The health benefits of turmeric are extensive. Turmeric and its active compound, curcumin, have many science-backed health benefits, such as reduction of PMS symptoms, possible suppression of endometriosis tissue growth, potential prevention of Alzheimer’s (women are at the highest risk for this), and has shown benefits for those suffering from mood symptoms like depression.
Turmeric is a root that is packed with antioxidants and has potent anti-inflammatory properties, which accounts for its benefits in pain reduction and the treatment of autoimmune diseases, such as inflammatory bowel disease.
Have you heard the hype about turmeric and curcumin?
If you haven’t — it’s time we had a chat. And if you have, I’m about to break down the myths and discuss the true benefits of turmeric.
Turmeric is an inflammation-calming all-star. It’s been around for thousands of years and was revered by ancient cultures.
It’s also been well-studied by modern science and, as it turns out, all of those traditional herbalists were on to something.
As a naturopathic physician, I’ve seen many women in my clinic experience improvement in their hormonal imbalance symptoms after incorporating curcumin into their supplement routines.
When you consider turmeric’s anti-inflammatory properties and its ability to diminish excess estrogen, it’s a go-to in my practitioner’s toolkit for managing hormones.
Curcumin has been shown in study after study to help manage just about every common chronic disease in the modern world. It’s a staple for anyone looking to improve their health. I wasn’t surprised to see turmeric top a list of supplements scientists take.
The modern medical community has celebrated curcumin for its potential role in helping dozens of conditions.
Health Benefits of Turmeric and Curcumin
- Chronic pain
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Parkinson’s disease
- Heart disease
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Chronic anterior uveitis
- High blood pressure
- Uterine Fibroids
It has natural anti-microbial, anti-fungal, and anti-bacterial properties.
And, in its whole form, turmeric has a gorgeous yellow-orange color that has been used for centuries as a food and fabric coloring agent. It’s what originally lent color to yellow mustard and why curry powder is yellow.
In this article, we will take an in-depth look at how turmeric is used, and the benefits science says are the most important. Before we dive in, I want to explain more about turmeric and curcumin, as well as absorption.
Is Curcumin The Same As Turmeric?
You may be familiar with the culinary spice turmeric. Turmeric is derived from a rhizome — the part of some plants that grow underground horizontally to produce new shoots of growth for the plant.
Although it’s becoming more readily available, it’s not an item that can easily be found in most grocery stores when in its rhizome form. It looks a lot like its cousin, ginger, but when cut open, you’ll see a bright golden-orange color inside.
The turmeric rhizome is made up of several beneficial components called curcuminoids. Curcumin is one of these curcuminoids.
The other two curcuminoids in turmeric are:
- Demethoxy curcumin
- Bisdemethoxy curcumin
So — while curcumin is derived from turmeric, it is not exactly the same thing.
Curcumin is the bioactive compound that gives this golden root its reputation in the medical literature.
Turmeric And Bioavailability
Despite its amazing benefits and potential for healing, curcumin has one defining challenge: it’s not efficiently utilized by the body.
It’s difficult to absorb and is metabolized quickly.
In a turmeric rhizome, only 2-6% of the mass of the plant is curcumin. The curcumin that’s extracted from the plant is not water-soluble. And then, it’s vulnerable to light exposure and its behavior is dependent upon the pH of any substances it’s combined with.
Basically — it’s challenging to get all of the goodness out of the turmeric plant, keep it stable, and into a form that delivers maximum benefits.
One way that has been tested to improve bioavailability is to combine curcumin with piperine, a compound found in black pepper. I mention it in Beyond the Pill as an Upgraded Golden Milk with fat and black pepper to enhance absorption.
15 Health Benefits of Turmeric and Curcumin for Women
Now everyone can certainly benefit from some turmeric in their life, but for the purpose of our exploration, we will focus on some women-specific conditions. But by all means, take the blood pressure, pain reduction, brain boosting, and other beneficial info to the men in your life.
- Pain Relief
- High Blood Pressure
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease
- Gut Health
- Iron Chelation
- Increases Antioxidant Status
- Improved Brain Function
1. Turmeric For Inflammation
Curcumin is one of the compounds in turmeric broadly referred to as curcuminoids. This is the active anti-inflammatory component of turmeric that is responsible for so many of its benefits. One of the key ways curcumin works to improve so many common health issues is by calming the body’s inflammatory response.
Inflammation is basically the body’s natural immune response to an irritant — whether that be a virus or a cut.
In most cases, we need a little inflammation to heal a cold or a splinter in our finger. Inflammation isn’t bad, but too much of it for too long can prove problematic.
Due to a variety of various triggers characteristic of modern life (stress and poor diet — I’m looking at you), many people suffer from a low-grade inflammation that eventually contributes to the onset of many chronic health conditions, including:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
People are often unaware that their body is under the stress of inflammation until disease comes full force into their lives.
Curcumin is such a potent anti-inflammatory that it has been found to be as effective as some anti-inflammatory drugs. One study showed the effect of curcumin was comparable to steroids in its benefits, but without the side effects. The low side effect profile makes turmeric especially attractive in the management of many inflammatory conditions.
2. Turmeric For PMS
In addition to decreasing levels of inflammation in the body, curcumin has also been shown to help alleviate PMS symptoms.
Curcuminoids have been touted as PMS relievers in several studies. And in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial (the gold standard of research), curcumin supplementation was found to significantly reduce the severity of PMS for the study participants after three menstrual cycles.
Curcumin is also a natural pain reliever — so it can do wonders for relieving cramping and headaches that can accompany monthly flow.
I talk more about the benefits of turmeric supplementation for PMS in this article.
3. Is Turmeric Protective Against Cancer?
While there’s no evidence to prove causation — in countries where turmeric consumption is highest (namely India), cancer rates are lowest. There could be other factors at play, though.
There are several other dietary and lifestyle differences to consider, but in western countries, cancers of all kinds are 5-23 times more prevalent than in India.
Again, while we can’t assume it’s just the curcumin in turmeric working its magic here, there’s a whole host of evidence that shows curcumin has huge potential in the fight against cancer.
Can Turmeric Prevent Cancer?
Some studies have shown that turmeric may prevent cancer from occurring in the first place. In a small clinical trial studying the effects of turmeric in the development of colorectal cancer, it was found that supplementing at 4 grams daily resulted in a 40% reduction in lesions that had the potential to become cancerous.
Other studies have suggested that turmeric targets enzymes related to cancer growth and may help prevent head and neck cancer by killing abnormal cells, but these have been in a test tube model and not in a human trial. The same is true of the promising studies regarding breast cancer.
Can Turmeric Treat Cancer?
Curcumin may inhibit the development, growth, and even spread of multiple types of cancer. One study concluded that “the activity of curcumin reported against leukemia and lymphoma, gastrointestinal cancers, genitourinary cancers, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, head and neck squamous cell carcinoma, lung cancer, melanoma, neurological cancers, and sarcoma reflects its ability to affect multiple targets.”
In addition to showing promise at the molecular level, there have been animal studies showing curcumin to be a potential treatment in certain cancers.
However, at this time, there are no human trials showing that turmeric is in fact a standalone treatment for cancer. Further research is needed to fully understand its role, and current research points to it being a helpful herb in the management of symptoms, such as pain associated with cancer.
While clearly I am a big fan of turmeric, it is important to note that supplements aren’t intended to treat or prevent disease. And while I think a daily turmeric intake does have benefits for most, it isn’t meant to be used in lieu of medical treatments. Or in other words, if you have cancer, you’ll want to talk to your doc about what is best for you because turmeric alone isn’t likely enough. Or at least, we don’t have substantial evidence to conclude it would be.
4. Turmeric For Depression and Anxiety
Curcumin also shows great promise for the treatment of depression. In several studies, it’s been shown to have an antidepressant effect on study participants. In some cases, participants noticed a difference in as little as 4-8 weeks after beginning treatment.
Curcumin is also safe to combine with antidepressants, and can have a significant impact on patients with major depressive disorder.
Studies also show promise for the use of curcumin in anxiety disorders. Evidence suggests that it increases DHA levels — which is great news for brain tissue. DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid that has been shown to be beneficial in brain health.
And of course, always chat with your doc before starting any supplements while on a medication.
5. Turmeric For Pain Relief
With it’s known anti-inflammatory properties, curcumin can be a safer alternative to other pain-killing pharmaceuticals.
In study after study, it’s been used as effectively as other pain killers. In one study it was even used after patients had impacted molars removed to great effect.
While larger studies are needed to confirm, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest curcumin can help manage arthritis pain as well.
6. Turmeric For High Blood Pressure
Another great application that’s emerging for curcumin is the management of hypertension, aka high blood pressure.
Studies are indicating that curcumin is effective in lowering blood pressure. In one lab study, it was shown efficacious in managing blood pressure after researchers induced metabolic syndrome.
Given women with PCOS are at higher risk for developing high blood pressure and other cardiometabolic issues, turmeric may be beneficial in helping manage their condition.
7. Turmeric For Inflammatory Bowel Disease
So much preliminary data indicates that curcumin shows great promise for the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
Inflammatory bowel diseases include:
Many side effects are reported from conventional IBD treatments to control the gas, bloating and diarrhea that IBD sufferers experience.
Curcumin offers anti-inflammatory relief without the adverse side effects of the drugs typically used to treat IBD. In some studies, 550mg of curcumin 2-4 times per day was enough to significantly reduce symptoms and render IBD inactive.
8. Turmeric For Osteoporosis
Curcuminoids have even been studied for their effects on bone mass. In one laboratory study, curcuminoids were shown to prevent bone loss. This is great news for women looking to prevent the onset of postmenopausal osteoporosis — which is pretty much all of us!
9. Turmeric For Fibroids
Fibroids are a common type of tumor that occurs in the female reproductive system. Fibroids can grow in various locations in the uterus and often go unnoticed. But sometimes, fibroids can grow large and cause all kinds of complications for women.
I did a deep-dive article on uterine fibroids that you can also check out for more information.
One of the ways to help manage fibroids naturally is with turmeric. In the case of uterine fibroids, curcumin appears to actually help kill the fibroid cells. Several studies suggest the use of curcumin is a promising step in the right direction to help keep fibroids under control.
10. Turmeric For Endometriosis
Because curcumin is anti-inflammatory and can help modulate estrogen, it’s an ideal companion in endometriosis treatment.
Research indicates that curcumin can actually suppress the proliferation of endometrial cells — which is exactly what we want to accomplish when treating endometriosis.
Also — since it’s a natural pain reliever, curcumin is wonderful for women suffering from endometriosis, which can be extremely painful.
There isn’t “one thing” that can help endometriosis and in my clinical experience, it is often best to leverage multiple modalities to get symptom relief. As is the case for all the benefits of turmeric and curcumin, a supplement is going to provide therapeutic doses and the most benefit. I would still advocate for eating turmeric and will explain in a bit how to enhance the absorption of curcumin when you do!
11. Can Turmeric Prevent Alzheimer's?
In recent years, the medical community has begun to view Alzheimer’s disease as a condition resulting from inflammation and blood sugar dysregulation.
It stands to reason then, that researchers began testing curcumin’s anti-inflammatory properties for Alzheimer’s treatment. Several studies have shown positive results. Many are hopeful that curcumin can not only prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s but actually regenerate neural stem cells.
12. Can Turmeric Improve The Gut Microbiome?
You may have heard how important the gut microbiome is to overall health. We are just scratching the surface when it comes to understanding how a healthy gut translates into a healthy immune system, brain function, and hormones.
A recent study showed that both turmeric and curcumin positively impacted the gut microbiota — leading researchers to yet another positive benefit of this amazing rhizome.
13. Does Turmeric Chelate Iron?
As the researchers in this study regarding cancer patients concluded, curcumin, in fact, is an iron chelator. Is it likely that curcumin causes anemia? No.
What is a chelator?
A chelator is something that bonds to metals. In this case, iron. Curcumin binds to it, and therefore individuals with high levels of iron due to hemochromatosis may be able use it to effectively reduce the levels of iron in their blood. Of course, if you have this condition, you need to speak with your doctor and continue to monitor your iron levels.
While this may be useful for those actively trying to reduce their iron levels, it can also mean trouble for those with anemia. If you’re trying to increase your iron levels, avoid taking curcumin with iron supplements or iron-rich foods. That's because curcumin is thought to prevent iron absorption when taken with an iron supplement or iron-rich foods. There haven't been many strong studies to support the use of curcumin in hemochromatosis or as a chelator
It is metabolized quickly, so if you’re trying to reduce inflammation and increase iron, it’s likely you can still reap the benefits of curcumin. And if anemia is your concern, take your iron supplement and curcumin separately. Just be sure to check with your doc.
14. Increases Antioxidant Status
Turmeric not only carries its own antioxidants, but it may also boost your body’s wn natural ones!
Oxidative stress by free radicals is one mechanism that drives aging and disease. Free radicals, as I explain in this video, can cause DNA damage.
Curcumin itself can neutralize free radicals or in other words, reduce their destructive potential.
15. Curcumin for Improved Brain Function
Curcumin supports brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which supports brain health.
In fact, conditions like Alzheimer’s, dementia, and depression have been linked to decreased levels of BDNF. Curcumin has been shown to increase BDNF in the brain, which may lead to the growth of new neurons and decrease the risk of neurodegenerative disease.
16. Curcumin and Blood Sugar
Research has found that curcumin was helpful in study participants’ blood sugar regulation and diabetes prevention. If you are or suspect you are pre-diabetic, ask your doctor about incorporating turmeric as part of a full prevention plan.
Turmeric certainly won’t rescue you from a high-sugar diet or a sedentary life. So, definitely work with your doctor when you’re facing metabolic issues.
What is the Best Turmeric Supplement?
When selecting a turmeric supplement, it's important that you find one that's highly bioavailable. This means that your body will actually be able to absorb it and utilize it. Unfortunately, many turmeric supplements that are available on the market are poorly absorbed which means although you’re taking it, you won’t really see the benefits. When you're looking at sourcing a high-quality Turmeric supplement, search for one with a combination of three bioactive, health-promoting curcuminoids: curcumin, bisdemethoxy curcumin and demethoxy curcumin, along with turmeric oil. These three have been shown to have the strongest, most protective and best-researched constituents of turmeric root.
Who Shouldn’t Take Turmeric?
Curcuminoids are generally considered safe and without many side effects.
However, curcumin and turmeric are not a good idea to consume without talking to your doctor under the following circumstances:
- Taking blood thinners (or aspirin, NSAIDs)
- Kidney stones
- Trying to conceive
- Taking chemotherapy drugs
- Taking blood pressure medication
- Taking statins to lower cholesterol
- Taking medicine to lower blood sugar
Should I Take Turmeric In The Morning Or Evening?
No matter the time of day, it’s best to take curcumin on an empty stomach, 30 minutes before a meal or 2 hours after.
This way, it won’t interfere with the absorption of any other nutrients you are consuming.
Long revered as a peaceful sleep inducer, turmeric has traditionally been taken before bed. Ayurveda (the ancient medical system of India) touts the benefits of a nightcap of milk, honey, and turmeric that’s gained popularity in recent years and is known as golden milk.
In Beyond the Pill I share a recipe I recommend in the evening to promote better sleep, reduce anxiety, and support gut health while you sleep.
The Miraculous Biological Activities Of A Golden Spice
It’s almost hard to believe that a plant as beneficial as turmeric exists.
As the researchers in this review note, it truly is miraculous. In several studies, up to 8g per day of curcumin have been well-tolerated by patients — but you really don’t need to consume nearly that much to reap serious benefits.
My hope is that you’ll try it and together with therapies recommended by your doctor be able to prevent inflammation, osteoporosis, even manage endometriosis. Want to learn more about women’s hormones, what supplements you can use to get them in check, and have fun while you’re at it? Sign up for my email newsletter and get my hormone balancing starter kit at the same time — it’s chock full of recipes and only-available-to-subscribers articles.
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