Turmeric is a spice derived from the rhizome and root of the Curcuma longa plant, which is native to India and Indonesia. People have consumed turmeric for its flavor and health-promoting properties for 4,000 years. Curcumin is the major active ingredient responsible for turmeric's medicinal properties. Using turmeric as a spice is a healthful practice, but taking its derivative curcumin as an herbal supplement will produce a more profound medicinal effect. As with all herbal supplements, talk to your health-care practitioner before supplementing with curcumin.
Antioxidant and Anti-inflammatory Benefits
Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, is a powerful antioxidant. It helps to reduce and neutralize free radicals, which damage and destroy your cells and DNA. Curcumin also reduces two inflammation-promoting enzymes in your body and is therefore an effective anti-inflammatory agent. Due to curcumin's ability to reduce inflammation, the University of Maryland Medical Center, or UMMC, states that curcumin supplements may help to relieve symptoms of osteoarthritis, a condition characterized by inflammation, pain and stiffness in the joints.
Intestinal and Bowel Health
Curcumin stimulates the gallbladder to produce bile, and consuming the spice turmeric regularly, or supplementing with its active ingredient curcumin, may help to improve digestion, reduce bloating and gas and treat digestive disorders. In addition, curcumin supplements combined with conventional medical treatment may help treat bowel disorders such as ulcerative colitis.
Curcumin is purported to help prevent cardiovascular disease, and may be particularly beneficial for the prevention of atherosclerosis, a condition characterized by a hardening and narrowing of the arteries. UMMC states that curcumin has been found to lower total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels and to prevent the blood from clotting. The research on curcumin supplements for cardiovascular disease is preliminary, however, and has not yet been conducted on humans.
Consuming turmeric regularly or taking a curcumin supplement may help to prevent and treat cancer. Curcumin appears to block the blood supply to cancerous tumors, and consequently to suppress the growth and replication of tumor cells. According to "Principles & Practice of Pediatric Oncology," extensive research has indicated that curcumin can prevent cancer in animals. In addition, high intakes of turmeric have reduced the rate of colorectal, lung and prostate cancer in humans.
Taking a curcumin supplement may help prevent and treat bacterial and viral infections. Curcumin supplements are also used to treat liver problems and skin disease, lower blood sugar levels in diabetics and reduce kidney stones. In addition, curcumin may help to treat an inflammatory eye condition known as uveitis. More research needs to be done confirm the efficacy of curcumin supplements for these purposes, however.
Turmeric is safe for consumption, and curcumin supplements are generally considered safe. However, prolonged intake of high-dose curcumin extracts may cause stomach upset and, in extreme cases, ulcers. Curcumin supplements may also interact with certain medications and should not be taken by individuals on blood-thinning drugs or by diabetics without doctor supervision.