Turmeric, a relative of ginger, is a spice that comes from the root of the Curcuma longa plant that grows in the tropical areas of South Asia. The roots of the plant are in the shape of bulbs that produce rhizomes. These are boiled, dried and then crushed into the familiar yellow powder which we call haldi.

The use of turmeric as a colouring agent and dyes dates back to 600 B.C. Turmeric has a long medicinal history in India as it has been in use in Ayurvedic medicine for various conditions such as breathing problems, rheumatism, body pain, and even fatigue. Turmeric is also used for dyeing clothes. In fact, Marco Polo compared turmeric to saffron in his notes when he travelled to China in 1280. In medieval Europe, turmeric was called the “Indian Saffron”.

Turmeric has a peppery bitter flavour and is sometimes used as a colouring agent in foods. It is used in canned products, baked products, dairy, juices, and other food products. Turmeric leaves are also used to wrap and cook food. These leaves tend to impart a distinctive flavour to the food.

Turmeric by itself is a miracle spice but when mixed with milk, its benefits can double. Turmeric milk or golden milk is prepared by heating milk and adding a spoon of turmeric powder to it.

India is the largest producer, consumer, and exporter of turmeric in the world. Turmeric from India is considered to be the best because of its high content of curcumin. India accounts for 80% of the total world production of turmeric.

Some facts about Turmeric

  • Botanical Name: Curcuma longa
  • Family: Turmeric belongs to the ginger family called Zingiberaceae
  • Common Name: Turmeric, Haldi (Hindi)
  • Sanskrit Name: Haridrā
  • Parts Used: The roots or rhizomes are used in medicine and food
  • Geographical Distribution: Mostly grown in South Asia, turmeric is found in India, Indonesia, China, Philippines, Taiwan, Haiti, Jamaica, Sri Lanka, and Peru.
  • Interesting Facts: The name Curcuma Longa comes from the Arabic name for the plant, Kurkum. Also, turmeric is called Jiang Huang in Chinese.
  1. Turmeric nutrition facts
  2. Turmeric health benefits
  3. Turmeric side effects
  4. Takeaway

Turmeric is made up of 26% manganese and 16% iron. It is also rich in fiber, Vitamin B6, potassium, vitamin C and magnesium. Turmeric is suggested to have therapeutic qualities due to the presence of a chemical compound called curcumin in it. It is loaded with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds.

As per the USDA Nutrient Database, 100g of turmeric contains the following nutrient values:

Nutrient Value per 100 g
Water 12.85 g
Energy 312 kcal
Protein 9.68 g
Fat 3.25 g
Carbohydrate 67.14 g
Fiber 22.7 g
Sugars 3.21 g
Minerals  
Calcium 168 mg
Iron 55 mg
Magnesium 208 mg
Phosphorus 299 mg
Potassium 2080 mg
Sodium 27 mg
Zinc 4.50 mg
Vitamins  
Vitamin B6 0.107 mg
Vitamin C 0.7 mg
Vitamin E 4.43 mg
Vitamin K 13.4 mg
Fats  
Saturated 1.838 g
Monounsaturated     0.449 g
Polyunsaturated 0.756 g
Trans     0.056 g

Turmeric is rich in healing and health building compounds. This spice is suggested to have several benefits for health. Let us have a look at some of the science-backed benefits of turmeric for health and well being.

  • As an anti-inflammatory: Turmeric is often used topically due to its anti-inflammatory effects, which help in relieving pain and swelling due to an injury and avoiding chronic inflammation.
  • As an antioxidant: Turmeric contains the compound curcumin, which imparts it an antioxidant potential and an anti-ageing herb. Its free radical scavenging actions reduce oxidative damage and delay ageing.
  • For arthritis: As an anti-inflammatory, turmeric helps to reduce joint pain and discomfort due to arthritis.
  • For the brain: Turmeric assists in proper brain function and may be effective against Alzheimer’s disease and depression.
  • For the heart: Curcumin helps in reducing the damage to heart vessels and walls thereby reducing the risk of cardiovascular disorders.
  • Against cancer: Curcumin is effective against of cancer as it inhibits abnormal growth. Activity has been found against breast cancer, lung cancer, ovarian cancer, leukaemia, lymphoma and certain cancers of the gastrointestinal system.
  • For oral health: Turmeric is useful in the management of gum problems like gingivitis and periodontitis due to its anti-inflammatory properties. Actvity against oral cancer has also been found.

Turmeric for heart health

According to WHO, ischaemic heart disease is the topmost cause of deaths worldwide. The reasons for heart diseases could be many, but we can always alter our dietary habits and lifestyle to have a healthy heart.

According to research, turmeric is one of the herbs that can help prevent or reverse heart diseases. Curcumin, the active compound present in turmeric, acts upon the endothelial cells, the lining of the blood vessels of the heart, thereby, reversing the damage done to the heart.

A research study indicated that turmeric has similar effects to exercise on the functioning of endothelium. We all know that exercise has tremendously positive effects on the smooth functioning of the vascular endothelium. 

Hence regular consumption of turmeric may be helpful in keeping your heart healthy in the long run.

(Read more: Best cardio exercises for heart health)

Turmeric for brain health

Turmeric is not only good for your heart, but it is also beneficial for the functioning of your brain, especially for enhancing memory.

A research study revealed that regular consumption of turmeric can help increase the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) levels in the body, resulting in memory enhancement, and reversal of any brain diseases. It was also suggested to aid in the smooth functioning of the brain.

BDNF is a type of protein that forms the major component of the brain. It plays a vital role in the regeneration of nerve cells. Those with depression and Alzheimer’s disease are found to have critically low levels of BDNF in their body. Generally, regular exercise is suggested to be beneficial for improving BDNF levels. Now, research suggests that the effects of turmeric on BNDF levels are similar to regular exercise. 

A review article published in the journal GeroScience indicated that curcumin in turmeric may be effective in preventing age-related cognitive decline by reducing inflammation and oxidative stress.

In an older study, it was suggested that curcumin may have a dose-dependent neuroprotective effect. And it may be an ideal candidate for the prevention and treatment of several age-related neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and stroke.

(Read more: How to increase brain power)

Turmeric antioxidant properties

Turmeric is well known for its antioxidant effects in traditional medicine systems in Asia.

Antioxidants are compounds that neutralise free radicals (reactive oxygen species for example) in the body and help prevent oxidative stress. Normally, our body produces its own antioxidants. However, as we grow old, the number of free radicals exponentially increase in our body. These free radicals tend to react with protein and fatty acids in the body and cause oxidative damage (damage to body tissues or cells). The presence of too many free radicals can even damage our DNA, leading to diseases like cancer, diabetes, and arthritis. Apart from ageing, smoking, air pollution, levels of pesticides in the food, overconsumption of processed foods also lead to an increase in free radical levels. We can combat the effect of this increasing level of free radicals in our body by enriching our diet with natural antioxidants. These antioxidants can be found in vegetables and fruits, turmeric being one.

It is scientifically proven turmeric has antioxidant effects which neutralize free radicals. It also stimulates the production of antioxidant enzymes in the body. 

As per a study done in the USA, the antioxidant effects of turmeric can be attributed to curcumin. However, this compound has poor bioavailability. It does not get absorbed properly on ingestion and gets metabolised and eliminated quickly from the body. The study further suggested that adding piperine (a compound naturally present in black pepper) to curcumin enhances its bioavailability and hence antioxidant action.

Turmeric as an anti-inflammatory

Inflammation is our body's natural response to any foreign substance. It helps to repair damaged tissues and fight foreign bodies and pathogens entering our system. Short-term inflammation, such as acne or a small cut is beneficial for our body but it gets worrisome when the inflammation becomes chronic. The latter starts attacking and damaging healthy tissues in the body. Long-term inflammation, even at low levels can cause heart diseases, metabolic syndrome, and cancer.

Turmeric is traditionally used for the treatment of various inflammatory conditions, particularly those affecting the gut such as inflammatory bowel disease.

Studies show that turmeric fights inflammation at the molecular level. Specifically, it interrupts the NF-kB (nuclear factor kappa beta), a molecule that activates the genes related to inflammation in cells. 

As per a review study published in Alternative medicine review: a journal of clinical therapeutic, curcumin present in turmeric interacts with several inflammation-causing molecules in the body and may be helpful in the management of inflammatory conditions like inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis, pancreatitis, and some types of cancer.

According to a study done in India, the anti-inflammatory action of curcumin is probably mediated by its neutralising action on free radicals. Free radical damage is indicated to have a direct association with neurodegenerative diseases and diseases like cancer and atherosclerosis

(Read more: Inflammatory disease symptoms)

Turmeric prevents cancer

Cancer occurs due to the abnormal growth of cells in certain tissues of the body. Studies show that curcumin in turmeric can be used in cancer treatment as it affects the growth, development and spreading of cancer cells at the molecular level. Curcumin has been found effective against many cancers such as gastrointestinal cancers, breast cancer, lung cancer, neurological cancers, ovarian cancer, leukaemia, and lymphoma.

According to a research study, curcumin can selectively kill tumour cells without harming the healthy cells of the body. Because of this, curcumin has proved to be a beneficial medicinal plant, which has the potential to be used in the development of various drugs.

(Read more: Difference between cancer and tumour)

Turmeric for Alzheimer's

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is one of the leading causes of dementia worldwide.

A research study indicated that curcumin derived from turmeric has a potential role in preventing and treating Alzheimer’s disease. Due to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, curcumin may be able to improve the condition of patients suffering from this disease. Since curcumin is a lipophilic compound (loves fats), it can easily cross the blood-brain barrier and reach the brain cells. 

It is also suggested that curcumin can help break down and prevent the build-up of beta-amyloid protein, which tends to collect in Alzheimer's patients. However, most of these studies have been done in vitro (in test tubes) or on animal models (mice mainly). Additionally, some researchers argue that the bioavailability of curcumin may make it useless when taken in food. More clinical trials are needed to confirm the effects on humans.

(Read more: Alzheimer's disease diet)

Turmeric for arthritis

Arthritis, a condition that occurs because of joint inflammation is common among people of all ages. Several studies indicate that the anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin in turmeric may be helpful in the management of arthritis.

In one such pilot study, a group of patients receiving curcumin regularly were found to get relief from the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.

A review article published in Journal of Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine suggested that Curcuma or turmeric is more effective than placebo in reducing the symptoms of osteoarthritis. However, more studies are still needed to improve the quality of evidence.

(Read more: Exercises for arthritis)

Turmeric for depression

Turmeric has long been used in Ayurveda for treating anxiety and depression. Several studies indicate that curcumin present in turmeric can help ease out the symptoms of depression and it is also suggested to have the potential to treat people suffering from depression. These benefits of curcumin are attributed to its neuroprotective, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties among others.

In a controlled study, 60 patients were given Prozac (a common antidepressant), curcumin and a combination of both for six weeks. It was evident that curcumin was effective for people suffering from depression and they did not have any concurrent suicidal ideation or other psychotic disorders. 

A review article published in Journal of American Medical Directers Association indicated that curcumin is safe and effective in the management of depression symptoms. However, more robust trials are still needed to get better evidence.

(Read more: Ayurvedic treatment for depression)

Turmeric for anti-ageing

Free radical accumulation and inflammation are suggested to be some of the main reasons for ageing and age-related diseases. It is evident that curcumin possesses anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Because antioxidants neutralize the free radicals, curcumin can be used to reverse the signs of ageing. Also, curcumin triggers the antioxidant enzymes in the body, thereby slowing ageing. Therefore, adding turmeric to your daily diet can help you to age slower.

(Read more: Anti-ageing treatments)

Turmeric for dental health

For ages, turmeric has been used for its various medicinal properties in traditional medicine. According to a study, turmeric can be used to detect dental plaque, which is barely visible to the naked eyes. Beni-koji, an extract from turmeric is the reason behind the yellow pigment which imparts a yellow colour to the plaque. Also, the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of turmeric may aid in treating gingivitis, periodontitis and oral cancer.

(Read more: Oral hygiene tips)

Turmeric has been in use in Indian households since time immemorial. Recently, this herb has gained popularity in the west as well. Though turmeric has great qualities, it should be kept in mind that too much of anything can be harmful. Here are some side effects of turmeric that you should know about:

  • Turmeric can cause allergies in certain people because the curcumin present in turmeric is a contact allergen. It is also known to cause contact dermatitis. People might develop skin rashes and allergic reactions after contact with or ingestion of turmeric.
  • Curcumin, the chemical found in turmeric, might decrease the blood sugar level in people with diabetes.
  • It is advised to avoid turmeric if you have problems with your gallbladder, especially in the case of gallstones or a bile duct obstruction.
  • Turmeric may interfere with antacids. It may cause increased stomach acid if taken with certain antacid drugs. Studies show that high doses or long-term use of turmeric may cause gastrointestinal problems and upset stomach.
  • The curcumin in turmeric causes gastric irritations, which can lead to common symptoms such as diarrhoea and nausea.

Turmeric or Haldi, as it is known in India has been a part of our culture for ages. This herb plays a major role in our lives, for we use it not only in cooking but also in medicine and cosmetics. When it comes to health, turmeric has more benefits than side effects but it is still advisable to consult a doctor before consuming it as a health supplement, especially if you have a health condition.


Medicines / Products that contain Turmeric

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