Curcumin is the main active ingredient in turmeric powder — familiar as a staple ingredient in Indian and Middle Eastern cooking. Research shows that there are many curcumin benefits including being an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant agent with the potential to prevent heart disease and cancer.
Curcumin, the main active ingredient in the dried spice turmeric, is thought to have medicinal benefits beyond its use in cooking. In a trial done for the BBC in 2016, 400 milligrams of curcumin is reported as corresponding with two teaspoons of turmeric powder.
The flowering turmeric plant is native to India and Southern Asia, and belongs to the ginger family. Turmeric's roots are harvested, boiled in water and dried. The roots are then ground into the deep orange-yellow powder that is readily available on grocery store shelves.
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Turmeric powder, which contains curcumin, is used worldwide in both cooking and natural coloring. It is a familiar ingredient in Indian curries and is served in tea in Japan. In the United States, turmeric powder is found in mustard, cheese, mayonnaise and other foods — including in golden milk and lattes.
Known for its fragrant aroma and slightly bitter taste, turmeric is a familiar and well-used culinary spice in Indian cuisine as well as others. It is also the major source of the polyphenol curcumin, an active ingredient that is being studied for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and effects on treating a wide variety of diseases.
Turmeric in amounts tested for health purposes is generally considered safe when taken by mouth or applied to the skin, although higher doses or long-term use may cause gastrointestinal problems.
A review in Foods published in October 2017 details the many benefits of curcumin that have been or currently are being studied. For example, curcumin aids in the management of oxidative and inflammatory conditions, metabolic syndrome, anxiety, arthritis and hyperlipidemia.
A 2017 systematic review by Pacific University showed that curcumin has been used effectively for pain management by patients with osteoarthritis.
Curcumin may also help in the management of exercise-induced inflammation and muscle soreness, which could aid recovery and performance after strenuous activity. A relatively low dose of the complex may also provide health benefits for people that do not have diagnosed health conditions, with benefits attributed mainly to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.
Foods notes that ingesting curcumin by itself does not lead to the associated health benefits because it has poor bioavailability — meaning that alone it has poor absorption, rapid metabolism and rapid elimination. There are several components that can increase bioavailability, such as combining curcumin with black pepper or piperine (the alkaloid in black pepper that gives it its pungency).
Read more: The Risks and Benefits of Taking Turmeric
Turmeric powder in traditional medicine has been well established, with various medicinal uses including as a poultice for sore muscles, in a drink given to women after childbirth and as a paste to help with wound healing.
Curcumin and turmeric supplements are often marketed using the same language — you may see turmeric/curcumin listed on the package. If you choose to take supplements, follow the manufacturer's dosage requirements.
Anya Guy, a a Mayo Clinic dietitian, recommends taking turmeric doses of up to 8 grams a day. Turmeric can be ingested in powder form or mixed into foods such as curry or chutney. Guy advises choosing to consume turmeric in its powdered or natural forms and eating it with a meal, rather than taking supplements.
It's worth taking into account an article published by the UCLA Alzheimer Translation Center that states, regarding the curcumin dosage question, that there is currently no medically recommended dose to treat specific maladies. Dosage levels will depend on how you take it, if you take it on an empty stomach, whether you dissolve it or not and whether and how it is formulated.
Read more: What are the Benefits of Turmeric Capsules?
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: "Turmeric"
- Foods Journal: "Curcumin: A Review of Its’ Effects on Human Health"
- Frontiers in Chemistry: "Farmer to pharmacist: Curcumin as an Anti-Invasive and Antimetastatic Agent for the Treatment of Cancer"
- ClinicalTrials.gov: "Turmeric Anti-Inflammatory and Cell-Damage Trial (TACT)"
- Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd edition: "Turmeric, the Golden Spice"
- Pacific University: "The Effects of Curcumin in Decreasing Pain in Patients with Osteoarthritis"
- Mayo Clinic: "Mayo Clinic Minute: Are There Health Benefits to Taking Turmeric?"
- UCLA, Mary S. Easton Translational Alzheimer's Research Center: "Curcumin"
- Harvard Medical School: "Can Everyday Spices Make You Healthier?"