Turmeric is an important spice in Indian and many South Asian cuisines where it has been used for centuries. Turmeric's golden hue adds bright color to curry and other Indian dishes, but Indian and Asian cultures have also revered this spice for its natural anti-inflammatory curcuminoids.
Add turmeric for color and flavor to rice dishes and curries. Turmeric has for centuries been thought to have anti-inflammatory qualities, which may help with weight loss. Study results are mixed, but you can safely ingest up to 8 grams of turmeric a day, according to a January 2013 study in the AAPS Journal.
Turmeric and Curcumin
Turmeric contains curcumin, which is the main active ingredient in turmeric. Curcumin is a polyphenol, which is a plant-based chemical that targets areas of the body that signal inflammation. The only catch is that curcumin doesn't work very well by itself, according to a description in the October 2017 journal Foods. It isn't very bio-available, which is the scientific terminology.
There are several ingredients that help activate the qualities of curcumin. Combining turmeric with black pepper has been shown to increase bio-availability, or activate curcumin in the body, by 2,000 percent, according to the Foods report.
Turmeric's medicinal properties have been known for thousands of years because of curcumin, according to Foods. Besides being used in curries and specialty drinks in India, it's been consumed in tea in Japan, used in cosmetics in Thailand, as a coloring agent in China, as an antiseptic in Malaysia and as an anti-inflammatory agent in Pakistan. In the U.S., it's been used as a coloring agent and preservative in mustard sauce, cheese, butter and chips. It also has vitamin benefits.
Read more: Benefits of Turmeric Powder
Why Weight Loss?
The association of turmeric and curcumin with weight loss is because of turmeric's anti-inflammatory properties, according to Foods. Being overweight or obese is associated with the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines. These conditions are linked to chronic, low-grade inflammation. Many overweight and obese people are thought to have metabolic syndrome, which often results from excess weight and excessively large waist size, according to a January 2013 article in Nutrition Journal.
The 2017 Foods study showed that obese adults who received 1 gram of curcumin for 30 days, followed by two weeks off, had significant reduction in their triglyceride levels. They didn't reduce their cholesterol levels, body mass index (BMI) and body fat, however. The authors concluded that the short period of supplements, lack of control of diet and the low dose of supplements may account for the finding. Their finding conflicted with previous studies.
A 2015 study in the journal European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Sciences concluded that a bioavailable form of curcumin can positively help with weight management in people who are overweight. Participants were given 800 mg of a supplement that consisted of 95 percent of curcumin. They also followed a strict diet. During the first 30 days, weight loss and BMI changes were about 2 percent. Those increased to around 5 to 6 percent after 30 more days.
Still, the authors cautioned that further studies are needed to establish whether turmeric and curcumin actually do have a positive effect in fighting the body's inflammation system and in helping with weight loss. The following 2018 study actually found no evidence.
Mixed Findings on Curcumin
The October 2018 of CMAJ, the journal of the Canadian Medical Association, reported that they could find no evidence that curcumin, said to be the main inflammation-fighting ingredient in turmeric, affected the inflammatory response after elective abdominal aortic aneurysm repair. The study didn't look at weight loss, however.
But the study's examination of curcumin's inflammation-fighting ability hints at doubts with curcumin's effectiveness in being used to fight inflammation in any part of the body. The study involved 606 patients who had a median age of 76, who were studied for three years from 2011 to 2014.
The author's concluded that rigorous human testing needs to be done with turmeric and curcumin before espousing any health benefits. Two researchers who wrote the article "Take Turmeric With a Grain of Salt," which was published in the same issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal suggested that earlier studies included too few people.
The authors wrote that while turmeric is natural, "Natural doesn't mean safe or even good. Caffeine is natural. Many people enjoy its effects and may find them to enhance well-being, but excess consumption can harm. Tobacco is natural. So is arsenic." They emphasized that more high-quality studies are needed to bear out the natural health claims.
Read more: The Risks & Benefits of Taking Turmeric
Metabolic Effects of Curcumin
The anti-inflammatory qualities in turmeric, and especially curcumin, may work to reduce insulin resistance, according to an October 2014 study in the International Journal of Endocrinology & Metabolism. Insulin resistance occurs when cells in your muscles, body fat and liver start resisting or ignoring the signal that insulin, a hormone, is sending to extract glucose out of your blood and into your cells, according to Endocrine Web. By putting glucose into your cells, you're providing your body with its main source of fuel.
A March 2019 study in Biochemistry and Biophysics Reports using rats showed that curcumin targeted the metabolic malfunction that occurs in Parkinson's disease. However, the authors said further human studies are needed before claims can be made.
A May 2019 analysis in the journal Phytotherapy Research reviewed studies on the effect of curcumin extract on metabolic factors in patients with metabolic syndrome. The analysis of the studies found that people had significant improvements in fasting blood glucose levels, triglyceride levels, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels and diastolic blood pressure. That's the bottom number in your blood pressure, or the pressure between beats of the heart.
No significant improvements were found in waist size or systolic blood pressure, which is the top number in your blood pressure reading, and measures the pressure in your arteries.
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Curcumin and Exercise
As people age, the lining to their blood cells can become damaged. This problem is known as vascular endothelium function and can be an early sign of heart disease, and result in shortness of breath that can make it harder to exercise.
An October 2012 study of postmenopausal women reported in the journal Nutrition Research showed that curcumin and exercise independently increased the function of the blood cell lining. This condition is an early stage of heart disease and preventive efforts can reverse the effects, according to Oregon State University's Linus Pauling Institute.
At this point, curcumin and turmeric studies are mixed. Daily turmeric and curcumin supplements are safe, up to 8 grams, so it's up to you if you want to take it regularly and see if it helps with your health and weight loss. You should discuss the supplements you take, including turmeric, with your doctor, however.
- The AAPS Journal: "Therapeutic Roles of Curcumin: Lessons Learned from Clinical Trials"
- NIH National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: "Turmeric"
- Foods: "Curcumin: A Review of Its’ Effects on Human Health"
- Nutrition Journal: "Metabolic Syndrome Risk Factors in Overweight, Obese, and Extremely Obese Brazilian Adolescents
- European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Sciences: "Potential Role of Bioavailable Curcumin in Weight Loss and Omental Adipose Tissue Decrease: Preliminary Data of a Randomized, Controlled Trial in Overweight People With Mtabolic Syndrome. Preliminary Study"
- CMAJ: "Oral Curcumin in Elective Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm Repair: A Multicentre Randomized Controlled Trial"
- CMAJ: "Take Turmeric With a Grain of Salt"
- Phytotherapy Research: "Metabolic Benefits of Curcumin Supplementation in Patients With Metabolic Syndrome: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials"
- International Journal of Endocrinology & Metabolism: "Anti-Hyperglycemic and Insulin Sensitizer Effects of Turmeric and Its Principle Constituent Curcumin"
- Biochemistry & Biophysics Report: "Metabolic Treatment of Syndrome Linked With Parkinson's Disease and Hypothalamus Pituitary Gonadal Hormones by Turmeric Curcumin in Bisphenol-A Induced Neuro-Testicular Dysfunction of Wistar Rat"
- Oregon State University: "Endothelial Dysfunction"
- Nutrition Research: "Curcumin Ingestion and Exercise Training Improve Vascular Endothelial Function in Postmenopausal Women"
- Endocrine Web: "Insulin Resistance Causes and Symptoms"