Turmeric, the golden-yellow spice that packs a flavorful punch in our favorite Indian curries and adds color to mustard, is having a major moment in the health food world.
“Turmeric is a spice and a medicinal herb that’s been used in India for thousands of years,” says Melissa Young, M.D., an integrative medicine specialist at the Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. Today it’s found in everything from juices and chips to energy bites and nuts to tons of powders and supplements. But keep reading before you pull out your debit card to buy that shot at your fave juice shop.
What Is Turmeric?
Although it’s green and leafy out in the wild, you’re not used to seeing turmeric that way. It’s harvested for its rhizomes, the knobby stems that grow underground. These are then turned into a dried, powdered form.
The active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin (nope, not related to cumin). It was isolated from the herb some two centuries ago. It is actually that compound that scientists are still excited about today.
The Health Claims
In Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, turmeric is used to relieve arthritis pain, regulate menstruation, and heal wounds. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health also notes that preliminary findings suggest curcumin “may have anti-inflammatory, anticancer, and antioxidant properties.”
In recent years, preliminary research suggests curcumin could decrease cholesterol, eliminate some symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, aid the process of healing wounds, treat acne, and improve liver and cardiovascular function. A recent study also found that curcumin may help prevent or relieve certain mood disorders or dementia in older populations.
The Scientific Evidence
However, the National Institutes of Health maintains there’s “little reliable evidence” for using turmeric to treat health conditions. While it’s been widely studied when it comes to inflammation, osteoarthritis, and treating irritable bowel syndrome symptoms, the NIH cautions that few of these findings come from clinical trials with a randomized human sample.
“There is evidence that it helps with inflammation, but we need to be careful when talking about cancer and Alzheimer’s,” Young says.
Turmeric is used to help relieve certain symptoms. Those such as inflammation or the joint pain associated with osteoarthritis. Although, it is not yet a cure for serious diseases. Adding it to your diet may make you feel better faster (especially after a tough workout). Consuming it doesn’t have serious downsides for the average person, but don’t expect any miracles.