Turmeric (Curcuma aromatic) is a member of the Zingiberaceae family, making it a close cousin of ginger. Like ginger, turmeric is also well known for its anti-inflammatory and medicinal qualities. It has been used in India for thousands of years as a spice and medicinal herb, and recently, science has started to back up what Indians have known for a long time — that turmeric really does contain compounds with powerful healing properties. These compounds are called curcuminoids, the most important of which is curcumin, which is known to have powerful anti-inflammatory effects and is a very strong antioxidant, helping to fight chronic inflammation in the body.
Curcumin has also shown some promise in treating depression. In a controlled trial, 60 people with depression were randomized into three groups. One group took Prozac, another group took one gram of curcumin, and the third group took both Prozac and curcumin. After 6 weeks, curcumin had led to improvements that were similar to Prozac. According to this small study, curcumin is as effective as an antidepressant. Depression is also linked to reduced levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and a shrinking hippocampus, a brain area with a role in learning and memory. Curcumin boosts BDNF levels, potentially reversing some of these changes. There is also some evidence that curcumin can boost the brain neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine.
Historically, turmeric has been used in Ayurvedic medicine, primarily in South Asia, for many conditions, including breathing problems, rheumatism, serious pain, and fatigue. Today, turmeric is used as a dietary supplement for inflammation; arthritis; stomach, skin, liver, and gallbladder problems; cancer; and other conditions.
Turmeric has been studied extensively for its health benefits and medicinal uses. Studies have found that curcuminoids:
- Reduce the number of heart attacks bypass patients had after surgery
- Control knee pain from osteoarthritis as well as ibuprofen
- Reduce the skin irritation that often occurs after radiation treatments for breast cancer.
- Assist in the treatment of different cancers, colitis, diabetes, and surgical pain
- Can be used as an ingredient in mouthwash for reducing plaque.
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) has also studied curcumin for Alzheimer’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and prostate and colon cancer.
Truly an amazing and potent medicine, turmeric is great for those suffering from arthritis, joint pain, and other issues related to inflammation. With its many medicinal compounds, turmeric is also a great alternative to many pharmaceutical drugs, particularly those used for pain relief. An herb with many diverse uses, from food to medicine, to even being used as a natural dye, turmeric is a great herb to know and work with, and one that is backed by thousands of years of traditional use, as well as many modern studies verifying its healing properties.