From India to Thailand, Korea to the United Kingdom, and all throughout the United States, the yellow-hued yumminess of curry is a staple of many dinner tables. While regional and national tastes and preferences dictate the type of curry eaten, one of the most consistent ingredients found in the dish is turmeric. Also known as the golden spice, turmeric powder is one of a handful of spices historically used in the blend we commonly refer to as curry powder. But what most people don’t realize is that turmeric powder has potent properties capable of offering much more than just an earthy aroma and the aesthetically pleasing brightness most people associate with Asian cuisine. It might just be able to provide a significant boost to your health in a variety of ways.
Since there’s a lot of uncertainty around turmeric powder, let’s start with the basics. Turmeric is a flowering plant that’s native to Southeast Asia. During an annual harvest, the plant’s roots—also known as rhizomes—are collected, boiled, and dried before being ground into the type of turmeric powder you probably have in your spice cabinet right now.
Though the ingredient is frequently found on restaurant menus today, its original purpose was rooted (no pun intended) in medicine. In fact, scholars have pointed to its medicinal use as early as 500 BC as part of an ancient Indian method of natural healing called Ayurvedic medicine. The belief was that inhaling fumes of scorched turmeric could aid with congestion, with juices and pastes were used to treat wounds, bruises, and skin disorders.
Despite having a background entrenched in ancient Eastern medicine, the use of turmeric powder has transcended its original geographic footprint to become pervasive in Western culture. And we don’t just mean in the kitchen.
Many people have turned to turmeric powder for its ability to fight inflammation, particularly those battling arthritis. One study found that the active ingredient in turmeric was more effective at reducing inflammation than popular over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen and aspirin. On its site, the Arthritis Foundation cites several other examples of reputable research that highlights turmeric’s ability to provide long-term improvement in pain and function, even offering up dosage recommendations for turmeric powder.
Another positive benefit to turmeric is the root’s ability to enhance antioxidation. Research conducted in rats indicates that turmeric could offset the dangers of certain medications harmful to the liver when those drugs are used for an extended period of time.
While easing digestion and the ability to lower bad cholesterol and blood pressure levels are other helpful advantages to using turmeric, arguably the most groundbreaking discovery related to its use is that it may be able to protect us against certain types of cancers.
Now that you know turmeric powder might be able to fend off inflammation, keep your liver safe, promote gut health, and protect you from cancer, you’re probably wondering how turmeric powder works. One of the main ingredients found in turmeric is a chemical called curcumin, which is what gives the spice its beneficial properties.
While turmeric powder might be a delicious addition to your dinner, you probably won’t see much of a health benefit just by sprinkling it on your food. However, turmeric supplements are an easy and effective way to dose an adequate amount that could have an effect on your body. Typically, these capsules can be purchased online or found in any grocery or drug store at a relatively inexpensive price.
Before you begin dosing with turmeric powder, it’s vital that you understand there are some unpleasant side effects, which might sour your opinion on the spice.
First, while it’s true that turmeric powder can help with digestive health, it can also have the opposite effect if taken in excess. Some cancer studies have found that participants taking curcumin complained of abdominal fullness or pain and had to either discontinue the treatment or reduce the dosage.
Another counterintuitive attribute of turmeric involves the blood. Some have suggested that the same way the spice can lower cholesterol and blood pressure can also cause you to bleed easier because of blood thinning. This means that people already on blood thinner medications should avoid turmeric powder. It’s also a reason for women to discontinue use of turmeric supplements if they become pregnant.
Other side effects from prolonged usage of turmeric powder could include an intensification of gallbladder problems, a decrease in blood sugar for diabetes sufferers, and infertility.
Anyone who has ever eaten authentic Indian chicken korma is bound to sing the praises of turmeric—and so does science, as evidenced by the copious amounts of research illustrating its medicinal benefit. Nevertheless, you should always be knowledgeable about what you’re putting into your body, and turmeric powder is no different. Depending on your dosage, it could cause an upset stomach and a gaggle of other problems. Plus, high doses of turmeric are not recommended long-term. As with any new supplement, always consult with your primary care physician before use.