Benefits of Adding Turmeric to Your Diet


By: Jeannie R Boylan

2014-03-05 10:21 PM

Turmeric is a dark yellow root of the curcuma longa plant, which is native to south Asia.  Turmeric is a relative of the ginger family.  The root can be used fresh or be boiled, dried and ground into a powder (1).  Turmeric is used to flavor food, very popular in curries.  Turmeric is also used as a food colorant in foods such as mustard and cheese.  Because of its antibacterial properties, turmeric is also used as a food preservative (2).  


Turmeric is made up of many vitamins (including several B vitamins and Vitamin C, among others) and minerals (such as calcium, iron and manganese).  It is also made up of plant chemicals, the most common being the curcuminoids (2, 3).  Curcumin is the curcuminoid most commonly studied.  Curcumin makes up about 3 to 5% of most powdered turmeric (1, 4). 


Turmeric has been most commonly studied for its anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antioxidant, anti-carcinogenic and detoxifying properties.  Curcumin has been researched and shows promise in its use in many diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and arthritis.  As shown on, there are many ongoing and completed trials with turmeric/curcumin (5). 


Dementia is on the rise worldwide; however, India has been shown to have one of the lowest prevalence in the world (6).  It has been suggested that this may be due to the Indian diet and their high intake of turmeric.  A study in a non-demented elderly Asian population showed that people who ate curry dishes often to very often did better on the Mini-Mental State Examination than did people who consumed curry rarely or never (7).  One animal study showed that curcumin suppresses inflammation and oxidative damage in the brain of mice with Alzheimer’s disease pathogenesis.  In the same study, curcumin also decreased the amyloid plaques in many affected brain regions of mice (8).  Hishikaw et al (9) also described three case studies in patients with Alzheimer’s disease with Behavioral and Psychological Symptoms of Dementia.  After taking Turmeric 764 mg/day for 12 weeks, behavior and psychological symptoms greatly improved.


There is some limited research done in depressive disorders and curcumin.  A recent study compared the antidepressant fluoxetine, curcumin supplement and fluoxetine + curcumin supplement combination.  The combination group showed the best results at 77.8% improvement, and the antidepressant 64.7% improvement and the curcumin supplement 62.5% improvement.  However, this data did not reach level of significance (10).


A pilot study tested the efficacy and safety of curcumin in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.  This study compared the use of curcumin, diclofenac sodium and curcumin + diclofenac sodium combination.  The study showed a 44.5% change in the Disease Activity Score (DAS) (11) (a test used to measure disease activity in rheumatoid arthritis (12)).  This result was comparable to diclofenac sodium, which had a 42.1% change in DAS.  The group which took both curcumin + diclofenac sodium had a 44.4% change in DAS.  


In a recently published invitro study, it was shown that curcumin can sensitize colon cancer cells to the chemotherapeutic agent 5 Fluoruracil (5FU).  The authors concluded that “our data suggests that a combination of the plant chemical together with 5FU have the potential to benefit in the treatment of cancer” (13). 


It is of note that the German Commission E (the German version of the Food and Drug Administration in the United States (14), has approved Turmeric for its use in some digestion conditions (15).


So, is it better, therefore, to take turmeric or curcumin as a supplement in one’s diet? 

In an animal study, completed at the University of Louisville School of Medicine, the investigators showed that taking turmeric may exert it’s effect in increasing the bioavailability of curcumin and/or it may exert an effect directly on the proinflammatory genes (16).  It may be possible that the minerals, vitamins and phytochemicals that turmeric contains will help our bodies absorb the nutrients much more readily than if you take a curcumin supplement.


Adding turmeric to our diet is a great way to enjoy the benefits without having to take a supplement.  We can incorporate turmeric into your diet using powder or fresh root. There are many recipes online for different dishes (like curries) and drinks such as turmeric tea.  Be sure to use pure organic turmeric to ensure you are getting a good source of turmeric without any fillers and chemicals.  



Turmeric, taken in large doses or taking a curcumin supplement, may have adverse effects such as blood thinning effects, stimulating the uterus or promoting menstruation, increasing bile production and gastrointestinal upset (17).  Always be sure to consult your healthcare professional before starting a supplement regime, as some supplements may not benefit you and your health needs or may interact with medications.    


Recipe Links

Turmeric Tea:


Turmeric Chicken and Broccoli Stir-fry:




(2) Prescription for Dietary Wellness – Second Edition, Phyllis A. Balch, Page 46, 154


(4) Curcumin: An Anti-Inflammatory Molecule from a Curry Spice on the Path to Cancer Treatment, Purusotam Basnet and Natasa Skalko-Basnet  


(6) Prevalence of dementia in Latin America, India, and China: a population-based cross-sectional survey

(7)  Curry Consumption and Cognitive Function in the Elderly 

(8) The Curry Spice Curcumin Reduces Oxidative Damage and Amyloid Pathology in an Alzheimer Transgenic Mouse

(9) Effects of turmeric on Alzheimer's disease with behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia

(10) Sanmukhani, J., Satodia, V., Trivedi, J., Patel, T., Tiwari, D., Panchal, B., Goel, A. and Tripathi, C. B. (2013), Efficacy and Safety of Curcumin in Major Depressive Disorder: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Phytother. Res.. doi: 10.1002/ptr.5025

(11) Chandran, B. and Goel, A. (2012), A Randomized, Pilot Study to Assess the Efficacy and Safety of Curcumin in Patients with Active Rheumatoid Arthritis. Phytother. Res., 26: 1719–1725. doi: 10.1002/ptr.4639


(13) Curcumin Chemosensitizes 5-Fluorouracil Resistant MMR-Deficient Human Colon Cancer Cells in High Density Cultures


(15) Turmeric - University of Maryland Medical Center

(16) Effect on pro-inflammatory and antioxidant genes and bioavailable distribution of whole turmeric vs curcumin: Similar root but different effects; Robert C.G. Martin, Harini S. Aiyer, Daniel Malik, Yan Li

(17) Turmeric Side Effects & Safety


Other References of Interest

The effect of curcumin (turmeric) on Alzheimer's disease: An overview

A Potential Role of the Curry Spice Curcumin in Alzheimer’s Disease

Therapeutic Roles of Curcumin: Lessons Learned from Clinical Trials


Reviewed by Dr. Jean A Boodhoo

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