What is turmeric? Turmeric is an ancient spice found all over the world. It's made from the ground roots of the turmeric plant. Turmeric has grown in popularity over the past several years — both as a flavor enhancer and a trendy health superfood — thanks to celebrities and top chefs who swear by it.
Beyoncé and Gwyneth Paltrow are fans — and former supermodel Rachel Hunter says turmeric keeps her model glow going. Hunter revealed to Jenna Bush Hager in our "Supermodels: Where are they now?" series that she takes turmeric shots everyday no matter what country she is in.
How to use turmeric for aches and pains: Joy Bauer's SOSMarch 15, 201701:37
Health benefits of turmeric
The spice that helps give curry its warm, peppery flavor and bright color has been shown to benefit more than just your taste buds. Recent medical studies suggest the savory spice may be helpful against a range of illnesses, from inflammation to digestive problems.
A study involving 70 people with symptomatic knee osteoarthritis published in the September 2020 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine found that turmeric — in the form of curcumin extract — helped ease the participants' pain and stiffness and improved their knees' physical function.
“It’s interesting that we in the West feel like turmeric is so popular right now when this is a substance that has been in use for over 2,000 years,” said Dr. Lyla Blake-Gumbs, an integrative medicine specialist at the Cleveland Clinic’s Wellness Institute. “With all the media coverage of problems with NSAIDs, among other over the counter and prescription medications, consumers want to try more natural approaches to treating any number of conditions.”
Turmeric fits that bill perfectly.
“Turmeric has been found to be likely effective for osteoarthritis, and a limited number of studies have shown some efficacy in Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, rheumatoid arthritis, [and] IBS,” Blake-Gumbs said, adding that at least one trial has shown that the spice may help prevent pre-diabetic patients from progressing to full blown Type 2 diabetes.
Many of the studies have focused on curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric. A Thai study published in 2014 found that curcumin capsules dulled the pain in arthritic knees just as well as the popular OTC NSAID ibuprofen. A 2015 study in a rat model of Alzheimer’s disease found that the spice improved working memory. In fact, the more curcumin the rats consumed, the better their memories got.
Many of turmeric’s health benefits are likely derived from the spice’s powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, according to Dr. Melissa Young, an integrative medicine specialist at the Wellness Institute in Cleveland.
“There is increasing evidence on the benefits of turmeric on the brain,” Young said. “Some studies suggest it is helpful in treating depression as well.”
So, how much of this super spice should you be ingesting?
“It is considered safe in single doses up to 12 grams or up to 4 grams daily for 30 days,” Blake-Gumbs said. “Typically we do not recommend doses anywhere close to that.”
While most studies have been done using turmeric, or curcumin, in a pill form, that may not be the best way to consume the spice if you’re hoping for medicinal benefits, said Wendy Applequist, an associate curator in the Missouri Botanical Garden’s William L. Brown Center, which focuses on ethnobotany and economic botany.
Curcumin is absorbed much better when mixed with fats, as it is in curry, Applequist says.
Maybe it's time to head for you favorite Asian eatery and indulge in a delicious curry dish. Your taste buds —and the rest of your body — just may thank you.