How to Use Turmeric to Reduce Inflammation and Pain

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A hot drink made with turmeric, milk, honey, cinnamon and ginger next to a small bowl of fresh turmeric root.
A hot drink made with turmeric, milk, honey, cinnamon and ginger next to a small bowl of fresh turmeric root. (Image: MonaMakela/iStock/Getty Images)

Turmeric is commonly used as a spice in Indian cooking, especially in curry dishes. It's also played a role for over 4,000 years in traditional Asian medicine. A review article published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in 2003 noted that turmeric has a proven anti-inflammatory effect and is considered safe for consumption.

Turmeric and Inflammation

Including more turmeric in your diet could help limit inflammation in your body. The active ingredient in turmeric, called curcumin, helps alleviate inflammation in a number of ways, including reducing your body's production of the neurotransmitter histamine and prolonging the anti-inflammatory activity of the hormone cortisol, according to a review article published in the Romanian Journal of Biology - Plant Biology in 2010. Both histamine and cortisol help control inflammation in your body.

Turmeric and Pain Relief

Some medications for pain relief have unwanted side effects, especially when used for a long time. Adding more anti-inflammatory foods and ingredients to your diet may help limit inflammation and thus pain due to inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis. A review article published in Surgical Neurology International in 2010suggested that using turmeric may help you decrease the amount of non-steroidal pain medication you take.

Side Effects and Safety

Turmeric is usually well tolerated, even in some doses higher than you would get in food, according to an article published in the British Journal of Nutrition in 2010. With high doses from supplements, you could develop ulcers, however, and long-term use could cause an upset stomach, gas, nausea, indigestion and stomach pain. Some people are allergic to turmeric and could experience adverse reactions.

Turmeric can interact with blood thinners, diabetes medications and drugs that decrease stomach acid, so check with your doctor to make sure it is safe for you to increase your turmeric intake.

Pregnant women should avoid taking high amounts of turmeric, as it may bring on menstruation and cause an abortion. There is also a potential increased risk of kidney stones in people who are susceptible.

Use in Diet

Depending on whether you use fresh turmeric or ground dried turmeric, you'll need a different amount. An inch of turmeric root is equal to about 1 tablespoon fresh grated turmeric or 1 teaspoon ground dried turmeric. Start the day off by adding turmeric to your scrambled eggs or omelet, or blend up a smoothie with mango, banana, turmeric, honey, pineapple and coconut.

Make a dip for vegetables with mayonnaise, turmeric, minced onion, garlic powder, vinegar and horseradish. For a side dish, mix turmeric with rice, raisins and cashews, or add it to sauteed vegetables, such as cauliflower or a mix of green beans and onions. You can also use turmeric to make your egg salad even more yellow and flavorful or in a curry dish for dinner. Some people like to drink a mix of milk or nondairy milk, turmeric, honey, cinnamon and ginger before bed.

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