Common Names: Indian Saffron, curcumin, jiang huang
Scientific Names: Curcuma longa; curcuma domestica
What is it?
Turmeric is a plant related to the ginger family that grows in India and Indonesia. It is a common
ingredient in curry powder, and is often used to add a yellow color to mustards, canned chicken broth and other foods. Curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric.
Turmeric has been used to treat a variety of conditions, including:
Stomach and intestinal gas
There is very limited research done on turmeric and curcumin for specific conditions, especially in humans. A summary of the research is listed below:
In animal studies, curcumin may have an anti-cancer effect against colon skin and breast cancer. This may be due to antioxidant activity, new blood vessel growth prevention, or direct effects on cancer cells. However, reliable human studies are lacking and possible benefits in humans are unknown at this time. Breast cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy may want to limit their turmeric intake. Some research shows that turmeric may actually inhibit the anti-tumor action of cyclophosphamide, camptothecin, mechlorethamine, and doxorubicin. These are chemotherapeutic drugs used to treat breast cancer.
Dyspepsia (heartburn) and Peptic Ulcer Disease (stomach ulcer)
Traditionally, turmeric is said to treat stomach problems such as indigestion. Preliminary evidence supports this belief. However, high doses of turmeric or prolonged use can actually irritate the stomach. Further research is needed to determine the appropriate use of turmeric to treat dyspepsia and peptic ulcer disease.
Gallstone prevention/bile flow stimulant
Dietary turmeric has been credited as the reason for decreased incidence of gallstones in India. Early animal studies show this may be true. There is limited human research available, but it does suggest that curcumin may stimulate bile flow from the gallbladder. With that said, people with active gallstones are not advised to use turmeric.
Animal studies and preliminary human research show that turmeric may lower LDL cholesterol (“bad cholesterol”). More research is needed before recommendations can be made.
Inflammation, Osteoarthritis, and Rheumatoid Arthritis
Curcumin shows anti-inflammatory activity in laboratory and animal studies. However, human research is limited. More research is needed before recommendations can be made.
Turmeric has been used traditionally, in combination with leaves of herb Azadirachta indica, to treat chronic skin ulcers and scabies. Although preliminary research supports this traditional use, more research is needed before recommendations can be made.
Curcumin may work against HIV, according to several laboratory studies. However, human studies are limited. More research is needed before recommendations can be made.
Cystic Fibrosis (CF)
Laboratory studies in mice with digestive complications of cystic fibrosis have shown benefits from the use of curcumin. Further laboratory and human research is needed before recommendations can be made. Cystic Fibrosis Foundation does not recommend that people with CF take curcumin at this time.
Editor notes: Turmeric has no known side effects. However, turmeric is not recommended during pregnancy.
1. American Botanical Council www.herbalgram.org
3. Cystic Fibrosis Foundation www.cff.org
4. MD Anderson Cancer Center www.mdanderson.org
5. Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center www.smkcc.org
6. Arthritis Foundation www.arthritis.org
7. Julie Haase, Froedtert Hospital Outpatient Dietitian