A Miracle Spice for Any Season

Turmeric is a rhizome (a modified stem usually producing roots below and sending up shoots progressively from the upper surface) that grows under the ground like ginger.   It has a rich, bright orange color and is used in many foods.

Originally used in Southeast Asia, it’s a vital component for traditional curries.

You can find dried powdered turmeric in the spice aisle of just about any grocery store.   Sometimes they carry the fresh rhizome, too (it looks like ginger root but is smaller).

Turmeric contains an amazing anti-inflammatory, antioxidant compound called “curcumin.”

The amount of this bioactive compound is around 3%-7% by weight of turmeric.

Curcumin has been studied like crazy for its health benefits.   Many of these studies test curcumin at up to 100x more than that of a traditional diet that includes turmeric.

Health benefits of curcumin

There are dozens of clinical studies using curcumin extract (which is way more concentrated than ground turmeric).

Curcumin is an anti-inflammatory compound.   It fights inflammation at the molecular level.   Some studies even show it can work as well as certain anti-inflammatory medications (but without the side effects).

Curcumin is an antioxidant compound.   It can neutralize free radicals before they wreak havoc on our biomolecules.   Curcumin also boosts our natural antioxidant enzymes.   These two functions of reducing inflammation and oxidation have amazing health benefits.

Chronic inflammation plays a major role in so many conditions, including heart disease, cancer, metabolic syndrome, dementia, mood disorders, arthritis pain and so forth.

Curcumin has other amazing functions, too:

Boosts our levels of “Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor” (like a natural growth hormone for your brain), which is great for brain health.

Improves “endothelial function” (the inner lining of our blood vessels), which is great for heart health.

Reduces growth of cancer cells by reducing angiogenesis (growth of new blood vessels in tumors), metastasis (the spread of cancer) and even contributes to the death of cancer cells.

Don’t you think these functions make turmeric deserving of the title:  “miracle spice”?

How to get the most out of your turmeric

Curcumin is not easily absorbed by your gut.   For one thing, it is fat soluble.   So, as with fat-soluble nutrients (such as vitamins A, D, E and K), you can increase absorption by eating it with a fat-containing meal.

The second trick to get the most out of your turmeric is eating it with pepper.   Interestingly, a compound in black pepper (piperine) enhances absorption of curcumin, by a whopping 2,000%!

If you want the health benefits of curcumin, you need to get a larger dose than merely eating some turmeric; this is where supplements come in to play.

Curcumin supplements can be great for your health, but they’re not for everyone.

Before you take a curcumin supplement, take caution if you:

  • Are pregnant
  • Are taking anti-platelet medications or blood thinners
  • Have gallstones or a bile duct obstruction
  • Have stomach ulcers or excess stomach acid

Always read the label before taking a new supplement.   And please consult with a qualified physician before engaging in any significant diet, fitness, or lifestyle change or making any changes with regard to supplements, herbs, vitamins or prescription drugs.

In summary, turmeric is a delicious spice, and its “active ingredient,” curcumin, is a great health-booster.

Have you ever had turmeric?   If so, do you use it in ground form or do you take a supplement?   Have you noticed any results from using it?   If you don’t use turmeric in cooking or take it in supplement form, is it something you might like to try?   Please comment below.   We’d love to hear from you.

Categories: Arthritis, Blog, Brain Health, Cancer, Dementia, Heart Disease, Inflammation, Metabolic syndrome, Mood, Spices, and Supplements.


  1. Ellie

    I eat/drink turmeric every day, as a tea with other spices, ginger, cumin, fennel and coriander, and with kefir—like a smoothie—with a little agave syrup. I don’t know whether it “works” as an anti-inflammatory in this small dosage, but I don’t suffer from a lot of inflammation. I don’t take curcumin.

    • Barb Wickland

      Hi Ellie,

      Adding turmeric as an ingredient in tea sounds wonderful! I used to sprinkle it on oatmeal every morning. In fact, there are many interesting cooking possibilities.

      The studies on curcumin (the main “active ingredient” in turmeric) continue. At present, according to some reports, it appears that taking this compound by itself has limited health benefits. Although some health qualities do exist. And perhaps health benefits are derived from taking turmeric as a whole spice in combination with other food.

      In regard to optimizing one’s diet or health, relying on one herb/spice/food is not going to cure all that ails you. Also, curcumin may affect how other medicines you use are metabolized in your body.

      So is it a “miracle spice”?

      The data out there is promising, even though there are a lot of questions. More human studies appear to be needed.

      In the meantime, using turmeric in a tea or a latte or to flavor any number of dishes sounds tasty and perhaps offers some healing potential.

      And to all my readers: Always do your own research, use caution and consult with a qualified physician before engaging in any significant diet, fitness, or lifestyle change or making any changes with regard to supplements, herbs, vitamins or prescription drugs.

      Thanks so much for responding, Ellie!


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