Part of the Zingiberaceae family, turmeric can include ginger in its family tree.  The parts used are the rhizomes and the roots.

Turmeric has been a mainstay in curries from India for thousands of years.  While turmeric has not been extensively researched in humans, animal studies have shown this herb holds nothing but good news for exceptional health and enjoyable palates.

This herb has been used as a stimulant for the immune system, a treatment for arthritis, scabies, digestive problems, and to prevent cataracts, heart disease, liver problems and cancer.

History of Turmeric

Turmeric is what gives curry its yellow color.  Turmeric is the herb which held an honored place in India’s traditional Ayurvedic medicine.  Considered a symbol of prosperity, turmeric was used as a whole-body cleanser.  It was also used medically as an aid to the digestive system and as a treatment for dysentery, infections, arthritis, jaundice and other liver ailments.

Practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) used turmeric to treat gallbladder and liver problems, to stop bleeding, and to relieve menstrual discomfort and chest congestion.

The ancient Greeks preferred ginger for cooking and only used turmeric as a dye.  In the 1870s, a group of chemists noticed that when the orange-yellow root powder from turmeric was exposed to alkaline chemicals, it turned reddish brown.  This resulted in the development of “turmeric papers,” which were thin strips of tissue brushed with a turmeric mixture and dried.  Turmeric paper was used extensively during the late 19th Century until it was replaced by litmus paper.

Today’s practitioners of alternative medicine know turmeric is an herb that can be used as an anti-inflammatory.  Turmeric is also recommended for the prevention and treatment of many degenerative conditions (such as cancer and heart disease) which respond to the use of antioxidants.

Turmeric Constituents

This spice contains 0.3 to 5.4 percent curcumin, which is an orange-yellow volatile oil (4 to 14 percent) composed mainly of atlantone, turmerone, and ziniberone; sugars (28 percent glucose, 12 percent fructose, and 1 percent arabinose); protein; resins; and vitamins and minerals.

Turmeric and its various derivatives exert a great deal of pharmacological activity in the human body.  Many of the components in turmeric have demonstrated such activity, but it is believed that the components in the volatile oil and the curcumin are the most active parts of this spice. 

The antioxidant activity of curcumin is roughly comparable to more common antioxidants such as vitamins C and E, hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxyl-toluene (BHT).  It is known that curcumin combats active oxygen species slightly less well than vitamin C, but better than vitamin E and superoxide dismutase.  Curcumin offers greater effectiveness, however, against hydroxyl radicals. 

The protective properties of turmeric and its derivatives are only partially explained by this spice’s free radical-scavenging and antioxidant effects.  Turmeric also inhibits nitrosamine formation, increases the levels of glutathione and other nonprotein sulfhydryls, enhances the body’s natural antioxidant system, and directly acts upon several enzymes and genetic material.

Turmeric Health Benefits

The anti-cancer effects attributable to curcumin and turmeric have been documented at all levels of cancer formation, including the initiation of cancer, its promotion and cancer progression.  As well as inhibiting the development of cancer, some data has shown that curcumin can also help promote cancer regression.

Turmeric also exhibits protective effects against a variety of chemical carcinogens in a wide range of cell types.  Curcumin has also demonstrated an ability to reduce the levels of urinary mutagens. 

As an anti-inflammatory, turmeric is useful in treating arthritis.  By mixing turmeric with slaked lime, sodium curcuminate is produced.  This mixture has been used for centuries as a household treatment for sprains, inflamed joints and muscular pain.

Both capsaicin and curcumin deplete the body’s nerve endings of substance P, which is the neurotransmitter of pain receptors.

Turmeric can also be used effectively against salmonella bacteria, which is a frequent cause of food poisoning.  This herb fights protozoa in lab tests, which lends credence to its traditional use in treating amoebic dysentery.

Curcumin also seems to exert indirect effects on the body.  In studies with chronic inflammation, curcumin is much less active in animals from which the adrenal gland has been removed. 

Turmeric has the effect on the cardiovascular system of lowering cholesterol levels and inhibiting platelet aggregation by forming thromboxanes.

This spice is also an active choleretic, increasing bile acid output by over 100 percent.  Turmeric also increases the solubility of bile, suggesting a benefit in the prevention and treatment of cholelithiasis.

Several studies have shown that turmeric is beneficial to gastric integrity.  Curcumin and turmeric increase the mucin content of the stomach and exert gastroprotective effects against ulcer formation which is induced by stress, alcohol, and indomethacin.


Turmeric may be consumed quite liberally in the diet.  When a specific medicinal benefit is desired, higher doses of turmeric can be taken or extracts of Curcuma longa or curcumin can be used.

The typical recommended dosage for curcumin as an anti-inflammatory is 400 to 600 milligrams three times a day.  To achieve the same results from turmeric would require 8,000 to 60,000 milligrams three times a day. 

Curcumin and bromelain combinations are best taken on an empty stomach about 20 minutes before meals or between meals.  To increase absorption, turmeric or curcumin can be taken in a lipid base such as lecithin, fish oils or essential fatty acids. This combination should be taken with meals.

Adverse Reactions

Toxic reactions have not been reported when turmeric is taken at standard dosage levels.  At very high doses, turmeric or curcumin may damage the gastrointestinal system.



  1. Bone, K. A Clinical Guide to Blending Liquid Herbs: Herbal Formulations for the Individual Patient, Churchill Livingstone (2003)
  2. Braun, L. & Cohen, M. Herbs & Natural Supplements: An evidence-based guide, Elsevier (2005)
  3. Duke, J. The Green Pharmacy: Herbal remedies for common diseases and conditions from the world's foremost authority on healing herbs, Rodale Limited (2003)
  4. Kowalchik, C. & Hylton, W. Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs, Schwartz Books (1987)

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