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Turmeric (Curcumin): A Complete Scientific Guide

Updated: Oct 4, 2021

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Curcumin vs. Turmeric: What’s the Difference?

Turmeric is comprised of 100 compounds. The one most talked about is curcumin, the active compound that’s credited with most of turmeric's health benefits. While turmeric gets its bright yellow hue from curcumin, this compound makes up only about 5 percent of the spice, according to an article published in January 2017 in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry.

What Are the Proposed Benefits of Turmeric?

Turmeric is more than just a bright, flavorful spice; it’s also loaded with potential health benefits. Many of its perks have been credited to curcumin, the primary plant compound that gives turmeric its bold yellow color, according to a review published October 2017 in the journal Foods.

Here are several ways turmeric and curcumin may benefit your health:

Ease Arthritis Pain Curcumin contains anti-inflammatory properties, making it a potentially effective treatment for inflammatory conditions such as arthritis. For example, a small past study found that participants with rheumatoid arthritis who took a 500 mg curcumin supplement twice daily for eight weeks saw greater improvements in joint tenderness and swelling compared with patients who took a prescription anti-inflammatory or a combination of the two treatments.

Reduce Depression Symptoms Depression has been linked with lower levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein in the brain and spinal cord that regulates communication between nerve cells. In rats, curcumin effectively increased levels of BDNF over the course of 10 days, according to a study published in Behavioral Brain Research. In humans with major depressive disorder, those who took 1,000 mg of curcumin daily for six weeks saw similar improvements to those who took an antidepressant or a combination of the two treatments, according to a small April 2014 study published in Phytotherapy Research.

Contribute to Treating Diabetes Thanks to turmeric’s anti-inflammatory effects, it’s also a promising treatment for inflammatory conditions, including diabetes. A study published July 2019 in Nutrition & Metabolism found that feeding curcumin supplements to obese mice with type 2 diabetes helped lower blood insulin levels after 16 weeks. Curcumin may also help prevent type 2 diabetes by improving insulin resistance, lowering high blood sugar, and reducing high cholesterol, according to a review in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

Aid Weight Loss It’s unclear whether turmeric can actually help you lose weight, but preliminary research suggests it may enhance your efforts. In one study of 44 people and published in November 2015 in the European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Sciences, people with metabolic syndrome (a condition characterized by obesity, high blood pressure, high blood triglycerides, insulin resistance, and low levels of HDL “good” cholesterol) who lost nearly 2 percent of their body weight added an 800 mg curcumin supplement to their daily diet. After 30 days, this group lost close to 5 percent of their body weight, helping them reduce their body fat by more than 8 percent. (Researchers had added 8 mg of Piperine, the active compound in black pepper, to the supplement; Piperine helps the body absorb more of the curcumin.)

Complement Cancer Treatment It’s unclear whether turmeric can prevent cancer growth in humans, according to the American Cancer Society. Yet this spice may offer potential, thanks to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, according to a past review. Authors of past research note that turmeric (curcumin specifically) may prevent tumors from forming and becoming cancerous, though more research in humans is needed.

Support Skin Health Turmeric is an anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antioxidant-rich spice, making it potentially effective for treating skin conditions like acne, eczema, and psoriasis, though more studies are needed. Due to its poor bioavailability, it likely wouldn’t be a standalone treatment for skin disorders but rather complement existing treatments, write the authors of an article published in September 2019 in Nutrients.

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Learn About the Impact of Turmeric on Weight Loss Here.

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