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What Turmeric Can and Can’t Do

Posted by Jason Wang, M.D. on Jun 24, 2019, 8:13:00 AM

Every month it seems as if there’s a new health food or product that’s being lauded as the magic bullet to cure almost anything that ails you. Coconut oil, kale, or essential oils, anyone? The newest focus seems to be on turmeric – a spice related to the ginger family and most frequently used in Asian food – which many people are praising as an almost-miracle spice. But is it? Here are some of the claims that have been made about turmeric and the truth about whether turmeric can live up to them based on research.

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What Are the Claims?

A compound in turmeric, called curcumin, is responsible for the spice’s purported health benefits. People claim that by ingesting turmeric, the curcumin inside is essentially a panacea for a wide range of health problems. Here are some of the things people claim turmeric can help with:

  • Fighting Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases
  • Decreasing swelling and inflammation
  • Increasing antioxidant effects
  • Reducing your risk for heart disease
  • Treating and preventing cancer
  • Easing arthritis
  • Improving memory
  • Fighting depression
  • Delaying the effects of aging
  • Helping with liver inflammation
  • Reducing cholesterol

And that’s just a few of the claims. Let’s take a look at what scientific studies have to say about the spice.

What the Research Says

Research into turmeric (specifically into the curcumin touted to be the element in the spice responsible for most of its health benefits) shows that while using it in your food isn’t going to hurt you, and there could potentially be slight benefits to it, it also isn’t likely that turmeric is the cure-all people are claiming it to be.

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The most problematic fact the research shows is that curcumin isn’t easily absorbed into the blood stream. There are some other supplements or spices you can take which may make it easier for your body to absorb the compound, but it likely won’t be enough to see any long-term effect. So, if the substance that’s supposed to be responsible for curing what ails you isn’t even being distributed properly into the body, chances are it’s not doing as much good as you think.

Researchers were unable to find any double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials which supported any of the major positive claims about using turmeric or turmeric supplements – such as using it to treat cancer or Alzheimer’s.

The Takeaway

If you have swelling, inflammation, Alzheimer’s, diabetes – any medical issue, really – and you want to take turmeric in addition to whatever your primary care or specialist physician prescribes, ask your doctor first. He or she will likely give you the go-ahead. While there isn’t evidence that turmeric or turmeric supplements will hurt you, there also isn’t enough evidence for most physicians to feel comfortable recommending it as the only path to wellness, though.


Dr. Wang is a board-certified Family Medicine physician at Kelsey-Seybold’s Clear Lake Clinic in Webster, TX. He believes in taking a holistic approach to caring for his patients.



Topics: health benefits of tumeric, tumeric health claims, tumeric

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