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29th January, 20213 min read

What are the health benefits of turmeric?

Medical reviewer: Dr Ann Nainan
Author: Daniel Piggott
Medically reviewed

All of Healthily's articles undergo medical safety checks to verify that the information is medically safe. View more details in our safety page, or read our editorial policy.

Turmeric is a plant from the same plant ‘family’ as ginger. It’s native to Asia and you might know it from your kitchen, as it’s often used as a spice in cooking. But it’s also been used in traditional medicine for centuries.

There are substances in turmeric called ‘curcuminoids’, which are thought to provide health benefits. The main one is curcumin, which gives turmeric its yellow colour. In the past few years, turmeric has become popular as a ‘superfood’ – but are its health benefits proven?

Unfortunately, while some studies have suggested turmeric’s effectiveness for certain conditions, the evidence so far isn’t conclusive. The way it breaks down in our bodies also makes it hard to study the benefits.

With this in mind, read on to find out if taking turmeric is right for you.

What are the possible benefits of taking turmeric?

Some scientific studies have had results that suggest turmeric may help with several health conditions. But you should bear in mind that the evidence is limited for all the points below, and more research is needed.

Arthritis

The curcumin found in turmeric is understood to have ‘anti-inflammatory’ properties – so it’s thought it may help reduce inflammation in the body.

With this in mind, a review of several studies found that curcumin can reduce pain and inflammation in people with osteoarthritis, while another study suggested it could help prevent bone breakdown in people with rheumatoid arthritis.

Depression

Several small studies found turmeric may help reduce symptoms of depression.

IBS

Some trials have found curcumin to have a possible beneficial effect on the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) but this is not conclusive and more evidence is needed. Again, this is thought be to down to its anti-inflammatory properties, as well as the fact that it might help protect the lining of the stomach.

Skin

It’s thought that the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of turmeric have benefits when applied to the skin. Some small trials have found it may help with skin issues such as acne and dermatitis (inflammation of the skin).

Other conditions

There are also some small studies that suggest turmeric may help to lower high blood pressure, reduce symptoms of ulcerative colitis and help control blood sugar levels.

How do I take turmeric safely?

Turmeric and curcumin products are generally thought to be safe when taken orally or applied to the skin in recommended amounts.

However, it’s a good idea to speak to your doctor before taking turmeric – especially as it can interfere with other medicines, such as blood thinners and some anti-cancer medications.

Although side effects from taking turmeric aren’t very common, they can include:

  • constipation
  • diarrhoea
  • bloating
  • heartburn (acid reflux)
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • upset stomach
  • liver damage

Turmeric supplements should be avoided if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, you have gallbladder disease, or you’re about to have surgery.

Key points

  • turmeric is commonly used as a spice in cooking, but it has also been used as a traditional medicine for centuries
  • there are many claimed health benefits of turmeric, but scientific evidence is limited and inconclusive, partly due to difficulties in studying turmeric’s biology
  • speak to your doctor before taking turmeric – it can interfere with other medications and may cause side effects
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