Written by Jack Feeney on December 14, 2018 Reviewed by Fiona Hunter on January 5, 2019
What is turmeric and what does it do?Turmeric is a yellow coloured spice that has been used for thousands of years as both a cooking ingredient and a medicinal herb.1 Extracted from the root of the turmeric plant, it’s part of the Zingiberaceae family, which also includes ginger.2 Turmeric is available as a powder, tea, essential oil and scrubs. There's also turmeric capsules.
What is curcumin and what does it do?The compound curcumin, which gives turmeric its yellow colour, has been isolated by scientists as turmeric’s most important active ingredient. Studies show curcumin has anti-inflammatory properties and may support digestion, too.3,4 Between 2-6% of turmeric consists of curcuminoids, active plant compounds, most of which is curcumin.5
Turmeric and black pepperScientists have also discovered that black pepper helps your body absorb curcumin, so you may sometimes find turmeric and black pepper together.6
Benefits of turmeric
What does turmeric do in the body?
Traditional Ayurvedic medicine, a holistic approach to medicine that originated in India, has long praised the health and wellbeing benefits of turmeric, and now Western studies are discovering;
It can reduce inflammation – a 2013 study in the journal Biofactors found that curcumin may be responsible for curbing inflammation and swelling. Researchers say it has this effect by blocking enzymes and other proteins that create an inflammatory response in the body.7
It may support your joints – curcumin’s effect on reducing inflammation means it can also help protect your joints from wear and tear. This includes easing symptoms of arthritis like joint movement and stiffness, according to a 2016 study in Journal of Medicinal Food.8
It can ease digestion problems – curcumin can help support gut health, including relieving excess gas, abdominal pain, and bloating.9 A 2013 trial by the University of Nottingham found curcumin stimulates the gallbladder to produce bile, an essential substance needed to break down fat in foods.10
Handpicked article: 6 top uses for turmeric
How much turmeric is safe to take?
There is no reference nutrient intake (RNI) for turmeric tablets, but don’t exceed the dosage stated on any label. However, there is an RNI for curcumin.The World Health Organisation advises up to 3mg per kg of bodyweight of curcuminoids, which includes curcumin. The average daily intake in an Indian diet is much higher, between 60 and 100mg per kg of bodyweight.11 For the best effect, you should have turmeric in combination with black pepper. A 2017 study by USA’s Central Michigan University reported that an important compound in black pepper, piperine, can increase the body’s ability to absorb curcumin by 2000%.12 Children under 12 years old and women who are pregnant or breast-feeding should not take turmeric, as it’s safety in these groups not been proven.13
What are the side effects of taking turmeric?Side-effects are rare, but when taken in large amounts can include:14
- upset stomach, including diarrhoea
- yellow stools
Sources1. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Turmeric 2. Science Direct. Zingiberaceae 3. Shehzad A, Rehman G and Lee YS. Curcumin in inflammatory diseases 4. Shen L, Liu L, Ji HF. Regulative effects of curcumin spice administration on gut microbiota 5. Gupta SC, Patchva S, Aggarwal BB. Therapeutic Roles of Curcumin: Lessons Learned from Clinical Trials 6. Hewlings SJ, Kalman DS. Curcumin: A Review of Its Effects on Human Health
7. As Source 38. Daily JW, Yang M, Park S. Efficacy of Turmeric Extracts and Curcumin for Alleviating the Symptoms of Joint Arthritis 9. Thavorn K, Mamdani MM, Straus SE. Efficacy of turmeric in the treatment of digestive disorders: a systematic review and meta-analysis protocol 10. Marciani L, et al. Effects of various food ingredients on gall bladder emptying 11. Amalraj A, et al. Biological activities of curcuminoids, other biomolecules from turmeric and their derivatives – A review
12. As Source 513. European Medicines Agency. Committee on Herbal Medicinal Products 14. As Source 5