Turmeric is a root from the ginger family and looks very similar. Ground turmeric powder has a distinct, bright yellow hue and is found in curry powder used in flavorful curry dishes. Although turmeric and curcumin are often used interchangeably, this is somewhat incorrect.
There are many clinical studies on turmeric, most of it performed with isolated curcumin, the bioactive compound making up only 2-5% of the turmeric root. Curcumin is not absorbed well consumed on its own; it has a high rate of metabolization and leaving your system quickly. While we typically recommend “food first, supplements second”, you would have to take a lot of tablespoons of turmeric powder to get adequate curcumin amounts to reap the health benefits that have been studied for chronic health conditions and diagnosis. Its not a bad idea to cook with it several times a week if its something you enjoy, as you likely do get some health benefits as we do from many herbs and spices from their anti-oxidant properties. Some people have a hard time eating large amounts of turmeric because it has been noted to cause heartburn, as many spices do.
Curcumin is also fat-soluble, meaning that it requires a source of lipids in order to be absorbed. Many supplements have formulations that include the ingredient peperine, a black pepper extract, or other source of lipids to address this issue. At last year’s Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo, I stopped by the Zyn booth, a company who makes several turmeric-infused drinks that were formulated to include both these ingredients – plus they were pretty tasty too.
Current research shows that curcumin has a notable effect with consistent results as being a powerful anti-oxidant in the human body, and decreasing inflammation, pain, and symptoms of osteoarthritis. There are some studies on reducing symptoms of depression compared to placebo but more research is warranted. Its important to note that curcumin has a potential drug interaction with antiplatelet agents, anticoagulant agents, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents, salicylates, and thrombolytic agents, so its always recommended to talk to your physician before starting any supplements, especially if you are currently taking medications.
If you are interested in cooking with turmeric, we do think its a fantastic addition to your spice cabinet and as we stated earlier, you can still reap some health benefits even if you don’t have any diagnosed health conditions by using it a few times per week in dishes like curries, my favorite chicken noodle soup, or even turmeric lattes.
If you need help navigating the complicated world of nutritional supplements, our Registered Dietitian Nutritionists can help. We also offer food sensitivity testing that can identify what foods and compounds may be causing inflammation (the test includes turmeric). Schedule your initial appointment here or contact us with any questions.