Food as Medicine: Turmeric, a Potent Example

Turmeric, a brightly colored spice common in Indian cuisine, has become more widely known and heavily researched in recent decades.  Its health benefits are wide ranging, as indicated by thousands of research studies, including human trials.   

Research is revealing its mechanisms of action in many chronic conditions and multiple forms of cancer.   Turmeric is a potent anti-inflammatory, affecting multiple pathways throughout the body and scavenging free radicals.  Some of turmeric’s specific actions include:

    • Antifungal, antibacterial, antiviral, antiparasitic
    • Upregulate pathways of detoxification (Nrf2, p53, superoxide dismutase)
    • Inhibit pathways of  inflammation (VEGF, COX-2, MMP9…)
  • Neuroprotective, cardioprotective, hepatoprotective (liver)

Recent research reviews have been published to accumulate the findings from the many studies on turmeric.  The table below highlights conditions for which turmeric has been studied. (See sources at end of post.)

Turmeric for Inflammatory ConditionsTurmeric in Human Cancer Research
- Arthritis
- Asthma
- Atherosclerosis
- Cognitive decline
- Cholecystitis
- Diabetes
- Diabetic nephropathy
- Depression
- Nephritis, kidney disease
- Periodontitis
- Psoriasis, vitiligo
- IBD, IBS, peptic ulcer, colitis
- Respiratory infections
- Uveitis
-Promoting apoptosis (cell death) of cancer cells

-Inhibition of cancer cell proliferation

-Increased cancer cell chemosensitivity

-Reduced side effects of cancer treatments (mucositis, radiation dermatitis)

-Inhibit multi-drug resistance of cancer cells

Turmeric is a rhizome, related to ginger.   It contains bioactive compounds known as curcuminoids (like curcumin) and tumerones.  Prepared as standard powdered spice, turmeric contains 5 – 6% curcumin. The most potent supplements are standardized to contain 95% curcuminoids.

Much of the research conducted uses curcumin, prepared in various formats, to increase its bioavailability to the body.  Several forms of curcumin achieve better absorption compared to the powdered spice turmeric. These patented forms of supplemental curcumin include BCM-95®,  Meriva® and Theracurmin®.  While our clients have access to professional grade supplements that provide higher dose curcumin, a good quality turmeric provided by Ayush Herbs, is available through our Wellevate dispensary.  It is standardized to 97% curcuminoids, produced in a certified GMP facilty, 3rd party tested for heavy metals, and grown without herbicides or pesticides.  

The safety of curcumin has been verified in human clinical trials (see sources 1, 2, 7).  It is best to work with a practitioner, who can verify any potential interactions with pharmaceuticals.  In particular, people using any serotonergic medication (fluoxetine, fentanyl, acyclovir, trazodone) could suffer Serotonin Syndrome because the curcumin would further increase serotonin. Likewise, anyone using aspirin or medication to inhibit platelet aggregation, would have to work with a doctor, as turmeric acts in the same manner. 

An excellent resource for using curcumin and other supplements as adjunct cancer treatment:  Outside the Box Cancer Therapies, published by two Integrative Oncology doctors, Mark Stengler and Paul Anderson.

Easy Options to Add Turmeric

Turmeric as a spice can be easily incorporated into meals.  It’s flavor is not strong, but it is often combined with other strong spices.  Turmeric should be consumed with a healthy fat source to increase its digestion and absorption.

 Turmeric Ginger Tea by Rishi

Rishi Turmeric Ginger Tea

This lovely tea combines turmeric ginger and citrus peel.  It is a natural energy boost, as turmeric will prolong cortisol in the body, helping with motivation and focus.  And, these aromatic spices are more supportive to the body than coffee.  Consider adding a bit of coconut oil, to improve its absorption. 

 Turmeric Twist by Frontier Co-op 

Turmeric Twist

The Savory Blend adds garlic, onion and black pepper to turmeric.  It works as a coating for meat or fish, and a nice enhancement to scrambled eggs or rice.

The Daily Blend combines turmeric with warming spices ginger and cinnamon.  It compliments a coconut milk based sauce, sweet potatoes or oatmeal.


[1] Curcumin, the golden nutraceutical: multitargeting for multiple chronic diseases.  British Journal of Pharmacology (2017) 174 1325–1348.  PMCID:  PMC5429333

[2] Therapeutic roles of curcumin: lessons learned from clinical trials. AAPS J. 2013 Jan;15(1):195-218. doi: 10.1208/s12248-012-9432-8.

[3] Chapter 13 Turmeric, the Golden Spice. Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and CLinical Aspects, 2nd ed. Boca Raton (FL): CRC Press/Taylor & Francis; 2011.

[4] Curcumin: an orally bioavailable blocker of TNF and other pro-inflammatory biomarkers. Br J Pharmacol. 2013 Aug;169(8):1672-92. PMCID:  PMC3753829

[5] Multi-targeted therapy by curcumin: how spicy is it?  Mol Nutr Food Res. 2008 Sep;52(9):1010-30. DOI: 10.1002/mnfr.200700354

[6] Upregulation of p53 expression in patients with colorectal cancer by administration of curcumin. Cancer Invest. 2011 Mar;29(3):208-13. doi: 10.3109/07357907.2010.550592.

[7] Curcumin inhibits proliferation, invasion, angiogenesis and metastasis of different cancers through interaction with multiple cell signaling proteins. Cancer Lett. 2008 Oct 8;269(2):199-225. doi: 10.1016/j.canlet.2008.03.009. Epub 2008 May 13.

[8] Arjuna Natural’s BCM-95 curcumin granted new patent.  May 8, 2018 PRNewswire accessed 8/15/2018.

[9] Turmeric (Curcumin) Supplements Review by  accessed 9/25/2018

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