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Turmeric: An update on the research

By Holly Shellard
from Heliconia Health

What we know so far

Turmeric has been used traditionally across Asia and Africa in recipes as a spice to add flavour and a vibrant yellow colour to curries and stews. In traditional healing systems turmeric was used both orally and topically to treat a range of ailments from respiratory conditions to skin infections.
More recent research began looking into using turmeric as an alternative to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) and it was found that the component curcumin was just as effective as NSAIDs at reducing pain and inflammation in conditions like arthritis, diabetes and cardiovascular conditions. The rise of turmeric and curcumin capsules was seen in health stores across the world as people began using turmeric as an over the counter remedy for everyday inflammation, without the side effects that ibuprofen and other NSAIDs come with.

What’s New?
Gut Health and Immunity
A 2019 study found that turmeric may also have a role to play in modulating the immune system as compounds found in the turmeric rhizome are not broken down by either the gastric or intestinal juices. Instead, they are preserved for fermentation in the large intestine, feeding the gut microbiome. Researchers found that turmeric acted as a prebiotic (fuel source) for two important strains of bacteria- Lactobacillus Rhamnosus GG and Bifidobacteria Animalis BB12. Though it is too soon to tell, further research into turmeric may show us that it has further benefit to the gut microbiome and promoting diversity that could help with other health conditions like IBS, SIBO and even depression and anxiety.

Turmeric Kombucha
A 2023 study into kombucha found that adding turmeric increased the antioxidant activity, cytotoxicity and antibacterial activity of the kombucha when compared with traditional kombucha. Specifically, they found that a ferment with 1% turmeric had a strong antibacterial activity against E-coli and Staphylococcus Aureus, meaning it could potentially be used to assist with food poisoning infections.

Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus
A 2020 meta-analysis reviewed 62 clinical trials to identify the potential benefit of turmeric and/ or curcumin on blood sugar regulation in people with Metabolic Syndrome (MetS), pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM). In diabetic patients taking turmeric alongside their diabetes medication some found a decrease in blood glucose and blood lipids levels after meals, however not all medication-turmeric combinations produced a significant result, and people with obesity experienced no benefit at all. Of the studies that looked at diabetic patients, 3 found that including turmeric in the treatment improved symptoms such as visual acuity, foot and retina edema (swelling), microcirculation and functional impairments.

How to include turmeric in your diet
If you think that turmeric could help you with your health then there are 3 ways to include it easily in your diet, however it is recommended that you speak to your healthcare practitioner prior to making any changes to your diet or supplement regime.
1.Turmeric powder- Using turmeric in your cooking or smoothies is an easy way to increase the turmeric in your diet, and it can be bought cheaply in most supermarkets in the spice aisle. Simply add 1-2 teaspoons of turmeric powder into a curry or mix ½ a teaspoon into a tofu scramble for a delicious breakfast.
2. Fresh Turmeric- Fresh turmeric has a stronger taste, and isn’t for everyone, but if you can get your head around the earthy notes, then it’s a fantastic addition to soups, smoothies and stews. Grate it up alongside your ginger and garlic to add a flavorsome punch.
3. Curcumin supplements- Curcumin capsules are available in most health food shops and even some supermarkets. Always check with your healthcare professional before taking a new supplement, especially if you are already taking other supplements or medications, to prevent any unwanted interactions.

Khazi, M.I., Liaqat, F., Liu, X., Yan, Y., Zhu, D. (2023) Fermentation, functional analysis, and biological activities of turmeric kombucha. Journal of the science of food and agriculture, 104 (2) 759-768
Singletary, K. (2020) Turmeric: Potential Health Benefits. Nutrition Today 55 (1) 45-56 DOI: 10.1097/NT.0000000000000392 Yazdi, F. G., Soleimanian-Zad, S., van den Worm, E., Folkerts, G. (2019). Turmeric Extract: Potential use as a prebiotic and anti-inflammatory compound. Plant Foods for Human Nutrition, 74, 293-299

More about the author

Holly Shellard
– Heliconia Health

Holly is a degree qualified clinical nutritionist passionate about plant based eating and the power that food has as medicine. They have been plant-based for over 8 years and now have made it their mission to empower others to take the (sometimes daunting) step to following a plant-based lifestyle. Holly works one to one with clients, using a holistic approach to treat each individual and support them on a path to improved health and wellbeing.