Turmeric is an Asian spice that is used to aid in digestion, treat wounds and counteract inflammation. Researchers have investigated additional turmeric benefits such as the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease and treatment of cancer. Turmeric also has anti-inflammatory properties.
Powdered turmeric is a spice popular in Asia that features a bright yellow color and a distinctive flavor. It often is used in curry dishes and as a cheaper alternative to saffron for coloring food. This spice is widely available in grocery stores and is very inexpensive.
Most turmeric benefits come from the component curcumin, which has been proved to reduce inflammation and act as an antioxidant. In some South Asian cultures, turmeric paste is rubbed onto the skin to fight inflammation. It often is consumed as a tea in parts of Japan to help digestion. Many people report relief when using turmeric to treat gastrointestinal discomfort.
One of the most promising potential turmeric benefits is the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. This disease is very rare in elderly Indian populations, and scientists theorize that the high consumption of turmeric in this region could be the reason. Studies on mice that were fed a turmeric-rich diet have shown that turmeric does slow the progression of Alzheimer's by breaking down the plaques in the brain responsible for this disease.
Laboratory and animal studies have indicated that turmeric can stunt the growth of cancer cells, and studies have been conducted to determine whether this effect is carried over to humans as well. Turmeric has shown particular promise in studies on esophageal cancer. Its ability to suppress tumors has been investigated as a possible treatment for other types of cancer as well.
Turmeric is found in curry, which is the main ingredient in many Indian dishes that are popular throughout the Western world. It also is a staple in Iranian, Thai and Nepalese cooking. Although it most readily is found in powdered form, turmeric benefits also can be derived from the root of the plant, which is similar to fresh ginger. There also are nutritional supplements containing turmeric for those who don’t like the flavor of the spice in food.
Although turmeric generally is considered safe, it should not be consumed in large quantities by people who have liver problems. Possible turmeric side effects include heartburn, dehydration and nausea. These effects normally are associated with large doses of medicinal turmeric extract rather than consumption of dishes containing the spice. Additionally, turmeric can thin the blood, so it should be avoided by those who already are taking blood thinners or aspirin. It also can stimulate uterine contractions, so pregnant women should limit their turmeric intake.