When making a list of plant-based products that help to relieve pain and reduce inflammation, turmeric usually ranks at or near the top.
Turmeric joins celery juice, poke (diced raw fish), matcha (powdered green tea leaves), and Kombucha (a fermented sweetened black or green tea) as one of the most popular natural health products on the market.
Turmeric, an orange-yellow flowering plant of the ginger family, gives curry its bright yellow color. The spice comes in various forms, from fresh raw root to dietary supplement capsules, teas, and ground spice. What seems to be fueling the power behind turmeric is its natural properties.
Curcumin: Turmeric’s Key Ingredient
Turmeric is an antioxidant, a substance known to protect cells from damage by free radicals that play a role in developing cancer, heart disease, and other serious health conditions. In addition, turmeric has curcumin as an active ingredient. Curcumin, a bright yellow chemical, has proven to be effective in reducing inflammation.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), preliminary studies show that curcumin may:
- Reduce the number of heart attacks bypass patients have after surgery.
- Help to manage knee pain from osteoarthritis as effectively as ibuprofen.
- Reduce skin irritation resulting from radiation treatments for breast cancer.
Besides fighting inflammation and pain caused by arthritis, turmeric is also used to manage stomach and gallbladder problems, and other conditions.
Studies Confirm Benefits of Turmeric
As the popularity of turmeric grows, so does research on the plant. One study on turmeric was published in The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry in 2018. The study involved 40 adults, from 51 to 84 years old. Half of the participants took curcumin as a supplement for 18 months and the other half took a placebo. Researchers found that taking curcumin daily led to an improvement in the participant’s memory, attention, and mood. Researchers also noted a decrease in accumulated proteins (in parts of the brain) associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
Another study, published in April 2019 in the journal, Trials, focused on the safety and effectiveness of curcumin. This study involved 139 patients with knee osteoarthritis who were randomly assigned to receive either a 500-mg capsule of curcumin three times a day or a 50-mg diclofenac tablet twice a day for 28 days. Diclofenac is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID).
The study found curcumin had a similar effect in treating knee osteoarthritis as diclofenac. What’s more, participants reported fewer adverse effects from curcumin than they did from diclofenac (13 percent versus 38 percent).
Check With Your Doctor
While turmeric may help to reduce pain and inflammation, the NCCIH reports that high doses or long-term use of the product might cause gastrointestinal problems. It is important to check with your doctor first before taking turmeric and any other supplements, especially if you are taking prescription medication for a chronic health condition.