Health Benefits of Turmeric

The first thing that comes to mind when people hear the word "turmeric" is curry. While it's great for adding life to your dishes, it's also great for adding years to your life. Here, you'll find out why your home should never run out of this wonder root.

Turmeric has a number of health benefits that have been known in Southern and East Asia for many years. Most people in India use turmeric to treat a variety of illnesses, ranging from simple wounds to Alzheimer’s disease and cancer. In China, this ginger-like root crop is also used as medicine for cough, colds, and even leprosy. While there are a number of modern cures available for these diseases, it is still good to know that you can simply reach out for this golden root to help your body prevent and cure diseases.

Antioxidant Activity of Turmeric

Turmeric has recently become a popular addition to many juicing programs for detoxification. This isn’t just a gimmick. In fact, an active ingredient in turmeric, called curcumin, is a natural antioxidant.  It has the power to prevent and cure a number of diseases by fighting off free radicals that destroy the body. Also, it can slow down and reverse signs of aging, which makes it popular for women who want to maintain their youthful glow. Although a lot other foods contain antioxidants, the curcumin in turmeric has unique qualities that make it an essential addition to your everyday diet.

What Are Antioxidants?

You probably hear a lot about antioxidants when watching health shows and commercials, but never bothered to find out what they really are. Antioxidants are compounds or substances that can be found in the food we eat, particularly in fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. The most popular antioxidants are vitamin C, vitamin, E, beta-carotene, selenium and manganese, and coenzyme Q10. Most of these are usually ingredients in beauty products for women, such as face creams and lotions. They are also sold as diet supplements in pill or capsule forms.

The reason why these compounds are so popular in health products is because they protect the body from getting damaged by free radicals.

What Are Free Radicals and Oxidative Damage?

Free radicals are created when we breathe and our body inhales and exhales oxygen. This is an important process to keep us alive, but it comes with a side effect, which is oxidation. Oxidation happens when oxygen interacts with our cells. While metabolizing oxygen, 1-2% of our cells get damaged and become free radicals. Since breathing is a continuous process, more and more cells turn into free radicals every second.

Free radicals are unstable because they have a missing molecule. They need another electron to stabilize, so they seek out other cells that they can grab onto. This sets off a chain reaction, which is very destructive to the body. As these free radicals multiply in our body, they lower the body's defense system, which eventually leads to diseases and premature signs of aging.

Oxidative damage or oxidative stress happens when the body gets overwhelmed by too many free radicals. The entire body weakens because of this, and the only way to help it recover is to take in enough antioxidants to control the free radicals.

Why Are Antioxidants Important?

Antioxidants are important to our body because they calm down these cell-destroying free radicals. They hunt the free radicals in the body and bond with them, so they won't need to find and destroy other cells. When an antioxidant binds with a free radical, it stabilizes. Having enough antioxidants for the amount of free radicals in the body can stop the chain reaction, and let the body heal and fight off diseases.

Some of the most popular diseases that antioxidants can cure are:

  • Faster aging

  • Heart disease

  • Cancer

  • Arthritis

  • Alzheimer's

  • Parkinson's disease

  • Vision problems

  • Diabetes

Curcumin is a Powerful Antioxidant

Turmeric's primary component, curcumin, is one of the lesser-known antioxidants, but it is among the most powerful. Like other antioxidants it can hunt down free radicals and stabilize them, minimizing the damage to our body and allowing it to heal. Recent studies prove just how helpful curcumin can be for our bodies.

Some of the scientifically-proven effects of curcumin are:

  • Curcumin has been proven to be 5-8x more potent than the more popular antioxidants, vitamin C and E.

  • Curcumin helps preven heart disease by preventing the oxidation of lipids, including LDL or bad cholesterol. Oxidized LDL increases your risk of heart attack and stroke by causing inflammation of arteries. With the help of curcumin, you can keep your cardiovascular system healthier.

  • Curcumin can hunt down and bind with the most dangerous free radical - hydroxyl radical. Not all antioxidants can do this, so this quality gives curcumin another edge over more popular natural antioxidants.

  • Aside from acting as a direct antioxidant, curcumin can help your body indirectly by giving other antioxidants a boost. One of these antioxidants is glutathione. Curcumin helps body sythesize glutathione better, which improves the effects it has on the body. Glutathione is an intracellular antioxidant, which is clinically used to detoxify the liver. However, it is better-known in many parts of Asia as a skin whitening and smoothening supplement. Curcumin isn't just for health, it also has beautifying effects that have been used by women for centuries.

Most antioxidants are divided into two groups, which are the phenolic functional group and the beta-diketone group. Curcumin is unique because it has qualities from many antioxidant groups including beta-diketo group, carbon–carbon double bonds, and phenyl rings containing varying amounts of hydroxyl and methoxy substituents. Aside from this, within 30 minutes, curcumin can become trans-6-(4’-hydroxy-3’-methoxyphenyl)-2,4-dioxo-5-hexanal, ferulic acid, ferruloylmethane, and vanillin at basic pH. Ferulic acid and Vanillin are two other popular antioxidants.

Turmeric’s Anti-inflammatory Activity

You already know that curcumin in turmeric can help keep your cardiovascular system healthy by stopping inflammation. But that’s not the only way curcumin’s anti-inflammatory quality can help your body. Inflammation causes so many diseases, and very few people know about this. Instead of taking care of the root cause of the problem, which is inflammation, they treat only the symptoms with commercially-prepared drugs. Curcumin can help your body heal more effectively by treating inflammation and keeping it from coming back.

What is Inflammation?

Inflammation is one of the leading causes of pain and disease in the body. Very few people understand what inflammation is and what it does to the body. It’s something we only think of when we have wounds or swollen gum. However, inflammation causes more diseases than the common people know of. Some of these diseases are heart disease, stroke, thyroid problems, migraines, and cancer.

There are two types of inflammation:

Acute Inflammation

Acute inflammation occurs when you injure or hurt yourself. It is your body’s response to help you heal faster. Some of the symptoms of acute inflammation are redness, swelling, heat, and pain. This type of inflammation is normal in most cases, and it heals in a matter of days. It is usually not a cause for alarm.

Chronic Inflammation

Unlike acute inflammation, chronic inflammation is very damaging to the body. It causes the destruction of healthy cells, and can stay undetected for decades. Instead of being an acute response to facilitate healing, it becomes a silent killer, causing diseases such as diabetes, cancer, stroke, chronic lung disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and the most common one – heart disease. Once triggered, chronic inflammation is usually left untreated.

Aging makes our immune system weaker, thus, making us more prone to inflammation. Because of the relationship between aging and inflammation, the term “inflammaging” was coined. This pertains to the pro-inflammatory state our bodies get as we age.

How Does Turmeric Work Against Inflammation?

When it comes to treating illnesses like diabetes, cancer, and heart disease, the first thing that always comes to mind are prescription drugs and pills. While these can help, they also come with a number of side effects, which can be dangerous, especially for older people. Curcumin in turmeric has the power to inhibit inflammation by countering several molecules that cause inflammation. In fact, the anti-inflammatory power of curcumin compares to that of the commonly used nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as hydrocortisone and phenylbutazone, as well as other anti-inflammatory medicine that doctors prescribe their patients.

NSAIDs have been proven to cause a number of negative effects on the body including ulcer formation, decreased white blood cell count, intestinal bleeding, and a lot more. On the other hand curcumin has no known side effects.

According to research, curcumin can help reduce the negative effects of these inflamattory diseases :

  • Psoriasis

  • Osteoarthritis

  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease (Ulcerative Colitis)

  • Multiple Sclerosis

  • Inflammation of the Eye (Uveitis)

Curcumin and inflammatory response

Curcumin controls and prevents inflammation by inhibiting the enzymes that cause it. Curcumin lessens the effects of cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2), lipoxygenase  (LOX), and stops the production of inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) and cytokines like interferon gamma and tumor necrosis factor. Aside from getting rid of inflammation, curcumin reduces the pain and swelling that comes with it.

Anti-Cancer Activity of Turmeric

Another amazing quality of curcumin in turmeric is its ability to fight cancer. Animal and 'in vitro' lab studies  has shown that curcumin helps cure and prevent certain types of cancer, such as prostate, breast, esophagus, mouth, stomach, and skin cancer. It doesn’t just help prevent and cure these types of cancer, it also boosts the effects of chemotherapy and protects healthy cells from radiation therapy. Plus it has the ability to slowdown the metastasis or spread of cancer to other organs.

Due to the promising results of past animal and test tube studies, research on the effects of curcumin supplementation on people suffering from cancer is under way.

How Does Turmeric Fight Cancer?

Curcumin in turmeric has been proven to help cure and prevent cancer. These are just some ways curcumin helps in the destruction of cancer and cancer cells:

  • Curcumin triggers cell death (apoptosis) of cancer cells

Curcumin has been known to cause the death of mutated cells, thus stopping them from affecting healthy cells. Curcumin has been proven effective in inducing cell-cycle arrest and apoptosis for different types of cancer cells.

  • Curcumin stops tumors from invading other tissues

It's common knowledge that cancer can spread from one part of the body to another. Curcumin can stop this from happening by inhibiting the activity of matrix metalloproteinases, which is the enzyme needed by cancer cells for invading healthy tissue.

  • Curcumin stops cancer cells from having additional blood supply (angiogenesis)

Angiogenesis is the development of additional blood supply, which is important for cancer growth. This fuels the rapid spread of cancer cells allover the body. In lab tests, curcumin has been proven effective in stopping angiogenesis, thus slowing down the spread of cancer cells.

  • By increasing the activity of the enzymes that help the body get rid of potential carcinogens (cancer causing substances) curcumin protects agains cancer.

Turmeric Improves Brain Function and Wards Off Brain Disease

Turmeric isn't just great against cancer and heart disease, it's also been proven to help prevent certain neurodegenerative diseases, such as dementia and Alzheimer's Disease. A lot of people in their old age suffer from these diseases, but in Indian populations, where the intake of turmeric is very high, the number of people suffering from these diseases is relatively low.

How Does Turmeric Protect the Brain?

  • It is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent

As mentioned above, curcumin in turmeric is a powerful antioxidant. It has the power to stabilize free radicals, and thus stop further damage to the body, including the brain. It also has anti-inflammatory properties, which helps keep the body's immune system strong.

Aside from these two powerful qualities of turmeric, it has the ability to trigger the “heme oxygenase pathway,” which in turn produces the antioxidant bilirubin, which serves as the brain’s protection against free radicals.

  • Curcumin helps  the brain regenerate and grow new brain cells called neurons

The brain is made up of cells called neurons. In the past, it was believed that these cells do not multiply in adulthood. However, recently, it's been proven that these cells still multiply in some parts of the brain, with the help of Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), which is a type of hormone for the brain.

As we age, the amount of Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) hormone in our brain drops, and this may contribute to the development of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's disease and dementia. Curcumin comes to the rescue by increasing the level of Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) in the brain. Because of this, curcumin has the power to delay and reverse many age-related-related brain diseases.

  • Curcumin helps prevent and treat Alzheimer's Disease

Alzheimer's Disease is among the most common degenerative diseases among old and aging people. Although it’s most common for people past their 60s, it’s been recorded in patients in their 20s and 30s too.

Alzheimer’s Disease is primarily caused by amyloid-B protein fragments in the brain. When this fragments clump together, they cause oxidative stress and inflammation. Curcumin is helpful because it is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory substance. Besides that, curcumin also effectively binds with amyloid-B fragments in the brain, which stops them from forming plaque between neurons and disrupting the brain function.

It is natural for the body to produce protein fragments called "amyloids". Amyloid-B is a protein fragment taken from another protein called Amyloid Precursor Protein (APP). Normal and healthy brain's have no problem breaking down and eliminating these naturally occuring protein fragments. However, in patient's with Alzheimer's disease, these are retained in the brain, which eventually cause plaque between neurons, disrupting normal brain activity.

To research the effectiviness of curcumin against Alzheimer's Disease, UCLA Alzheimer's Center conducted several studies on how curcumin reduces the risk of having Alzheimer's disease, and even reverse it in some cases. They've done in vitro and animal studies, wherein curcumin was able to bind effectively with amyloid-B fibers, stopping them from turning into plaque.

Curcumin Lowers Cholesterol and Reduces the Risk of Heart Disease

If you have a history of heart disease and high cholesterol levels in the family, you might want to consider increasing your intake of turmeric. Curcumin in turmeric helps prevent heart disease and keep your cholesterol levels in check in many ways. It is not just an antioxidant and an anti-inflammatory agent, it also has a lot other health effects that can be beneficial for your heart and circulatory system.

  • Curcumin prevents the buildup of plaques in blood vessels

One of the leading causes of stroke is the buildup of plaques in blood vessels. The antioxidant qualities of curcumin prevent the oxidation of LDL or bad cholesterol. This oxidized bad cholesterol turns into plaque and damages the blood vessels. By helping prevent the oxidation of bad cholesterol, curcumin is able to lower the risk of heart attack and stroke.

  • Curcumin keeps artherosclerosis under control

Artherosclerosis is the hardening of the walls of the arteries. In 'in vitro' studies, curcumin has been proven to reduce the extent of the lesions, thus minimizing the negative effects on the body.

  • Curcumin lowers cholesterol levels and prevents blood clots

Curcumin prevents blood clots in the walls of arteries by stopping platelets from clumping together. Platelets are important because they stop bleeding when we get wounded. However, if they clump together in arteries, this can cause major emergencies, such as heart attack or stroke.Curcumin has also been proven to reduce cholesterol levels.

Curcumin Helps Combat Indigestion

Most of the effects curcumin that we have discussed so far are related to serious illnesses. However, curcumin can also be used as an everyday supplement for aiding digestion. A lot of people unknowingly suffer from a bad digestive system. This can go undetected for years, and they can settle for temporary pain relievers for conditions like dyspepsia or ulcer. In Germany, turmeric root is one of the herbs included in their Commission E’s list (Germany’s regulatory agency for herbs). The Commission E has approved curcumin for the use in cases of upset stomach and lack of appetite.

Turmeric has been proven to aid digestion by stimulating the gallbladder to produce bile. It has also been used for conditions like dyspepsia, liver diseases, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, and Crohn’s disease.

Important Note on Bioavailibility of Curcumin

While it’s true that curcumin has a lot of positive effects on the body, it has a very low bioavailability. "Bioavailability" is the term used to describe how much of a certain substance gets absorbed by our body where it is needed.

The results seen in studies come from very high concentrations of curcumin. The cells that were used in studies were literally bathed in curcumin solution. Such high concentrations are unlikely to be achieved by taking turmeric orally. That is way you need to take specially-formulated curcumin pills that have increased bioavailability.

What is bioavailability?

Whenever we ingest a certain substance, it has to go through our digestive system first. It can be metabolized in the different parts of our digestive system, including the gut and the liver. The liver usually metabolizes a lot of the substances that we take in, due to its enzymes. Because of this fact, the amount of the substance that is absorbed by the body after the digestion process is reduced significantly.

When we say that a substance has a high bioavailability, it means that a large percentage of it reaches its target tissue or organ and stays there for a long time. On the other hand, substance with low bioavailability has a low absorption rate as a lot of it is eliminated during the digestion process. Also, such substance, when absorbed in the body, stays in the target tissue for only a short span of time.


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Sources and References: 
  1. The Molecular Targets and Therapeutic Uses of Curcumin in Health and Disease, Antioxidant and Anti-inflammatory Properties of Curcumin, Venugopal P. Menon, Adluri Ram Sudheer, 2007,
  2. Antioxidant availability of turmeric in relation to its medicinal and culinary uses. Tilak JC1, Banerjee M, Mohan H, Devasagayam TP.2004,
  3. Turmeric University of Maryland Medical Center
  4. Turmeric Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
  6. On the Antioxidant Mechanism of Curcumin:  Classical Methods Are Needed To Determine Antioxidant Mechanism and Activity, L. Ross C. Barclay and Melinda R. Vinqvist,Kazuo Mukai, Hideo Goto, Yoshimi Hashimoto, Aiko Tokunaga, and Hidemitsu Uno, August 2000,
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Comments (1)

  • Turmeric

    Does turmeric also help with depression?

    Jan 18, 2016

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