Most Americans know turmeric (a member of the ginger family) as the main ingredient in curry powders prevalent throughout India and other parts of Asia, including Japan, Thailand, and China.
While a good curry can certainly help open the nasal passages due to its spiciness, there are actually other important health benefits that can be attributed to turmeric. 1–3 Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, not only gives curry powder its distinctive yellow color, but has also been prized for thousands of years within the Indian Ayurvedic medicine tradition.
History of turmeric
Turmeric goes back at least 5,000 years in Indian history. It was first mentioned by the famous Venetian merchant Marco Polo and was shortly thereafter introduced to the West by Arab traders.3 The spice gained full popularity during the British rule in India, when it was combined with other spices and sold as curry powder. To this day, India is the largest global exporter of turmeric.
What conditions can it treat?
Turmeric is considered an antioxidant (which also acts as a food preserver) and is perhaps best known for its ability to treat pain and inflammation, specifically that having to do with osteoporosis. Additionally, turmeric has been reported to help with a number of conditions, ranging from osteoporosis, to viral infections, to Alzheimer’s disease.1–3
In fact, a recent study appears to show that the curcumin extract of turmeric was at least as effective as the NSAIDs ibuprofen or aspirin in treating knee osteoarthritis, but without the abdominal side effects associated with NSAIDs. Fewer patients taking turmeric reported abdominal pain or discomfort than those taking NSAIDs. Almost all of the patients taking turmeric were satisfied with the treatment, and two-thirds noted improvement in their condition.4
Another study shows a benefit of curcumin in treating advanced pancreatic cancer. A group of 21 patients were treated with daily doses (8 g) of curcumin until their disease progressed. Although there was a great deal of variation in how patients responded to the curcumin treatment, the researchers concluded: “Oral curcumin is well tolerated and, despite its limited absorption, has biological activity in some patients with pancreatic cancer.”5
Although turmeric doses tend to vary depending upon the condition being treated, most fall into the 400 mg to 600 mg per day range.2 In some cases, doses as high as 750 mg per day are also used. Doses that are higher may lead to gastrointestinal issues.
Many medicinal herbs have also found their way into the kitchen as popular spices. This is certainly the case with turmeric. It may well be that foods such as curry may be beneficial in ways beyond just simply feeding us.
1 Kiefer D. “Turmeric and curcumin.” WebMD. http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-and-supplements/lifestyle-guide-11/supplement-guide-turmeric. Reviewed May 2015. Accessed May 2015.
2 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.
3 Aggarwal BB, Ichikawa H, Malani N, Sundaram C. Curcumin: The Indian solid gold. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2007;595:1–75.
4 Kuptniratsaikul V, et al. Efficacy and safety of Curcuma domestica extracts compared with ibuprofen in patients with knee osteoarthritis: A multicenter study. Clin Interv Aging. 2014;9:451–458.
5 Dhillon N, et al. Phase II trial of curcumin in patients with advanced pancreatic cancer. Clin Cancer Res. 2008;14;4491.