You’ve no doubt seen the sharp increase in interest surrounding turmeric in recent years. From supplements, beauty products, beverages and functional foods, turmeric seems to be in everything.
But what causes this rise and why does it remain so popular?
The trend begins
The rise of turmeric began in 2013 and steadily increased in popularity. While it was circulating in naturopathic and alternative medicine circles before then, 2017 began the surge of interest in the spice. A Google Trends chart shows a rapid increase in search beginning in 2017 and continuing to climb for the next three years.
In this time frame, turmeric rose to popularity in the form of supplements, topical beauty treatments, health beverages and superfoods. You may have seen turmeric lattes take your local coffee shop by storm and suddenly every supplement company had turmeric. But the history of turmeric stretches much longer than the last five years.
The history of turmeric
While it may be new to the Western world, turmeric has been around since 2,500 BCE. Pots were found in India containing residue of turmeric, ginger and garlic and were believed to be used for medicinal purposes.1 Around 500 BCE is when it rose to prominence in Ayurvedic medicine and is found in texts. Ayurvedic medicine is an ancient Indian method of healing that is still seen today.
In the past, turmeric was used for a variety of medical purposes including wound healing, skin conditions like acne and smallpox and to clear up sinus congestion.
Turmeric enters the West
Turmeric entered the Western world in the form of curry. Through the colonization of India, the powder began being sold via the British East India Trading Company.2 It was traded as a cooking powder but also as a cure-all for a variety of health problems.
Although it was used primarily in cooking for many years, it began to rise in prominence as medicinal as well. It gained more popularity as Westerns have become increasingly interested in alternative and natural medicine.
The reign of turmeric
But why has this ancient spice remained so popular for 4,500 years? Turmeric (Cucuma longa) is actually from the same family as ginger. Typically, the roots of the plant are harvested, dried and then ground into a fine powder. India remains the largest product of turmeric in the world for both culinary and medicinal uses.3
But the secret weapon in turmeric that makes it so powerful is a compound called curcumin. Curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric that gives it its beautiful yellow color and is a potent antioxidant. It also has anti-inflammatory properties that are comparable to NSAIDS but without the side effects.
A study of the overall effects of curcumin showed that the ingredient exhibits “antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, and anticancer activities and thus has a potential against various malignant diseases, diabetes, allergies, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, and other chronic illnesses.” 4
While there are still many studies discovering the validity of all these claims and their impact on modern illnesses, there are few drawbacks for taking it. If taking a proper dosage of turmeric, there are little, if any, side effects — making it a safe alternative for those seeking pain relief or other benefits. With such a long list of potential benefits, it’s no wonder that turmeric has such a long history and has risen to popularity in recent years.
Not all equal
But despite its popularity, not all turmeric is created equal. Dosage and bioavailability are important factors when evaluating any turmeric or curcumin supplement.
Depending on the condition being treated, dosages can vary, but most quality supplements fall into the 400-800 mg per day category. Anything lower will most likely be ineffective, and super-high does (over 1,500 mg) can cause gastrointestinal issues.5 However, the dosage is only one part of the puzzle. Taking the correct dosage is meaningless if your body cannot properly absorb the supplement.
Although it has a multitude of benefits, curcumin is difficult for the body to absorb. That’s why it’s important to find quality supplements with increased bioavailability. A good option is finding a curcumin supplement with black pepper extract added. This extract helps your body absorb the many benefits of curcumin to receive the maximum benefits.
- Prance, Ghillean T., and Mark Nesbitt. The Cultural History of Plants. New York.: Routledge, 2005. Print.
- Turmeric: From ancient dye to modern medicine. Herb-pharm.com. Accessed Aug. 9, 2017.
- Aggarwal BB, Ichikawa H, Malani N, Sundaram C. Curcumin: The Indian solid gold. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2007;595:1–75.
- Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, Consumer Version. “Turmeric.” WebMD. http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-662-turmeric.aspx?activeingredientid=662&activeingredientname=turmeric. Accessed May 2015.