Turmeric is a spice powder that is made from the root of the rhizomatous herbaceous flowering plant Curcuma longa, of the ginger (Zingiberaceae) family. Also known as Indian saffron, turmeric has been used in Asia for thousands of years as a dye, food colouring, and in traditional Indian medicine, Ayurveda. The root is orange in colour and the spice powder is bright yellow, which sometimes has the tendency to stain hands and clothing.

Turmeric has a pungent, earthy odour, with the flavouring being described as a little bitter and peppery, with a slight taste of ginger.

Dried turmeric is made by boiling the rhizomes, drying them in a hot oven, and then grinding the dried roots into powder. This spice tends to lose its potency within approximately 6 months.

Most turmeric is grown and exported from India, but it is also produced in China, Vietnam, and Peru, requiring temperatures between 20 and 30⁰C and a large amount of annual rainfall to thrive.

The main component of this spice, curcumin, is the constituent which provides the beneficial health effects. This component may be found in supplement from and is essentially a refined turmeric extract containing more (95% or more) curcuminoids.

It is difficult for the body to absorb curcumin into the blood stream, therefore it is recommended that it be consumed along with an absorption enhancer such piperine, which can be found in black pepper, otherwise the curcumin just passes through the digestive tract.




·        It has anti-inflammatory properties: The main component of turmeric, curcumin has been found to have a strong anti-inflammatory effect on the body by targeting certain steps in the inflammatory pathway at a molecular level. Curcumin actively blocks NF-kB, a molecule which travels into the nuclei of cells and activates genes which cause inflammation. This NF-kB molecule plays a role in many chronic diseases. Curcumin also inhibits the production of TNF (a pro-inflammatory cytokine), COX-2 (pro-inflammatory enzyme), 5-LOX (pro-inflammatory enzyme), and downregulates the expression of cell surface adhesion molecules linked to inflammation. Studies suggest that curcumin’s anti-inflammatory effects rival those of pharmaceutical medications designed for that purpose, without the negative side effects. It should be noted that the levels of curcumin consumed in these studies where much higher than those found naturally in turmeric.

·        Improves the body’s antioxidant capacity: Curcumin is a strong antioxidant which means it can actively block and destroy free radicals which can end up causing damage to cells, proteins, and DNA, resulting in a variety of diseases, including cancer. Curcumin also stimulates and boosts the activity of the body’s own antioxidant enzymes and prevents imbalance between pro-oxidant and antioxidant species in the body.

·        Improves brain function: The neurons in the brain are capable of forming new connections and can also multiply and increase in number in certain parts of the brain. One of the main causes of this process is Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) which is a type of growth hormone which functions in the brain. Many neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and depression have been associated with decreases levels of this BDNF hormone. Curcumin has been found to increase the levels of BDNF in the brain. It also has the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier and is helpful in clearing build-ups of protein known as beta-amyloid plaques, and tangles caused by a protein called tau, which play a large role in Alzheimer’s disease. Curcumin does this by bonding to aggregated beta-amyloid plaques and prevents them from enlarging further while also blocking the formation of new plaques. Curcumin also has strong chelating properties which means that it can bind to and remove metals from the body. The effect of metals has long been thought to be a cause of Alzheimer’s as the minerals can cause amyloid beta aggregation and are often found in large concentrated amounts in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.

·        Improves heart health: Curcumin has been found to improve the health of the endothelium (the lining of the blood vessels), which also improves their function. One of the main causes of heart disease is endothelial dysfunction which involves the inability of the endothelium to regulate blood pressure, blood clotting, and other factors. Curcumin is also beneficial to heart health as it reduces inflammation and oxidation which are both leading causes of heart disease.

·        May benefit epilepsy patients: Studies have found that curcumin in high doses has an antiepileptogenic effect and is helpful in reducing onset as well as the occurrence of seizures. It was also found to be beneficial to protect against seizure induced memory impairment. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20840851

·        Helps prevent and treat cancer: Studies have found that curcumin can affect cancer growth, development, and spread at a molecular level. These studies however, have been performed on laboratory animals and it is yet to be seen whether high doses of curcumin, preferably with an absorption enhancer such as black pepper, can help to treat cancer in humans. There is some evidence that turmeric can prevent cancer, especially cancers of the digestive system such as colorectal cancer. One study shows that men with lesions of the colon which sometimes turn cancerous consumed 4 grams of curcumin per day for 30 days and found a decrease in the number of lesions by 40%. http://cancerpreventionresearch.aacrjournals.org/content/4/3/354.long In the event of cancerous cells, curcumin induces DNA damage and sensitizes cancerous cells to chemotherapeutic agents, thus helping to increase sensitivity and the effectiveness of chemo treatment.

·        Prevents DNA damage: Lipid peroxidation is a consequence of oxidative stress where fats in the cell membranes are destroyed by reactive species, leading to cell death and tissue damage. Research shows that curcumin inhibits this process and may offer up to 80% protection to DNA against this damage.

·        Treats arthritis: Curcumin has been found to be an effective arthritis treatment due to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant abilities. It has been found to be effective at inhibiting the secretion of several reactive oxygen species, along with the inflammatory enzymes COX-2 and Prostaglandin E-2. It is also an effective form of pain relief for arthritis sufferers.

·        Aids in the treatment of muscle disorders: It is suggested that turmeric can be beneficial in the treatment of various musculoskeletal disorders such as osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, sarcoma, bursitis, and ankylosing spondylitis. It is also helpful in relieving pain, preventing muscle mass loss, and improving antioxidant defences.

·        Treats and prevents depression: Depression is linked to decreased levels of BNDF levels. Curcumin actively boosts levels of BNDF. It can also boost the brain neurotransmitters serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine, causing an improvement in mood, while also regulating the neurotransmitters responsible for stress responses. It also decreases the amounts of inflammatory markers in the blood stream which travel through the brain. Studies have shown curcumin to promote neurogenesis (brain cell formation), particularly in the frontal cortex and hippocampal regions of the brain, resulting in a physiological treatment for depression and other cognitive disorders.

·        Treats bipolar disorder: Due to its ability to treat depression, improve mood, decrease inflammation, and influence neurotransmitters, curcumin has been found to be an effective treatment for bipolar.

·        Prevent blood clots: Blood clots occur due to a process called platelet aggregation in which the platelets in the blood concentrate in one area and eventually clot. Curcumin’s anti-clotting properties is due to the way it affects the biosynthesis of thromboxanes, an eicosanoid which affects inflammation in the body.

·        Improves liver health: The high antioxidant levels in turmeric is beneficial for preventing the build up of toxins in the liver, preventing damage.

·        Improves digestion: Curcumin is beneficial for gut health as it actively reduces gut inflammation and helps to protect the bacterial tract from bacteria. It was often used in traditional medicine as a carminative. It is also effective in stimulating the gallbladder to produce bile which is essential for digestion and the absorption of fats and fat-soluble minerals in the small intestine. This means that curcumin is effective at treating inflammatory conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), IBS, and Crohn’s disease.

·        Improves pancreas health: Curcumin is effective at reducing pancreatic inflammation by suppressing inflammatory molecules such as cytokines, while increasing the activity of PPAR-y, an anti-inflammatory molecule in the cells. The antioxidant action of curcumin is also beneficial for suppressing inflammation of the pancreas caused by oxidative stress, while also having the ability to prevent pancreatic tissue damage caused by free radicals and inflammatory molecules.

·        Prevents acid reflux: Curcumin is effective in improving digestion, preventing ulcerative formations, reducing inflammation, and protects against the bacterial H. Pylori infection. The antioxidant property of curcumin contributes to its anti-ulcer activity. It can also reduce the damage caused by bile acids in the oesophagus. Exposure to the oesophageal lining to a low PH induces the activation of inflammatory cytokines such as interleukins, due to the activation of nuclear factor kappa B (an enzyme that controls the inflammatory processes). Curcumin inhibits the activity of nuclear factor kappa B and prevents the oesophageal cells from activating when exposed to low PH levels, thereby reducing oesophageal inflammation.

·        Relieves pain: Curcumin’s anti-inflammatory effect on inflammatory chemicals such as prostaglandins and interleukins is beneficial in relieving pain, with some studies suggesting it is just as effective as some drugs such as ibuprofen and paracetamol. It has also been found to relieve neuropathic pain in people which is similar to the ‘pins and needles’ sensation. Studies have found curcumin to be effective in treating inflammation-induced arthritic pain, burn pain, post-operative pain, neuropathic pain, orofacial pain, sciatic nerve pain, pain-induced depression, and promoting wound healing.

·        Helps with heavy metal detoxification: Turmeric is beneficial at aiding in the treatment for heavy metal poisoning due to its antioxidant and chelating properties. Chelating is the ability to bind to metals and remove them from the body. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20229497

·        Improves eye health: Curcumin is effective in treating glaucoma, uveitis, and cataracts due to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It works to block proteins that trigger inflammation, and intercept inflammatory pathways. A particular disorder retinitis pigmentosa, which is characterized by a build up of protein in the eye which causes vision loss and eventual blindness, responds particularly well to curcumin.

·        Improves allergies and asthma: Allergies and asthma have the same kind of allergic response: the body produces compounds which attach themselves to immune system cells called mast cells. This results in the mast cells releasing large amounts of histamine, a reaction which causes swelling, inflammation, redness, and itching. When allergens react with the body, the immune system responds by releasing large amounts of inflammatory cytokines and other markers. During an asthma attack, these markers cause the bronchial airways to narrow and tighten. Mast cells produce leukotrienes and are the primary cause of inflammation and constriction. Curcumin has been found to effectively inhibit the LOX-5 inflammatory protein which would otherwise result in the production of these leukotrienes.

·        Halts fat cell growth and expansion: Fat cell differentiation and expansion occurs through a process known as angiogenesis, the formation of new blood vessels which effectively “feed” the fat cells. Research shows that even on a high calorie diet, curcumin was able to interrupt and inhibit the process of fat growth. It also helps to decrease the inflammation



Turmeric as a spice is considered safe, but you should always consult with a doctor before taking it in supplement form. Turmeric has blood thinning properties, and so may negatively interact with blood thinning medications such as warfarin. It can also interact with medications that reduce stomach acid, and diabetes medications. Taking turmeric or curcumin supplements for an extended amount of time can result in stomach upset.


It is important to note that many of the studies mentioned above were performed on mice, with much higher doses of curcumin than would be found in a serving of turmeric. To get these levels it may be beneficial to get them in the form of a supplement.