Turmeric is the food that brightens mood and so much more. This deeply celebrated spice contains potent properties that support healthy aging, smooth skin, better memory, and yes, good mood.
When I visit India, the scent and sight of freshly sliced turmeric root being sold in open-air markets, and turmeric powder sprinkled onto creamy bases and vibrant vegetables, are some of my favorite experiences. I’ve had the pleasure of visiting farms where turmeric root is organically cultivated and harvested for use as a cooking spice, herb for tea, and turmeric powder for nutritional supplements and personal care products.
What I discovered early on is that turmeric is more than food—it’s ceremonial.
Known as the “spice of life”, turmeric has a long history of use within homeopathic and cultural rituals. It also has a bounty of research supporting strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity. Turmeric, or turmeric root, has also become a popular ingredient in skincare, self-care, and anti-aging regimens.
Let’s explore turmeric—one of the healthiest and most celebrated spices on earth.
What is Turmeric?
Native to Southeast Asia, turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a flowering plant belonging to the ginger family. But it’s the hard rhizomes—what we call turmeric root—that are used either fresh in familiar Indian and Asian cuisine, or boiled and ground into a deep orange-red powdered spice. It’s also known as Indian saffron and haldi.
History of Turmeric
With significance in spiritual ceremonies, wedding rituals and Ayurvedic practices dating back centuries, turmeric is perhaps one of the most ceremonial ingredients on Earth. This ancient spice has strong roots within Ayurvedic wellness practices, which aims to restore whole-body health and balance naturally, as it’s a medicinal system that relies on potent plant extracts and nutrients found within nature to maintain physical and mental health.
Thanks to its extensive repertoire as an antiseptic, medicinal aid, and even a good luck charm, turmeric is the perfect spokesperson for this historic approach.
This soul-nurturing ingredient also finds a home within the Hindu religious, where it’s viewed as a sacred root. On wedding days, for example, turmeric is applied to the bride as a symbol of fertility and prosperity. Furthermore, within certain parts of India, turmeric may be worn as an amulet to protect the wearer against evil spirits.
Today, admiration for turmeric continues as holistic health practices receive modern-day support from scientific research.
What is Turmeric Good for?
From nature’s anti-inflammatory to an everyday mood booster, turmeric benefits encompass inner and outer health, thanks to curcumin, the bioactive chemical compound within turmeric root responsible for its telltale bright hue.
Curcumin is a powerful compound that acts as an antioxidant, which allows it to fight free radical scavengers that can accelerate cellular aging. They’re so potent, in fact, that curcumin may be used for pharmacological purposes.[*]
Here are 7 health benefits of Turmeric:
1. Fight Inflammation
Inflammation is the body’s natural response to injury, illness, or infection. Through this inflammatory response, you are alerted that something is not quite right within your body. In fact, many conditions exist that are rooted in inflammation, such as acne, arthritis, and heart disease. In some instances, chronic inflammation can heighten symptoms and conditions, such as obesity, heart disease, and other problematic diseases.[*][*]
Curcumin is one of the strongest, natural anti-inflammatory ingredients known in the world. Research reveals these powerhouse compounds can offer protection at the molecular level—perhaps even matching the effectiveness of some anti-inflammatory drugs without their related side effects.[*][*][*][*][*]
2. Cellular Age-Fighter
You are as young as the health of your cells. While it’s natural for the trillions of cells in your body to age over your lifetime, science shows your lifestyle and environment contribute to how quickly the evolution occurs. Oxidative stress and the resulting damage from nutrient-deficient food, lack of daily physical movement, sleep deprivation, or consistently elevated levels of stress can wear cells down.
When this occurs, free radicals—a toxic, unstable molecule and byproduct of oxygen metabolism—threaten the activity of healthy cells, and in the worst case scenario, can alter DNA, thus, opening doors to chronic health conditions.[*]
This is why antioxidants are vital for protecting your cellular health. A potent anti-oxidative compound, curcuminoids help to neutralize free radicals and beef-up the body’s cellular defenses.[*[*]] In addition to blocking scavengers, curcumin can also promote antioxidant enzymes within the body for future use.[*][*][*]
3. Mood Booster
Next time your mind is feeling unbalanced, try sipping a cup of turmeric tea, because its potent curcuminoids have been shown to work as a natural antidepressant—potentially as effective as Prozac, according to research.[*][*] A 2014 study showed that turmeric demonstrated positive effects in subjects with major depressive disorder. In addition to having a calming effect, it can also boost the brain’s neurotransmitters, serotonin, and dopamine.[*][*][*][*] 8,19,20,21
Turmeric is brain food on so many levels. Promising Alzheimer’s research shows turmeric can increase BDNF activity in healthy individuals.[*] BDNF is a nerve growth hormone that supports the health and function of neurons and plays a role in memory and cognition.
4. Blood Sugar Balancer
Under normal conditions, glucose is healthy and necessary. When blood sugar levels are consistently high, however, it can trigger glycation, an activity that can accelerate the aging process.
If the body is overwhelmed with refined sugar, they form free radicals called advanced glycation end products (AGEs) by attaching to and damaging structural proteins, such as collagen and elastin. This explains why eating too much sugar can lead to premature skin aging. According to a study, curcumin has the potential to balance blood glucose levels by binding to sugar.[*]
5. Possible Cancer Fighter
Cutting-edge research has shown turmeric to have a significant impact on some forms of cancer[*], specifically, it may help to slow the growth of breast, lung, and prostate cancer cells.[*][*][*] Analysis at the molecular level revealed that curcumin may inhibit cancer development and metastasis (or spreading).[*]
While additional studies on curcumin’s ability to fight cancer cells need to be conducted, the evidence supports the ingredient’s potency as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory.
6. Healthy Heart Aid
Turmeric has been shown to positively influence several factors that contribute to heart disease, for example, by supporting the endothelial lining of blood vessels, which helps regulate blood pressure. Also, it may promote blood clotting and normal arterial function.[*][*][*]
In addition to supporting blood vessel function, taking turmeric supplements has been shown to help balance cholesterol and triglyceride levels in overweight individuals.[*]
7. Skin Brightener
In some Indian wedding rituals, it’s customary for family members to apply turmeric paste to the bride as well as the groom ahead of the wedding to promote a brighter, blemish-free complexion on the big day. You, too, can enjoy the skin-calming benefits of turmeric as part of your own natural beauty ritual.
Turmeric has shown its capable of inhibiting a key enzyme whose role is to reduce elastin formation in the body.[*][*] Elastin, in tandem with collagen, is skin’s main structural protein responsible for smooth, plump, supple skin.
Because of turmeric’s antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory effects, it has the potential to improve acne on the face, back, and chest.[*][*] Additionally, a 150-person study was conducted to test the effects of curcumin on eczema, revealing clinical improvement in their condition.[*]
Turmeric Dosage Guidelines
How to take turmeric as a food or beverage…
Generally, ground turmeric contains about 200 mg of curcumin, the active, good-for-you compounds, per 1 teaspoon. A typical daily Indian diet contains about 2,000 mg of turmeric. The spice is used liberally to prepare sauces and as a seasoning.
To increase your turmeric intake, make your own delicious curry sauces, sprinkle on roasted vegetables, scoop into green smoothies, and drink creamy golden milk and turmeric tea. To get you started, here are a few of my favorite turmeric delights:
As a nutritional supplement…
To help maintain general wellness and to take precautionary measures against inflammation, look for a turmeric supplement that contains at least 500 mg of curcuminoids. To ensure potency and purity, look for a brand that is transparent about the origins, sourcing, and processing of its turmeric. For optimal benefits, choose a formula that contains a bioenhancer, such as black pepper, to assist with absorption, as turmeric’s natural bioavailability can be poor.
- Turmeric’s rich orange-red color is the source of curcumin, the powerful active compounds that provide an assortment of wellness and beauty benefits.
- This ancient “spice of life” has played a key role in cultural and Ayurvedic practices for centuries.
- Turmeric has been shown to support the body’s natural response to inflammation and is a potent antioxidant.
- Increase turmeric intake by adding turmeric to food and beverages, or use a supplement with at least 500 mg curcuminoids for concentrated benefits.