Turmeric extract is a dietary supplement that comes from the rhizome of the turmeric plant, which is a member of the ginger family. It can come in either powdered form, which differs from the ground spice found in supermarkets due to its higher potency, or in liquid form. Turmeric extract has a long history of use as a medicine in India and other Asian cultures. Studies and trials conducted in the West in the early 21st century suggested that the extract may have anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Although turmeric only came to the attention of the western world in the late 20th and early 21st century, it has been a part of Indian culture for thousands of years. Many people living in India consume turmeric daily — not as a supplement but as a flavoring in their meals. Turmeric also plays a key role in Ayurvedic medicine — an ancient system of medicine — as a supplement used to treat muscle pain and arthritis. The plant has also been used for many years in China to treat chest pain and skin disorders. While turmeric extract is consumed in India, it is applied topically in China.
Health benefits of turmeric extract may be due to the presence of curcuminoids — fat-soluble pigments found in the plant that cause it to be a bright yellow color. The main curcuminoid in turmeric is curcumin, which may help fight cancer and inflammation. Curcumin found in turmeric extract may also help to prevent the build-up of plaque in the brain, thereby potentially slowing the progression of diseases like Alzheimer's. Taken with other supplements meant to lower cholesterol, such as fish oil or garlic, turmeric extract may help lower bad cholesterol levels and raise good cholesterol. It may also lower blood pressure and blood sugar.
Although turmeric extract may have some health benefits, it may present some risks as well. Some people may be allergic to the plant, particularly people who are allergic to ginger root. If a person takes too much turmeric at once, he or she may experience gastrointestinal distress, including diarrhea and nausea. It may also cause uterine contractions in pregnant women and increase bleeding in people, and therefore should not be taken prior to surgery. Additionally, a person who has a condition like diabetes or arthritis and who is considering using turmeric extract should speak with his or her doctor first to make sure the supplement is safe to use with his or her current medication.