Turmeric - is it the new wonder supplement?
From superfood lattes (we discussed these in detail last week) to face masks, to juices and supplements - Turmeric has become all the rage. It’s been touted as having benefits from being anti-inflammatory to anti-cancer.
What makes turmeric so special?
Curcumin, which is a polyphenol, is the primary bioactive substance in turmeric and gives turmeric its bright yellow colour. The presence of curcumin is the reason turmeric has gained so much attention over the past few years due to its anti-inflammatory properties.
Curcumin has quite poor bioavailability meaning our bodies can struggle to absorb and utilise it. However, its bioavailability can be increased in many ways. It has been shown that consuming turmeric alongside black pepper can increase its bioavailability by up to 2000%. This is due to the presence of piperine, a component of black pepper.
But is it worth the hype? Is there any evidence to support these claims?
Turmeric has been used traditionally for years for a number of ailments such as diabetic wounds and respiratory illnesses. Turmeric supplements are now widely available to buy in health stores, pharmacies and online and are commonly sold with promises of their anti-inflammatory, anti-viral and antioxidant effects.
Research has now been conducted into the many proposed health benefits of turmeric. Evidence is mixed, with some studies showing promising benefits to its supplementation with other studies showing little to no benefit.
While there is evidence to support a potential benefit of curcumin in arthritis and other joint disorders, EFSA concluded that the scientific evidence is not yet strong enough to support curcumin supplementation for arthritis. However, it’s important to remember that while there is not yet enough evidence to make health claims on supplements and products, there have been trials conducted on the use of curcumin for inflammatory disorders such as osteoarthritis which have been shown to have benefit. For example, a 2016 systematic review and meta-analysis (a gold standard of nutrition research) by Daily et al. concluded that curcumin supplementation effectively relieved symptoms of osteoarthritis in comparison to a placebo.
Arthritis is not the only health condition in which curcumin may have a beneficial effect. Ulcerative colitis (UC) is an inflammatory bowel disease. It causes irritation, inflammation, and ulcers in the lining of the large intestine, or colon. Given curcumin’s anti-inflammatory properties, it makes sense that it could potentially benefit those with UC. A 2006 study by Hanai et al. found that patients with UC who were given 1000mg of curcumin twice daily had a reduction of symptoms and a reduced rate of relapse than the group who were given placebo.
So for sufferers of arthritis and UC, curcumin supplementation might be worth trialling. Remember though, it’s always advised to check with your doctor or pharmacist before taking a supplement if you’re taking any prescription medications or suffer from any health condition.
Is it enough to just include it in my cooking?
Most of the health benefits are associated with 500 – 2000mg of curcumin per day. Turmeric powder and turmeric root only contains about 3% curcumin so one teaspoon of turmeric would only contain about 60mg of curcumin. Spices such as turmeric are amazing to include for flavour and increased nutrient diversity, it’s not likely that intakes this low will have any meaningful impact on inflammation.
Turmeric, and in particular curcumin, has been shown to have some pretty cool potential health benefits. The strongest evidence is for its anti-inflammatory properties which gives it potential as a complementary therapy for diseases characterised by inflammation such as arthritis and UC. However, the research is still in its early days. More research is required especially with regards to required doses.
If you're interested in reaping the benefits of curcumin, you can find a curcumin supplement on our online store, which contains 475mg of active curcumin, with added piperine (black pepper extract) to enhance availability bioavailablity. You can check it out here.