The spice turmeric is often used in Asian and Indian recipes and also colors some commonly eaten foods, such as mustard and some types of butter. Both turmeric and its active ingredient, curcumin, have been studied for their potential health benefits. Check with your doctor before taking turmeric as a supplement, as it may not be safe for everyone.
Potential for Disease Prevention
Curcumin may act as an anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant, and preliminary evidence shows it may also help protect against diabetes, infections, viruses, cancer, ulcers, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, according to a review article published in Current Science in 2004.
Although it has the potential to help prevent arthritis, heart disease and Alzheimer's, the evidence for this is mainly limited to laboratory studies because turmeric isn't very well-absorbed in people or typically consumed in very high amounts, according to an article published in Nutrition Today in 2010. Improving absorption is important for increasing the potential health benefits of turmeric.
As a Pain Reliever
Turmeric may help you limit your use of pain medications, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. A study published in Surgical Endoscopy in 2011 noted that patients given turmeric after having their gallbladders removed experienced less pain and fatigue than those who didn't take turmeric, allowing them to use less pain medication. Using pain medications often for an extended period of time can increase your risk for stomach problems, such as ulcers, as well as stroke or heart attack.
Food Safety Benefits
Because of its potential to kill bacteria, viruses and fungi, turmeric may be helpful for keeping your food safe without a lot of added chemicals. Using turmeric as part of a marinade for chicken and other meats may help limit the risk for foodborne illnesses, especially if it's used in combination with lemon, according to a study published in the International Journal of Poultry Science in 2012. You'll still need to cook these foods to a safe internal temperature, which is 165 degrees Fahrenheit for poultry, 160 degrees for ground beef or pork and 145 degrees for pork or beef steaks, chops or roasts.
Turmeric isn't likely to cause side effects in the small amounts typically used in food. Taking large doses of curcumin, however, could cause an upset stomach, ulcers, indigestion, gas, nausea or skin rash. People with gallstones and pregnant women should avoid turmeric supplements. Turmeric supplements can cause abortion and may increase the risk for kidney stones, as well as interact with certain medications. Of course, there's also the potential for an allergic reaction, and people allergic to ginger may be more likely to be allergic to turmeric as well.