How Turmeric Can Boost Your Memory, Ease Joint Pain, and Reduce Inflammation

Eufemia Didonato

Photo credit: alexander ruiz – Getty Images From Prevention Turmeric’s benefits have been known for thousands of years, but thanks to Instagram and Pinterest (we see you, golden milk), the spice is enjoying a massive surge in popularity. “Turmeric is getting a lot of attention lately,” says nutritionist and registered […]

Photo credit: alexander ruiz - Getty Images
Photo credit: alexander ruiz – Getty Images

From Prevention

Turmeric’s benefits have been known for thousands of years, but thanks to Instagram and Pinterest (we see you, golden milk), the spice is enjoying a massive surge in popularity.

“Turmeric is getting a lot of attention lately,” says nutritionist and registered dietician Karen Ansel, R.D.N., C.D.N., author of Healing Superfoods for Anti-Aging. “But this root has been used in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years to fight inflammation and improve digestive health.”

Grown throughout India and other parts of Asia, turmeric is a major ingredient in curry powder. It’s mainly found in spice- or supplement-form, and as a spice it’s commonly used to brighten up curries, stir fries, soups, and even smoothies.

“Any time you have brightly colored foods, you know there are plant compounds in there doing something great,” says Dawn Jackson Blatner, R.D.N., a dietitian and author of The Superfood Swap. “And turmeric is a bright golden—there’s nothing like it.”

Curcumin, one of turmeric’s primary ingredients, is thought to help fight inflammation, says Jackson Blatner. “All diseases basically start with inflammation, from gingivitis in your mouth to heart disease, so the idea of having a teaspoon a day of turmeric may be a good thing.”

How much turmeric should you take each day?

When you’re looking for the correct dosage to take in supplement form, there’s no quick answer to this question, especially since more studies are needed; it also depends on what you’re trying to treat, and what your health practitioner recommends. Many of the studies cited below used a dosage of 500 mg, once or twice a day.

What are the side effects of taking turmeric?

Turmeric doesn’t seem to cause serious side effects, though at higher doses it may cause mild stomach distress (nausea, diarrhea, stomach upset). It’s a good idea to check with a health practitioner who’s familiar with natural treatments, however, because turmeric can interfere with certain medications.

So, could taking turmeric or curcumin supplements help boost your health? There’s a lot of misinformation out there, so we looked at the science to bring you 10 ways that turmeric and curcumin could possibly improve your health.

Photo credit: AnnaPustynnikova - Getty Images
Photo credit: AnnaPustynnikova – Getty Images

1. Turmeric might help your memory.

Research done in Asian populations back in 2006 found that people who ate more curry scored higher on cognitive function tests (tests that measure memory, attention span, etc.) than those who didn’t eat as much of the spice. The scientists chalked up this benefit to turmeric, which is a major part of the Asian diet.

Recent findings have also pointed to brain-related benefits: For example, a 2018 study of people aged 51 to 84 found that those who took a 90 milligram curcumin supplement twice a day for 18 months saw a boost in memory compared to those who took a placebo. The study was small, but the researchers theorize that curcumin’s anti-inflammatory effects might protect the brain from memory-related diseases. More research will be needed to confirm these findings.

2. Turmeric may help ward off heart disease.

Curcumin’s antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds may help protect against certain heart conditions, including diabetic cardiomyopathy (heart muscle disease), arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) and more, according to a 2017 review in the journal Pharmacological Research.

3. Turmeric might have an impact on certain cancers.

A 2015 review published in the journal Molecules concluded that curcumin might have the potential to fight off certain cancers. But it’s important to take these claims with a grain of salt: So far, most of this research has been conducted in in vitro studies. Still, the authors of the review also note that curcumin has been shown to prevent or slow down the activity of certain tumor cells, including those of skin cancers, digestive cancers, and more. Certainly, more studies would be needed to determine the impact of tumeric on cancer.

4. Turmeric may ease osteoarthritis pain.

Osteoarthritis is the most common cause of disability in the United States, affecting an estimated 30.8 million Americans, according to the Arthritis Foundation. A 2016 research review found that taking curcumin for 4 weeks could help relieve osteoarthritis pain among people who already have the condition—an effect that’s comparable to taking NSAIDs or glucosamine.

Photo credit: OksanaKiian - Getty Images
Photo credit: OksanaKiian – Getty Images

5. Turmeric may help with hay fever.

If you’re miserable in certain seasons with the sniffling, hacking, itchy, runny nose, and congestion of hay fever, curcumin could help because of its antioxidant and inflammatory powers. In a 2008 review of animal studies on the effectiveness of curcumin on allergy symptoms, it was found to inhibit the release of histimines, resulting in a marked reduction of symptoms.

6. Turmeric could help with depression symptoms.

In people with major depressive disorder who were already taking an antidepressant, curcumin was found to help ease symptoms. It was a small study, of short duration (only six weeks), and there have been reports online that overstated the findings. But in the study, there seemed to be no ill effects of taking curcumin in conjunction with Prozac, the antidepressant in the study, and perhaps some benefits.

7. Turmeric may have an impact on cholesterol.

This one is iffy, but there is some evidence that curcumin could help keep a certain type of bad cholesterol in line. A 2017 review of seven studies looked at the effects of turmeric and curcumin on blood lipid levels, and found that they may offer some improvement in people with cardiovascular disease risks. The review authors pointed out, however, that it’s premature to use the substances in a clinical setting because it’s hard to know what the correct dosage would be, and that more studies are needed.

8. Turmeric could be good for the liver.

A study review showed that a higher-dose of curcumin supplements could have a positive effect on non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), a condition in which there’s a build-up of fat in the liver that’s not caused by drinking too much alcohol. It’s one of the most common causes of liver disease in the U.S., according to the NIH.

9. Turmeric may help with gum disease.

In 2016, a comprehensive study review found some evidence that turmeric may help prevent or treat gingivitis, a very common periodontal disease, because of its anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal properties. The study authors, however, said that more extensive studies are needed.

10. Turmeric makes healthy food taste even better.

Call it the Midas touch, but if you’re a fan of turmeric’s flavor, it can turn even bland dishes into nutritional gold. And let’s face it, we can all use a little help eating more produce—according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 1 in 10 adults in the United States eat enough fruits and vegetables.

“One of the easiest ways to eat a lot of turmeric is by making golden milk,” says Jackson Blatner. Add a teaspoon to plant-based or regular milk, then toss in a dash of black pepper (which increases turmeric’s absorption, she says) and sprinkle in some nutmeg or honey. You can also use it to spice up your condiments, too: “I make turmeric ketchup, mustard, or barbecue sauce,” she says.

“While turmeric supplements are flying off store shelves, I’d much rather see people use it the old fashioned way—as a spice,” says Ansel. “It’s a super-easy way to add flavor and antioxidants to grains like rice, couscous, or quinoa, plus it adds a lovely yellow color. Since turmeric is also one of the principal spices in curry powder, you can reap its benefits by sprinkling it over roasted veggies like butternut squash, carrots, or cauliflower.”

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