Turmeric is a perennial plant of the ginger family, native to southwest India. Turmeric is commonly consumed in powder form and used as a spice.
To make turmeric powder, the leaves of the plant are boiled for 30-45 minutes, dried in ovens and then ground into a deep orange-yellow powder. Turmeric powder is a common spice used in Indian and Pakistani cuisine. It is a major component of curry and can also be used for dyeing cloth.
There are three naturally occurring phytochemicals in turmeric: curcumin, demethoxycurcumin and bisdemothoxycurcumin, together referred to as curcuminoids.
This MNT Knowledge Center feature is part of a collection of articles on the health benefits of popular foods. It provides a nutritional breakdown of turmeric and an in-depth look at its possible health benefits, how to incorporate more turmeric into your diet and any potential health risks of consuming turmeric.
Contents of this article:
Nutritional breakdown of turmeric
Turmeric has been used in Ayurvedic and Chinese medical practice to treat multiple health issues.
According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, one tablespoon of turmeric powder contains 29 calories, 0.9 grams of protein, 0.3 grams of fat and 6.3 grams of carbohydrates (including 2 grams of fiber and 0.3 grams of sugar).1
Turmeric has traditionally been used in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine to treat inflammatory conditions, skin diseases, wounds, digestive ailments and liver conditions.
Possible benefits of consuming turmeric
Curcumin is the active substance in turmeric believed to be the source of its many health benefits. Curcumin is also responsible for turmeric’s distinctly earthy, slightly bitter and peppery flavor.
Curcumin may help improve digestion by stimulating the gallbladder to produce bile. A double-blind, placebo-controlled study showed that turmeric reduced bloating and gas in people suffering from indigestion. The German Commission E, a group that determines which herbs can safely be prescribed in Germany, has approved the use of turmeric for digestive problems.2
Curcumin lowers the levels of two enzymes in the body that cause inflammation, which may indicate that consuming turmeric would be helpful in treating many inflammatory conditions.2
Inflammation is a common thread that links the following conditions:
- Heart disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Alzheimer’s disease.
Curcumin shows promise as a natural anti-inflammatory treatment and is currently being tested in phase 2 and 3 clinical trials.3
In a clinical study on curcumin’s effects on arthritis, 50 patients were given curcumin daily for 3 months. An increase in walking performance and distance was observed, as well as decreased inflammation levels.3
Curcumin has also been shown to be effective for inflammatory bowel diseases, such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. In multiple studies, people with inflammatory bowel diseases who were given curcumin supplements experienced a reduction in symptoms.3
Turmeric may reduce the risk of blood clot formation by preventing platelets from clumping together.
Turmeric has been shown to prevent blood platelets from clumping together, which may decrease the risk of blood clot formation. Early studies suggest that turmeric may help prevent the build-up of plaque in the arteries. In animal studies, turmeric extract lowered LDL (bad) cholesterol and prevented further accumulation.2
However, in a human study where participants were given 4 grams of curcumin per day, cholesterol levels were not improved.2
The anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric benefit cardiovascular health. Some studies have found that turmeric’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties have produced the following effects in animal models:3
- Reduced body weight
- Lowered triglyceride synthesis
- Increased basal metabolic rate
- Increased fatty acid oxidation
- Improved insulin sensitivity.
All of these effects would lower the risk of heart disease. The findings of these studies need to be replicated in humans before turmeric is used as a form of treatment, however.
On the next page, we look at further potential health benefits associated with turmeric, along with ways of incorporating more into your diet and possible health risks.