Turmeric’s gotten tons of health hype lately due to curcumin, its main bioactive compound. Scientists have already conducted over 100 clinical trials on the antioxidant-like compounds found in the curry spice, called curcuminoids.
But since so many studies on this golden seasoning have been misreported, it’s time to set the record straight. Here are some of turmeric’s top claims, debunked:
1. It reduces inflammation.
The polyphonic compounds in the spice have been linked to reduced risk of chronic inflammation, the biological state where your body’s cells work overtime to get their regular job done. Doctors can identify inflammation (a.k.a. blood work) by looking at certain bio markers of oxidation stress, a result of biological processes that causes organ tissue damage. The curcumin in turmeric may help to mitigate this by protecting blood vessels from inflammation.
Your lifestyle (how often you exercise, what you eat and whether or not you smoke) can also impact inflammation, while some of it is out of your control. That said, dumping turmeric onto any old meal won’t completely reverse any inflammation that’s already underway, especially when you’re eating a diet high in saturated fat, sodium and added sugar. In other words, one trendy spice can’t undo the effects of an otherwise poor-quality diet.
2. It fights pain.
Some studies have linked turmeric to reduced arthritis pain, as well as some GI pain associated with inflammatory bowel disease. In fact, preliminary research indicates turmeric use could provide pain relief without the tummy-upsetting side effects of other pain medications. That said, a recent meta-analysis found that there isn’t any conclusive evidence that turmeric can replace commercial pain medication like ibuprofen.
flavor your food!, there’s no reason why turmeric on veggies, beans, 100% whole grains, and lean protein can’t lend a hand. Use turmeric to add flavor but don’t rely on it for pain management or in place of a treatment recommended by your physician.
3. It reduces risk of chronic diseases.
Curcumin can powerfully affect the biological pathways that ultimately lead to oxidation stress, an underlying factor in chronic, lifestyle-related diseases like heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some types of cancers. Some preliminary research even linked turmeric to a lower risk of heart attack post-bypass surgery. That said, your dietary patterns as a whole are more important than a single compound. Topping a deep-fried anything with turmeric won’t reverse your diabetes risk, no matter how much you add!
4. It helps your skin.
Newer research has linked turmeric — both in ingestible and topical forms — with aiding in some skin disorders, including psoriasis, alopecia and even acne. However, scientists haven’t determined the specific mechanisms (how it works), the right dosage (how much you’ll need) and who it works best for just yet.
5. It reduces risk of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Curcumin has also been linked to protection against cognitive decline, such as limiting the plaques that leads to neurological impairment in Alzheimer’s disease. While it seems promising, it’s important to know that there simply isn’t enough evidence from human trials just yet. The studies that have been done to-date are super small; one recent turmeric study showing tremendous potential had just three participants !
Another recent study links curcuminoids to a possible reduced risk of cognitive decline, indicating that the spice as part of a meal can be beneficial rather than a curcurmin supplement alone. That’s why I’m a big proponent for using the spice when cooking — not in pill form.
6. It sharpens your mind.
While it may seem like a cure-all, turmeric can’t help you get through a presentation you’re unprepared for (sorry — I wish!). With that in mind, some preliminary research found that out of over 1,000 participants, elderly individuals who ate turmeric scored higher on test than those who rarely or never ate the stuff. While loads more research is still needed, this finding may help convince your family to have more curry nights!
7. It can help with autoimmune disorders.
Most of the research done on turmeric and autoimmune disorders is definitely compelling, but human studies have been far too small — between five and nine people — to form any conclusions. And since autoimmune diseases (where the body’s own immune system attacks itself) are particularly tricky to treat, it’s even more important that scientists and healthcare professionals take caution before providing overarching guidance for everyone.
8. You don’t have to eat a lot to reap the rewards.
Not only would you need to eat a whole lot of turmeric to get the best benefits, but also curcumin’s not a very bio-available compound. (Quick vocab lesson: Bio availability refers to the proportion of a substance you take that has an active effect).
Turmeric is technically safe in higher doses, but it’s also been linked to some tummy trouble, so take it easy on the powder unless you’ve been advised otherwise by your doc. Just know that if you’re using expensive supplements or blowing through jars of the spice regularly, it can definitely do some damage to your wallet!
9. It’s better absorbed with black pepper.
Research has linked piperine — the active compound in black pepper — to better absorption of curcumin in your body. That’s why many supplements on the market contain both curcumin and piperine (and, in my honest opinion, to also raise the price of the product). Still, you’re better off eating turmeric and pepper in meals instead of in supplement form. The phytonutrients found in plant-based foods also boost absorption of all types of antioxidant-like compounds, which can ultimately improve health overall.
10. It’s better than other spices.
Turmeric has a very distinct taste, making curry and other recipes so darn delicious for some and a total turnoff to others. But since turmeric is still a plant-derived spice, it’s important to remember that its benefits are very similar to many other seasonings, including the ones you already in your pantry right now! So if you’re not a fan of the taste, there’s no reason to start devouring it just yet.
Adding ginger, chili flakes, garlic, pepper, cumin and cinnamon to plant-based recipes can also boost flavor without adding sodium, making it a more nutritious option as a whole.