Turmeric is a spice that is used a lot in southeast asian cuisine, which can lower blood pressure, reduce inflammation and support proper kidney function. It is actually part of the ginger family and shares a bioactive compound called curcumin, which is responsible for many of turmeric’s benefits and the yellow pigment (1).
Ayurveda (medicine from the Indian sub-continent) and traditional Chinese medicine have used turmeric for thousands of years to treat illnesses, but in recent times Western medicine has become increasingly interested in turmeric’s potential health benefits.
While turmeric is often talked about as a medicine, it is in fact the yellow pigment curcumin which is responsible for any health benefits. So when we talk about turmeric helping fight the symptoms of depression, we are in fact talking about curcumin.
This means that you wouldn’t have to specifically take turmeric, but could take a curcumin supplement instead. However, most people tend to use turmeric in cooking anyway so it is a common (and cheap) way to increase curcumin intake.
Turmeric can help lower blood pressure. One study of postmenopausal women found that taking 150mg of curcumin for 8 weeks led to a reduction in systolic blood pressure (2).
The study found that curcumin and aerobic exercise (separately) could both “improve age-related decline in endothelial function” by increasing flow-mediated dilation. This means that a combination of both curcumin and aerobic exercise could potentially improve it further.
A study in 2012 on both men and women, found that three servings of turmeric per day (22.1mg curcumin per dose) led to a reduction in systolic blood pressure (3).
This study was performed on people suffering from relapsing of refractory lupus nephritis (an inflammation of the kidneys caused by an autoimmune disease called lupus).
Turmeric can improve kidney function. In the study above turmeric was found to help reduce systolic blood pressure in people with lupus (an autoimmune disease that can lead to inflammation of the kidneys). One of the most common symptoms of kidney disease is the presence of high levels of protein in the urine. This is called proteinuria.
A 2011 study found that short term supplementation of turmeric can reduce proteinuria in patients with type II diabetes (4).
A study on rats found that a combination of ginger and turmeric was more effective than a standard anti-inflammatory drug at treating the impairment of kidney functions (5).
Turmeric is very effective at reducing inflammation. Curcumin, the bioactive compound in turmeric has long been associated with an anti-inflammatory effect. One study found that two 500mg doses of curcumin per day was effective at reducing inflammation in overweight men and women aged between 45 and 64 years (6).
Lichen planus is a rash that can affect your body and even the inside of your mouth (7).
A study in 2012 found that high doses of curcumin (3 x 2g doses per day) led to a significant reduction in inflammation (8).
A review of the anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin showed that it had the potential to be very effective at reducing inflammation. However due to the poor absorption and its rapid plasma clearance it needed to be taken as a complex (9). We will discuss this further in the recommended dosage.
Turmeric is effective for joint pain and general pain. Many joint health supplements contain turmeric due to its anti-inflammatory properties. But it is also effective at reducing pain associated with poor joints. Studies have shown that doses of 2g of curcumin (considered a high dose) can help to reduce acute pain (10).
A 2010 study found that 1g of curcumin per day over a period of six months led to a significant reduction in pain in middle aged men and women suffering from osteoarthritis (11).
Another study found that turmeric was effective at reducing post-operative pain and fatigue in patients recovering from a laparoscopic cholecystectomy (gallbladder removal) (12).
Patients were given 500mg every 6 hours for 2-4 weeks. Reported pain and paracetamol use was significantly reduced compared to the placebo group.
Turmeric may help improve cholesterol and lower triglyceride levels. High density lipoprotein or HDL cholesterol is often called “good cholesterol”. It removes the “bad cholesterol” (LDL) and is responsible for reducing the risk of heart disease and strokes. There isn’t too much hard evidence that turmeric can massively improve HDL cholesterol levels, but some studies have found that it makes a small difference.
A 2008 study found that supplementation with low doses of curcumin led to a reduction in LDL cholesterol, an increase in HDL cholesterol, and a reduction in total cholesterol (13).
A 7 day trial of curcumin supplements found that doses of 500mg and 6g daily led to a significant reduction in total cholesterol and a lowering of triglyceride levels (14).
Lowered triglycerides are often associated with raised HDL cholesterol.
Turmeric may help to reduce depression and anxiety. There seems to be a lot of scientific interest in whether turmeric can help to reduce the symptoms of major depressive disorder (MDD). The theory is that its anti-inflammation properties can help alleviate some of the symptoms. Studies have recently started to link inflammation in the body with depression, so supplements or foods that can reduce inflammation may help treat it (15).
An interesting study in the Journal of Affective Disorders (2014) split 56 individuals into two groups. One group consumed a placebo while the other consumed 500mg of curcumin twice daily. Over the first 4 weeks both the placebo and curcumin were equally effective at treating depression symptoms. But in the second 4 weeks the curcumin was significantly more effective at treating the symptoms of depression (16).
Another study also found that curcumin had a significant effect on “several biomarkers that may be associated with its antidepressant mechanisms of action” (17).
The study also used two doses of 500mg curcumin per day for a period of eight weeks.
A study in 2015 looked at 108 male adults aged between 31 and 59 years old who suffered from depression (18).
The study had them take either two capsules of 1000mg (1g) curcumin or a placebo.
Both groups also took their usual antidepressant medication. The study found that those taking curcumin alongside their medication had a significant reduction in reported depression (using the 17-item Hamilton depression rating scale and Montgomery-Asberg depression rating scale) than those taking a placebo with their medication.
Finally, a study in 2014 found that “curcumin may be used as an effective and safe modality for treatment in patients with MDD [major depressive disorder] without concurrent suicidal ideation or other psychotic disorders” (19).
But it’s not just depressive symptoms that can be improved with turmeric, anxiety may also be reduced. A study on obese men and women found that 1g per day of curcumin over a period of 1-6 months led to a reduction in anxiety (20).
Interestingly this study failed to find a reduction in depressive symptoms.
A study in the Journal of Affective Disorders (2014) found that curcumin supplementation led to both a reduction in depressive symptoms and a reduction in anxiety (21).
Turmeric can increase antioxidant enzymes. While the anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric are mostly responsible for the reduction in depressive symptoms (as the theory goes) it could also be down to the effects that it has on anti-oxidant enzymes. This is because stress-related anxiety and depression can cause biochemical changes that antioxidants can defend against (22).
Turmeric can increase certain antioxidant enzymes, particularly nitric oxide and catalase. A study in 2012 found that low doses of curcumin led to a large increase in serum nitric oxide and catalase (23).
Another study found that curcumin increased two other antioxidant enzymes “superoxide dismutase” and “glutathione peroxidize” which led to a reduction in oxidative damage (24).
Turmeric is a commonly used spice in indian cookery, so if often regarded as perfectly safe. This has led to it being touted as a fantastic medicinal cure. But as many studies have stated just because something is safe when being consumed as part of a meal, doesn’t mean that it is safe when taken in the higher doses required to be effective as a medicine.
A study on rats found that it is possible to overdose on curcumin, and that this can cause “oxidative stress, inflammation, and metabolic disorders” (25).
This is often the problem with traditional medicine. The ingredients can be very effective, but because they are natural they are not as reliable as a drug.
Another study published a mini perspective in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry on “The essential medicinal chemistry of curcumin” (26).
They stated that “Unfortunately, no form of curcumin, or its closely related analogs, appears to possess the properties required for a good drug candidate (chemical stability, high water solubility, potent and selective target activity, high bioavailability, broad tissue distribution, stable metabolism, and low toxicity)”.
By not being reliable, stable, or having a low toxicity, turmeric cannot be considered an effective drug. Using it as a treatment for inflammation, depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol is therefore not advised. That doesn’t mean that you can’t use it, just don’t use it instead of proper medication. In other words, start cooking with some more turmeric.
That being said, turmeric and curcumin are pretty safe in large doses, and you could probably see a lot of benefits by staying well within the recommended dosage.
Turmeric (100g) is composed of 10g fat, 65g of carbohydrates (21g fiber, 3g sugars), and 8g of protein. 84 calories total (27). Curcumin needs to be taken with black pepper (bioperine) to increase absorption, otherwise it is ineffective.
Pure turmeric contains an average of 3.14% curcumin by weight (28).
This means that 100g of turmeric will contain around 3g of curcumin. According to examine.com if you are taking curcumin for intestinal purposes you can just use turmeric – taking 2-4g (0.6g curcumin). But if you are looking for systemic purposes you need to take curcumin orally while combining it with black pepper (piperine) (29).
The recommended dosage for that is 80-500mg.
Q: Can turmeric help you lose weight?
A: The primary antioxidant in the spice, curcumin, is an anti-inflammatory that’s been used for centuries in medicine. … While increasing your intake of turmeric isn’t a lone strategy for weight loss, it may help you mitigate the inflammation associated with obesity and give you a boost in fat burning.
Q: Is too much turmeric bad for you?
A: Turmeric usually does not cause significant side effects; however, some people can experience stomach upset, nausea, dizziness, or diarrhea. In one report, a person who took very high amounts of turmeric, over 1500 mg twice daily, experienced a dangerous abnormal heart rhythm.
Q: Can you take turmeric on an empty stomach?
A: Yes, but some people may experience stomach aches. In that case take it with food.
Q: How is turmeric best absorbed?
A: Neither curcumin nor turmeric taken orally is well absorbed unless taken with black pepper or piperine, a constituent of black pepper responsible for its pungency. When shopping for supplements, make sure that the one you choose contains black pepper extract or piperine.
Q: Is turmeric tea any good?
A: The turmeric tea is highly effective thanks to its thermogenic effects which accelerate the metabolism and help the body burn fat faster, resulting in quick, but safe weight loss. The tea can also help treat digestive problems and significantly reduce inflammation in the body.
Q: Can turmeric help with depression?
A: Curcumin Shows Promise as Depression Treatment. An anti-inflammatory compound in turmeric may benefit those with depression. Researchers are finding mounting evidence that an anti-inflammatory compound in a common kitchen spice might help reduce symptoms of major depressive disorder (MDD).
Q: Is turmeric good for sleep?
A: In the evening, a warm cup of golden yellow turmeric milk is soothing and helps me sleep soundly through the night. … You can substitute the milk of your choice and adjust the amount and type of sweetener used such as agave, stevia, raw cane sugar, coconut sugar, maple etc. It’s both calming and anti-inflammatory.
Q: Is turmeric good for your skin?
A: Yes, the anti-inflammatory qualities can target your pores and calm the skin. Turmeric is also known to reduce scarring.
Q: Does turmeric act as a detoxifying agent?
A: Among those benefits is turmeric’s ability to help the liver to detox. The liver is one of the most important organs for detoxification. When the liver is supported through the use of turmeric, it can also help to detox the blood, reduce inflammation, and prevent internal blood clotting
Q: Is turmeric good for blood pressure?
A: Turmeric is a natural blood pressure reducer and cardiovascular spice that has been used for years. Curcumin is a powerful antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties that help lower blood pressure by lowering the excess platelet aggregation that occurs in sticky, clot-forming blood.
There appears to be many benefits to consuming turmeric as part of your diet. If you are looking to improve your joint health, or reduce joint pain then turmeric is a great choice. It can also help with inflammation, is good at enabling antioxidant enzymes, and may also be useful at helping reduce depressive symptoms and anxiety. It may also be effective at reducing your risk of metabolic diseases such as type II diabetes, strokes, and heart disease.
But as we mentioned in the side effects section, turmeric is not a medicinal drug. It is a plant. That means that it is not as reliable, and more research is definitely needed before it can be recommended instead of regular medicine for any condition.
In a letter to the editor titled “The dark side of curcumin”:
“It is unfortunate that curcumin is regarded in the scientific literature as efficient and safe when its efficiency and safety have not been proven. The fact that curcumin is a common dietary constituent is not enough to prove its safety, as the common dietary constituents have shown toxicity when used as supplements” (30).
They go on to point out that just because some studies have found no toxicity in short term studies on humans it doesn’t mean that curcumin is necessarily safe. Long term toxicity of curcumin needs to be fully assessed before it can be declared safe to use. This may be appear to be a little overly cautious, but when it comes to medicine and supplement use, there is no such thing.
All in all, turmeric is a safe supplement and cooking ingredient that may have many benefits to health.