Turmeric is a spice most often associated with Indian cuisine, but it's not just a source of flavor in your curry recipes. This may also have potential health benefits related to longevity thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties. It turns out, lowering inflammation in the body is a key player in promoting longevity.
The health benefits of turmeric are largely attributed to curcumin, an active compound in the spice. Curcumin has been tied to lowering the risk of chronic health issues, which means including turmeric in your diet can help support you through the years. Here's how.
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We don't have enough data to say how much turmeric you should take, how often you should take it and which forms are best for health conditions like osteoarthritis, heart disease or Alzheimer's.
If you're adding turmeric to your routine, talk to your doctor about what dose is safe and optimal for your body.
5 Longevity Benefits of Turmeric
Inflammation isn't all bad: In some cases, acute inflammation is good for the body — it helps fight invaders and can even repair some damage. When inflammation becomes chronic, though, it can contribute to inflammatory diseases like osteoporosis, which may cause pain.
"Curcumin, the active compound in turmeric, may play a role in reducing inflammation," says Lauren Manaker, RDN, LD, a licensed dietitian and founder of Nutrition Now Counseling. "The anti-inflammatory benefits of curcumin are what makes turmeric a potential supplemental osteoarthritis treatment."
Compared with a placebo, turmeric reduced pain and improved joint function in people with knee osteoarthritis, per the January 2021 review in BMJ Open Sport and Exercise Medicine. The researchers say the effects are likely similar to that of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
2. It Has Antioxidant Properties
Research shows that older people may not eat enough antioxidant-rich foods to help fend off diseases, according to an October 2019 study in the International Journal of Preventive Medicine. But getting some turmeric in your diet may help.
Curcumin in turmeric is a potent antioxidant. "Not only has data shown that turmeric is linked to lowering inflammation, but it also has antioxidant properties, meaning it helps fight oxidative stress," Manaker says. And oxidative stress can cause damage at the cellular level, which increases the risk of many age-related diseases.
Curcumin has been shown to increase total antioxidant capacity and reduce cell-damaging free radicals, according to a November 2020 meta-analysis in Antioxidants.
Further, curcumin has been linked to controlling and suppressing brain inflammation related to neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's dementia, according to January 2019 review in Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity.
3. It May Help Reduce the Risk of Heart Disease
Adults aged 65 and older are more likely to develop heart disease or suffer from a heart attack or stroke, per the National Institute on Aging.
Exercising regularly and eating nutritious foods may help lower your risk of heart-related issues, and adding turmeric to the menu is one way to support your heart as you age.
Again, it's turmeric's anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that may lend a helping hand in protecting your heart through the years, according to a May 2017 review in Pharmacological Research.
Curcumin has been shown to support heart health by protecting against conditions like cardiac ischemia and reperfusion, according to March 2020 research in the Journal of Clinical Medicine.
Curcumin may even help prevent heart disease, but more research is needed, per a February 2022 review in Cells.
4. It May Play a Role in Cancer Treatment and Prevention
Cancer is a genetic disease that occurs when changes to certain genes are made, causing cells to grow uncontrollably, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Because the body is made up of trillions of cells, cancer can occur or spread almost anywhere. It's also a leading cause of death in the United States and people are more likely to have cancer later in life, per the National Cancer Institute.
"Chronic inflammation is linked to an increased risk of developing certain cancers," Manaker says. That's where turmeric, or more specifically, curcumin, comes into play.
Antioxidants may protect cells from damage that contributes to the development of cancer, according to a February 2018 review in Saudi Pharmaceutical Journal.
Some lab and animal research shows curcumin may play a role in preventing and slowing the spread of cancer, and even make chemotherapy more effective by protecting healthy cells from radiation damage, according to the Mayo Clinic. Studies on the anti-cancer properties of curcumin in people are still in the early stages.
5. It May Support Brain Health
Cognitive function is an important part of brain health, and it refers to the ability to clearly think, learn and remember. Age-related changes in the brain can affect cognition and even the risk of diseases like Alzheimer's according to the National Institute on Aging.
"When it comes to longevity, some data shows that turmeric is linked to better brain health outcomes," Manaker says. It's true: Curcumin may be beneficial in the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer's disease as it has been shown to support structures of the brain and lower the risk of Alzheimer's, per an April 2018 review in Neural Regeneration Research.
An estimated 6.5 million U.S. adults are currently living with Alzheimer's disease, according to the Alzheimer's Association.
How to Eat More Turmeric
To maximize the anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric, be sure to take it with black pepper. On its own, curcumin in turmeric has poor bioavailability (meaning, it's hard for your body to absorb). Piperine, a compound in black pepper, is associated with enhancing the bioavailability of curcumin by up to 2,000 percent, according to an October 2017 review in Foods.
Turmeric has a kick to it, so the spice is often incorporated into Indian-inspired dishes like curries and masalas, but it can also be incorporated into juices, smoothies or even a delicious golden milk.
Golden Milk Recipe
Registered dietitian Jenna Volpe, RDN, LD, shares her recipe for turmeric-infused golden milk.
Things You'll Need
8 to 12 ounces unsweetened almond, cashew, walnut, oat or coconut milk
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 cinnamon stick
1 pinch dried ground ginger or 1-inch slice of peeled fresh ginger
Dash of black pepper
1 to 2 teaspoons of liquid sweetener of choice (raw honey, real maple syrup or agave nectar) OR 1 to 2 drops of liquid stevia extract
- On low heat in a saucepan or stovetop, simmer the unsweetened milk substitute until hot.
- Add in and whisk the spices.
- Simmer on low for about 5 to 10 minutes, stirring as needed.
- Strain out the cinnamon stick (and fresh ginger root, if applicable) in a sieve or colander.
- Pour into a mug/thermos and add the sweetener of your choice.
- Sip and enjoy while hot!
- Linus Pauling Institute: "Curcumin"
- Mayo Clinic: "Mayo Clinic Q and A: Turmeric’s anti-inflammatory properties may relieve arthritis pain"
- Foods: "Curcumin: A Review of Its’ Effects on Human Health"
- Antioxidants: "Antioxidant Potential of Curcumin—A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Clinical Trials"
- International Journal of Preventive Medicine: "Dietary Intake of Antioxidants in the Elderly People under Nursing Care: A Case–Control Study"
- National Institute on Aging: "Heart Health and Aging"
- Cells: "Protective Effects of Curcumin in Cardiovascular Diseases—Impact on Oxidative Stress and Mitochondria"
- Journal of Clinical Medicine: "Therapeutic Applications of Curcumin Nanomedicine Formulations in Cardiovascular Diseases"
- National Cancer Institute: "What is Cancer?"
- National Cancer Institute: "Age and Cancer Risk"
- Saudi Pharmaceutical Journal: "Antioxidants as precision weapons in war against cancer chemotherapy induced toxicity – Exploring the armoury of obscurity"
- National Institute on Aging: "Cognitive Health and Older Adults"
- GeroScience: "Efficacy of curcumin for age-associated cognitive decline: a narrative review of preclinical and clinical studies"
- Alzheimer's Association: "Alzheimer's Disease Facts and Figures"
- Neural Regeneration Research: "Use of curcumin in diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of Alzheimer's disease"
- BMJ Open Sport and Exercise Medicine: Therapeutic effects of turmeric or curcumin extract on pain and function for individuals with knee osteoarthritis: a systematic review
- Our World in Data: Causes of Death