Chemicals found in a variety of plants such as green tea, grapes, soy, milk thistle and turmeric are now well-recognized to have beneficial effects on multiple signaling pathways in the human body (1).
These “functional foods” are low in cost with low potential for serious side effects and are becoming increasingly popular in the management and prevention of chronic disease.
Health, pharmaceutical, insurance and regulatory industries are scrambling to catch up to the enormous growth of the herb and supplement industry.
What is Turmeric Used For?
Turmeric has been used for 1000’s of years and has been shown in the research to possess anti-fungal, anti-viral, anti-parasitic (4), anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, immune-modulating, neuro-protective and anti-cancer properties (5; 6; 7; 8; 9; 10; 11; 12).
Turmeric appears to support conditions characterized by chronic, low-grade inflammation (13) such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis (14), musculoskeletal pain, hypertension, heart disease (15; 16), diabetes, obesity, cancer, and autoimmune disease (17; 18;19; 20; 21).
Pharmaceutical drugs may be effective for some of these conditions but are often one-dimensional, focusing on specific risk factors, symptoms, or signaling pathways in the body. Pharmaceutical approaches may be expensive and are often associated with high risk of serious side effects and potential complications from polypharmacy.
On the other hand, a “functional food” such as turmeric has potential to modulate many signaling pathways of the body without high cost, or risk of serious side effects.
Uses for Turmeric:
- May support Alzheimer’s disease and delay progression of dementia (22; 23; 24; 25; 26).
- Strong support for its use in reducing inflammation in osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis (27; 28; 29)
- May support symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease (such as ulcerative colitis) and may decrease need of other medications such as corticosteroids (30; 31).
- Clinical trials also support specific use in colorectal cancers alongside chemotherapy (32; 33; 34; 35)
- May mediate cell resistance to chemotherapy and radiation (36).
- May prevent and treat prostatic diseases (37)
- May offer a beneficial role in allergy and asthma (38)
- May help regulate lipid metabolism, offering beneficial effects for diabetes, obesity and related conditions (39)
- Also may offer support for Chrohn’s disease, liver cirrhosis, chronic renal disase and chronic obstructive lung disease (40).
While the research on turmeric is wide, it is still lacking depth.
Researchers note that the bio-availability of turmeric is limited (41) as it is insoluble in water (42). Many of the existing controlled studies also involve low numbers of participants (43), making it difficult to make broad public recommendations on the uses of turmeric & turmeric safety.
As for solubility, one review recognized that turmeric has the ability to bind to numerous signaling proteins modulating their activity and enhancing turmeric’s ability to transport through the body (44).
One study involving rats suggested that taking turmeric with black pepper (commonly combined in Indian cuisine) may also improve it’s bioavailability in the body (45).
Despite some limitations, turmeric is supported by hundreds of research studies demonstrating that it may be a safe & natural adjunct to conventional therapies for a wide range of chronic diseases.