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Turmeric, or curcuma longa as it is known botanically, is a very common spice in curry dishes around the world, as well as giving mustard it’s distinctive colour and staining powers.  

Turmeric Root and Powder

It has been a staple in Ayurvedic medicine for over 4000 years and most of the world’s turmeric is grown in India.  Botanically, it is a part of the ginger family.  Turmeric is native to the tropical areas of South Asia where it can grow up to six feet tall.  It grows best between 20-30 degrees Celsius with plenty of rain and produces dull-yellow, trumpet-shaped flowers.  The root or rhizome is the part of the plant which is used both medicinally and in cooking.  It has a distinct mustard-like smell, and an earthy flavour, slightly hot and bitter.  A turmeric plant can be successfully grown from a small section of the fresh rhizome.
Traditional uses for turmeric within both Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine are in the treatment of inflammation, wounds, skin diseases, digestive disorders including flatulence, indigestion and colic, liver problems including jaundice, menstrual disorders, haematuria, haemorrhage and inflammation.   Current research has focused on turmeric’s antioxidant, hepatoprotective, anti-inflammatory, anticarcinogenic, and antimicrobial properties, in addition to its use in cardiovascular disease and gastrointestinal disorders.
Turmeric has broad health benefits

In recent years turmeric has been found to have many fantastic health benefits including:

  • Anti-oxidant – curcumin is a powerful free radical scavenger, removing free radicals which damage cell membranes, DNA and cause cell death.  It has an ORAC value of 127,068 umol TE/100g, placing it well above blueberries which come in at just 9621.
  • Anti-inflammatory – curcumin lowers the levels of two inflammation-causing enzymes in the body and the volatile oils in turmeric possess potent anti-inflammatory effects
  • Anti-microbial – compounds in turmeric fight bacteria, viruses and fungi making it useful in preventing or treating infections including colds
  • Anti-carcinogenic – it is not specifically known why turmeric reduces cancer risk, but the anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory effects likely contribute. 
  • Anti-coagulant – curcumin stops platelets from clumping together so much which makes the blood thinner and better able to flow around the body
  • Digestive Aid - curcumin increases bile production in the gallbladder helping to improve digestion, reducing bloating, gas and indigestion
  • Anti-glycaemic – turmeric has been found to lower blood sugar levels
  • Hepatoprotective – curcumin has been found to have liver protective effects similar to the herb St Mary’s Thistle

Curcumin, the primary curcuminoid polyphenol compound contained within turmeric, has been studied at length for its powerful anti-inflammatory effects, anti-biotic and anti-oxidant effects and even as an agent to protect against diseases like cancer, arthritis and diabetes as well as its ability to reduce the growth of fat tissue.  It is also used traditionally to calm digestive upsets and may increase the production of hydrochloric acid in the stomach, and bile in the gallbladder, helping to digest food better.  Some positive results have been found in laboratory and clinical trials for ulcerative colitis, dyspepsia, indigestion, osteoarthritis, cancer especially of the breast, colon, prostate and skin, diabetes, diabetes prevention, heart disease, cholesterol-lowering, atherosclerosis, thrombosis, bacterial and viral infections, uveitis, an inflammation of the iris of the eye where curcumin was found to be as effective as the traditionally prescribed corticosteroids in treating the condition.

Inhibits the growth of new fat tissue

In order for fat to develop, it needs a blood supply.  Recent research into the Indian spice Turmeric has found that curcumin significantly inhibits the development of new blood supplies to existing fat cells, reducing the growth of fat tissue.

Mice fed a high fat diet which included just half a gram of curcumin per kilogram of food had less weight gain than those mice who were not fed additional curcumin.

Protects the pancreas and prevents diabetes developing in those with pre-diabetes

A clinical study conducted in Thailand on 240 patients and published in 2012 found that at the end of the nine-month study, those participants who had taken a 1.5 gram curcumin supplement divided into two daily doses before meals, did not develop type 2 diabetes, whereas the 19 of the 116 participants (16.4%) who received only a placebo developed type 2 diabetes.  Interestingly, HbA1c levels, a long-term indicator of average blood sugar levels, did not change significantly in either group.

The researchers noted that the effect may be the result of turmeric’s potent anti-inflammatory effect which appeared to protect the pancreatic beta cells, which produce insulin, and even improved their function.

According to the Diabetes Prevention Program, a major multicenter study that included over 3,200 participants, around 11% of people with prediabetes develop type 2 diabetes each year.

Participants taking turmeric lost an average of 4 kg (9 lbs) during the 9 month study, whilst those in the placebo group gained an average of 2 kg (4.4 lbs), which may have also contributed to the effects noted.

The study concluded “Because of its benefits and safety, we propose that curcumin extract may be used for an intervention therapy for the prediabetes population.” which includes women with PCOS who are at an increased risk of developing diabetes.


Turmeric powders contain an average of 3 % curcumin, though they may contain anywhere between 3 and 8 %, so the amount of turmeric required to replicate the effects of these studies would be around 16 grams, or the equivalent of 5 teaspoons of the dried powder per kilogram of food, or for the diabetes prevention study, 15 teaspoonsful per day, which is a considerable amount to incorporate into the average diet.

The recommended daily dose as a supplement ranges between 1 and 3 grams, which is equivalent to between 1/3 and 1 metric teaspoon of the dried powder, however, amounts greater than this are acceptable in food.

The compounds in turmeric are not particularly well absorbed on their own.  Bromelain, an enzyme found in pineapple which helps to digest proteins, increases the absorption and anti-inflammatory effects of curcumin and is sometimes included in supplement formulas for this reason.

Turmeric will not address the cause of the hormonal imbalances seen in PCOS.  The scientific concensus to date is that insulin resistance is the cause of hormonal imbalance in PCOS and is generally due to a functional deficiency in d-chiro inositol inositol phosphoglycan.  Women with PCOS have had great success in supplementing with d-chiro inositol to address this deficiency.  You can read more about DCI here:

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More information:

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Aggarwal BB, Sundaram C, Malani N, & Ichikawa H. (2007) Curcumin: the Indian solid gold.Advances in experimental medicine and biology, 1-75. PMID: 17569205

Baum, Larry. (2007-12–1) Curcumin effects on blood lipid profile in a 6-month human study. , 56(6), 509-514. DOI: 10.1016/j.phrs.2007.09.013

Blumenthal M, Goldberg A, Brinckmann J. Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs. Newton, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications; 2000:379-384.

Chuengsamarn S, Rattanamongkolgul S, Luechapudiporn R, Phisalaphong C, & Jirawatnotai S. (2012) Curcumin extract for prevention of type 2 diabetes. Diabetes care, 35(11), 2121-7. PMID: 22773702

Curcuma longa (turmeric). Monograph. Altern Med Rev. 2001;6 Suppl:S62-S66.  PMID: 11591174

Dorai T, Gehani N & Katz AE (2000) Therapeutic potential of curcumin in human prostate cancer-I. curcumin induces apoptosis in both androgen-dependent and androgen-independent prostate cancer cells.  Prostate Cancer Prostatic Dis. 2000 Aug;3(2):84-93.  PMID: 12497104

Dorai T, Gehani N & Katz AE. (2000) Therapeutic potential of curcumin in human prostate cancer. II. Curcumin inhibits tyrosine kinase activity of epidermal growth factor receptor and depletes the protein. Molecular urology, 4(1), 1-6. PMID: 10851300

Dorai T, Cao YC, Dorai B, Buttyan R & Katz AE. (2001) Therapeutic potential of curcumin in human prostate cancer. III. Curcumin inhibits proliferation, induces apoptosis, and inhibits angiogenesis of LNCaP prostate cancer cells in vivo. The Prostate, 47(4), 293-303. PMID: 11398177

Ejaz A, Wu D, Kwan P, & Meydani M. (2009) Curcumin inhibits adipogenesis in 3T3-L1 adipocytes and angiogenesis and obesity in C57/BL mice. The Journal of nutrition, 139(5), 919-25. PMID: 19297423

Gautam SC, Gao X, Dulchavsky S. Immunodilation by curcumin. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2007;595:321-41.

Hanai H, Iida T, Takeuchi K, Watanabe F, Maruyama Y, Andoh A, Tsujikawa T, Fujiyama Y, Mitsuyama K, Sata M…. (2006) Curcumin maintenance therapy for ulcerative colitis: randomized, multicenter, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Clinical gastroenterology and hepatology : the official clinical practice journal of the American Gastroenterological Association, 4(12), 1502-6. PMID: 17101300

Jagetia GC, Aggarwal BB. “Spicing up” of the immune system by curcumin. J Clin Immunol. 2007;27(1):19-35. PMID: 17211725

Johnson JJ, Mukhtar H. Curcumin for chemoprevention of colon cancer. Cancer Lett. 2007 Apr 18;  DOI: 10.1016/j.canlet.2007.03.005

Kim MS, Kang HJ, & Moon A. (2001) Inhibition of invasion and induction of apoptosis by curcumin in H-ras-transformed MCF10A human breast epithelial cells. Archives of pharmacal research, 24(4), 349-54. PMID: 11534770

Knowler WC, Barrett-Connor E, Fowler SE, Hamman RF, Lachin JM, Walker EA, Nathan DM, Reduction in the incidence of type 2 diabetes with lifestyle intervention or metformin. Diabetes Prevention Program Research Group N Engl J Med. 2002 Feb 7; 346(6): 393-403.  PMID: 11832527

Pari L, Tewas D, & Eckel J. (2008) Role of curcumin in health and disease. Archives of physiology and biochemistry, 114(2), 127-49. PMID: 18484280

Phan TT, See P, Lee ST, & Chan SY. (2001) Protective effects of curcumin against oxidative damage on skin cells in vitro: its implication for wound healing. The Journal of trauma, 51(5), 927-31. PMID: 11706342

Rao CV. (2007) Regulation of COX and LOX by curcumin. Advances in experimental medicine and biology, 213-26. PMID: 17569213

Sharma RA, Steward WP, Gescher AJ. Pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of curcumin. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2007;595:453-70. DOI: 10.1007/978-0-387-46401-5_20

Su CC, Lin JG, Li TM, Chung JG, Yang JS, Ip SW, Lin WC, & Chen GW. (2006) Curcumin-induced apoptosis of human colon cancer colo 205 cells through the production of ROS, Ca2+ and the activation of caspase-3. Anticancer research, 26(6B), 4379-89. PMID: 17201158

Tayyem RF, Heath DD, Al-Delaimy WK, & Rock CL. (2006) Curcumin content of turmeric and curry powders. Nutrition and cancer, 55(2), 126-31. PMID: 17044766

White B, & Judkins DZ. (2011) Clinical Inquiry. Does turmeric relieve inflammatory conditions?. The Journal of family practice, 60(3), 155-6. PMID: 21369559

All content Copyright to Anne Seccombe 2009-2013.  Please contact the author to arrange permission to reproduce this article.

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