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Does turmeric spice have health benefits?

Crushed and whole turmeric and a wooden spoon

July 22, 2022—Have you heard the talk about turmeric? It's purported to have numerous health benefits. If you've heard the buzz, you may have wondered: What is turmeric and what is it supposed to be good for anyway?

Turmeric is a plant in the ginger family. It's best known as a colorful yellow spice used in curry dishes. But in India, turmeric has long been a part of Ayurvedic medicine (one of the oldest medicinal practices in the world).

Turmeric root (technically the rhizome, or underground stems) can be ground up and turned into capsules, tablets, teas or extracts. Turmeric supplements are reputed to help with a wide range of conditions, such as inflammation, skin problems and arthritis.

Has science weighed in?

Clinical trials have been done with turmeric—and curcumin, which gives turmeric its yellow color. But its health effects remain uncertain, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Studies do point to turmeric's inflammation-fighting benefits.

However, there are challenges to studying the effects of turmeric:

  • Turmeric and curcumin change into other substances easily.
  • When consumed through food or supplements, very little curcumin enters the bloodstream.
  • Many products that contain curcumin also contain other substances.

That makes it difficult for researchers to understand curcumin's less beneficial effects or what quantities may be effective.

More research is needed. But studies have shown that turmeric may:

  • Help with knee arthritis pain as effectively as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
  • Help reduce muscle pain.

Check with your doctor

Turmeric is generally considered safe, according to the NCCIH. But taking a lot of turmeric or taking it for a long time could upset your stomach.

If you want to try turmeric, it's a good idea to tell your doctor. In fact, you should always tell your doctor about any vitamins, minerals or herbs you plan to take. One reason? Some supplements might interfere with other medicines. For instance, it's not safe to take turmeric along with certain blood thinners.

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