Have you experienced the warm flavors and bright orange hue of a traditional Indian curry dish? The color comes from turmeric root, an essential ingredient in Indian cooking and the subject of much scientific research for its impressive health benefits.
Turmeric is a traditional Indian spice, long-prized in Ayurveda for its medicinal properties. The health benefits come from curcumin, one of the active compounds in turmeric. Curcumin, which is available in supplement form, is one of the most well-researched nutraceuticals ever discovered.
5 Curcumin and Turmeric Benefits for Health
1. Curcumin Is a Powerful Antioxidant
Antioxidants are compounds in foods that protect our cells from DNA damage, lowering the risk of many chronic, degenerative diseases. Through this mechanism, turmeric and curcumin have been shown to protect against liver damage.
This benefit is also seen in the healing of various skin disorders when turmeric is applied topically as an oil or powder. In this way, turmeric combats environmental toxins.
2. Curcumin Improves Brain Function
Curcumin increases levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that helps nerve cells communicate. BDNF is crucial to learning and memory. Low levels of BDNF have been linked to an increased risk of neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis. The heavy use of turmeric in Indian cooking is thought to be one of the reasons for the relatively low rate of these diseases in that country.
3. Curcumin Fights Heart Disease
Through its anti-inflammatory properties, curcumin can also benefit heart health. Specifically, curcumin protects the endothelium, the membrane that lines the heart and blood vessels. Narrow, or constricted, blood vessels cause increases in blood pressure, a risk factor for heart disease.
4. Curcumin May Lower Cancer Risk
Research has suggested that curcumin can slow—or even prevent—the growth of cancer cells. Curcumin decreases the production of enzymes and growth factors that help tumors proliferate. These benefits have been shown to be effective against cancers of the colon and pancreas, among others.
5. Curcumin Helps With Pain Relief
Turmeric and some of its compounds, such as curcumin, have been shown in studies to be just as effective at treating arthritis as prescription anti-inflammatories and over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen. Unlike these drugs, however, curcumin doesn’t carry with it a long list of side effects.
The Bottom Line
Turmeric has been used safely and effectively in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years. A growing body of research continues to validate the use of turmeric and its active compound, curcumin, in the prevention and management of a host of health issues.