Turmeric: the “Golden spice” May Not Be the Miracle Spice After All

Turmeric is a member of the ginger family (Zingiberaceae) and is grown throughout India, other parts of Asia, and Central America. Turmeric is prescribed abundantly for ailments in both traditional Chinese and Indian medicine, including liver, urologic, and skin conditions, cancer, 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.1–4 From anti-inflammatory to antidepressant to antioxidant to anti-aging, turmeric has a very long history of medicinal use, dating back nearly 4000 years.1 Unfortunately, a recent review of scientific literature on curcumin, the most well-known chemical in turmeric, suggests that the compound has limited, if any, actual health benefits. The investigators looked at several recent clinical trials and epidemiological studies on curcumin and discovered that the results were overhyped in the media and did not actually measure up. Despite thousands of research papers published on turmeric, the investigators were unable to find any successful double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials (the gold standard of medical research) that support turmeric’s numerous health claims. One problem, state researchers, is that curcumin is not easily absorbed by the body. The authors of the review did say that people shouldn’t stop eating turmeric, and that research on the spice should continue. According to the authors, “Turmeric is certainly not going to hurt you, and there may be something else in there that’s biologically active…All we know right now is that curcumin itself is not the panacea that people think it is.”5

SOURCES: 1) Prasad S, Aggarwal BB. Turmeric, the golden spice from traditional medicine to modern medicine. In: Benzie IFF, Wachtel-Galor S. Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects, 2nd edition. New York: Taylor and Francis Group; 2011; 2) Nelson KM, Dahlin JL, Bisson J, et al. The essential medicinal chemistry of curcumin: miniperspective. J Med Chem. 2017;60:1620−1637; 3) US Department of Health and Human Services. National Institutes of Health. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health site. Turmeric. https://nccih.nih.gov/health/turmeric/ataglance.htm. Accessed September 1, 2017. 4) Turmeric. Complementary and alternative medicine guide. University of Maryland Medical Center site. http://www.umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/Turmeric. Accessed September 1, 2017; 5) MacMillan A. Turmeric may not be a miracle spice after all. Time site. January 2017. http://time.com/4633558/turmeric-curcumin-inflammation-spice/. Accessed September 1, 2017.

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