owner of Nutrition Now Counseling in Charleston, South Carolina.5

Best turmeric supplements

To reap the potential health benefits of turmeric, your body needs to be able to use the active ingredient, curcumin, which is available in extremely low amounts in this particular spice.6 Selecting a curcumin supplement that also contains piperine (the active compound in black pepper) may improve the absorption of curcumin.**7 In one study, it was associated with an increase in curcumin’s bioavailability by about 2,000 percent.8

Not sure how to use turmeric? You can find trace amounts of curcumin in products like turmeric powder and turmeric tea.9 It’s also present in skin care products like turmeric soap and turmeric face masks and in dietary supplement form (e.g., turmeric pills).

How much turmeric should one take per day?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration deems turmeric, in spice form, to be “GRAS,” or “generally recognized as safe” at levels used for culinary purposes.10

Research indicates that 4,000 milligrams and 8,000 milligrams of supplemental curcumin has been shown to be well tolerated for healthy populations with short-term use.11 However, some groups might be at higher risk for potential interactions or complications.12

What may turmeric be good for?

Read on for reasons why some dietitians recommend incorporating curcumin into your daily diet. Remember, any time you're considering adding a supplement to your diet, be sure to consult your doctor or health care provider to ensure that it's a good fit for you and that it won't aggravate existing allergies or interfere with other medications or supplements you're taking.13 Also, see “Who should not use turmeric?” below.

Can play a role in a nutritional anti-inflammation strategy

“Curcumin has strong anti-inflammatory properties, which may aid in reducing inflammation,” says Roxana Ehsani, RD, CSSD, a registered dietitian nutritionist in Miami and a national media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.14,15,16 While acute inflammation is an important part of the body's healing process, persistent or chronic inflammation can contribute to serious health complications. Careful attention to diet and the addition of supplements, such as curcumin, can help to counter this.17,18,19

Can help relieve aches and pains related to knee osteoarthritis

Research suggests that curcumin may be an effective anti-inflammatory treatment option. In some circumstances, it can be comparable to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for pain relief. Studies that have looked at patients with knee osteoarthritis20,21 indicate that curcumin may be safe for use in addressing long-term osteoarthritis knee pain when taking about 1,000 milligrams of curcumin a day.22

May help reduce the risk of heart disease

Heart disease is the leading killer for both women and men in the United States, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data from 2019.23 Several studies suggest that curcumin may lower the risk of cardiac disease by helping to prevent chronic inflammation of the arteries, although specific guidelines on effective doses don’t exist yet and more research is needed.24,25

Studies have found that curcumin can even improve vascular function, which is important to heart health. Its effect in this regard is similar to engaging in exercise, according to one report that examined the effects of curcumin supplements in postmenopausal women.26 That said, there’s no substitute for regular exercise, and adults should still follow Recomendaciones de los CDC there.

May help to preserve your memory

Inflammation in the brain occurs as we age, and it’s linked to cognitive decline and the development of dementia.27 Curcumin’s antioxidant qualities might mitigate that inflammation enough to slow the decline in adults without dementia.28

Turmeric for depression

Feeling blue? It might be time to turn to something yellow. One research review suggests that curcumin can boost levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a protein in the hippocampus involved in memory and learning that starts to decrease among those who have depression.29,30 But the authors note that clinical trials are needed to determine how safe and effective it might be.

Curcumin may also help increase levels of two important mood-related hormones: serotonin and dopamine.31 Still, supplements are no replacement for mental health counseling and pharmaceutical treatments. If you're struggling, be sure to seek professional treatment. You can find an expert near you through the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Turmeric benefits for skin

You can now find curcumin infused in gels, foams, lotions and tonic drops or via some bandages for topical use. Why? A few studies (including some with humans) suggest that turmeric's anti-inflammatory properties may help reduce symptoms of psoriasis, atopic dermatitis and skin infections and may also aid in wound healing.32,33

If you're impacted by any of these conditions, ask your dermatologist if turmeric-laced skin care might be beneficial for you. You can find dozens of curcumin-infused products in the beauty aisle and online.

Who should not use turmeric?

For topical use, a spot test is a good rule of thumb. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends applying a quarter-sized amount of any new skin care product to a test area twice a day for 7 to 10 days.34 As long as you don't see swelling, redness or irritation, you may tolerate it. At any time, if you notice increased sensitivity or a potential allergic or adverse reaction, discontinue use.

As for the oral supplement, you should always talk to your health care provider before starting any new regimen. According to Manaker, this is especially true for pregnant women. There's not enough research yet to confirm turmeric's safety for expecting mothers and their babies and for anyone taking a prescription medication.

Due to potential complications, those with diabetes, bleeding disorders, iron deficiency (anemia), kidney stones or gallbladder disease should also only use turmeric supplements under the direction of their medical care team.35

Este contenido es solo para fines informativos y no constituye un asesoramiento médico. Consult with your health care provider before taking any vitamins or supplements and prior to beginning or changing any health care practices.

*Estas declaraciones no han sido evaluadas por la Administración de Medicamentos y Alimentos. Estos productos no están hechos para diagnosticar, tratar, curar ni prevenir ninguna enfermedad.

Este contenido es solo para fines informativos y no constituye un asesoramiento médico. Consulte con su proveedor de cuidado de la salud antes de tomar alguna vitamina o suplemento y antes de comenzar o cambiar alguna práctica relacionada con el cuidado de su salud.