What's the Deal with Turmeric

If you’re a little confused lately about any health benefits turmeric might provide, you’re certainly not alone. From Kris Gunnars gushing about the tuber’s 10 proven health benefits on Authority Nutrition to the more recent article in Quartz Media, “Forget what you’ve heard: Turmeric seems to have zero medicinal properties” and a plethora of scientific articles in between, figuring out whether or not a liberal sprinkling of turmeric is likely to improve anyone’s health can be downright bewildering.

Turmeric, a tuber related to ginger, has long been the subject of scientific interest because of the biological functions of one of its major components, curcumin. Reported benefits include anti-inflammatory properties, anti-HIV, antibacterial, antifungal, antiparasitic, antidiabetic, wound healing, lipid lowering, antispasmodic, antioxidant, anticarcinogenic, and help with Alzheimer's disease, among others.

Turmeric has a long history of use in Ayurvedic medicine as well as a culinary spice, most notably the star ingredient in many dried curry powders. Turmeric and curcumin capsules can be readily found among other dietary supplements, but will taking them have any benefit?

The latest review published in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry looks at several recent clinical trials and epidemiological studies as well as the chemical constituents of curcumin in detail and conclude present medicinal hype is unfounded. As one researcher stated, “With respect to curcumin/curcuminoids… in vivo studies and clinical trials, we believe there is ‘much ado about nothing’”.

So should you toss the rest of that bottle? Not so fast…

Much of the debate in the current research stems from insufficient human double-blind clinical trials (medical research gold standard), difficulty isolating the major components of curcumin, instability of the chemical components, and poor absorption, among several other obstacles. These are all important considerations when determining the likelihood of replicating a nutraceutical (any food component used for medicinal purposes). However, in whole foods and food combinations, chemical components often work synergistically to produce health benefits. For instance, piperine (the alkaloid that gives black pepper its pungency) will improve the bioavailability of curcumin and is often included in curry powders.

While the reported benefits of curcumin may be possible, more human clinical studies are needed. In the meantime, go ahead and enjoy eating turmeric as often as you like. It’s beautiful color and taste certainly won’t hurt!


1. Chakraborty M, Bhattacharjee A, Kamath JV. Cardioprotective effect of curcumin and piperine combination against cyclophosphamide-induced cardiotoxicity. Indian Journal of Pharmacology. 2017; 49(1):65-70. doi:10.4103/0253-7613.201015.

2. MacMillan A. Turmeric May Not Be a Miracle Spice After All. Time Health. http://time.com/4633558/turmeric curcumin-inflammation-spice/. Published January 12, 2017. Accessed May 21, 2017.

3. Nelson KM, Dahlin JL, Bisson L, et al. The Essential Medicinal Chemistry of Curcumin Journal of Medicinal Chemistry 2017; 60(5), 1620-1637. doi: 10.1021/acs.jmedchem.6b00975

4. Sawikr, Y, Yarla, NS, Peluso, I, et al. Neuroinflammation in Alzheimer’s Disease: The Preventive and Therapeutic Potential of Polyphenolic Nutraceuticals. Advances in Protein Chemistry and Structural Biology 2017;108:33-57. doi-org.er.lib.k-state.edu/10.1016/bs.apcsb.2017.02.001

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