Is turmeric the “magic spice-herb-drug” some people believe it to be?
Unfortunately, it’s not. I wish I was able to prescribe or suggest a magic spice that would cure all or any ailments!
What health benefits does it have?
Turmeric is said to contain powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Inflammation is a common pathway in many medical problems, so many anti-inflammatory approaches (pharmaceuticals, lifestyle interventions, dietary supplements) may have the potential to help. We know that inflammation plays at least some role in many diseases, including heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and autoimmune disease. But because results of studies looking at the impact of turmeric on disease tend to be mixed — some positive, some neutral — it’s difficult to make generalizations.
Both in animals and in humans we see anti-inflammatory effects, and research is ongoing to see how we can harness this activity to produce a clinical benefit in these diseases.
There is epidemiologic evidence showing associations between increased turmeric consumption and decreased rates of cognitive decline, but we have yet to show that increasing the intake of, or supplementing with, turmeric can actually prevent cognitive decline.
What about reports that it helps with joint pain?
Turmeric has been studied, and continues to be studied, in relation to joint pain. But it can be challenging to interpret these studies. Some studies use turmeric, and many others use curcumin, which is considered to be the active ingredient in turmeric with anti-inflammatory activity. Different doses have been used in different trials, and results are often difficult to reproduce. We know that it is unlikely to do harm, and may help some people with joint pain.
What other conditions or diseases might turmeric help with?
Turmeric may be helpful in inducing remission of ulcerative colitis while also reducing its recurrence. Some studies have shown potential benefit for individuals with pathologic pain, including that from osteoarthritis and rheumatologic disease. There may be a role for turmeric or curcumin in obesity and metabolic syndrome, too, but we have yet to understand its role.
Which foods contain turmeric and what are some ways to incorporate turmeric into one’s diet?
Turmeric is a root that is most often bought that way, or in powdered form. The yellow color of some curries comes from turmeric. It can be incorporated into many foods — you can add flavor by adding it to stews and curries, prepare vegetables with it, or add it to lentils. You can also add it to salad dressings, or even add it to drinks such as tea. In addition to adding a nice flavor and potential health benefits, it also brings a nice color to your dish.