Pop into your local health food store these days and you’re likely to see products ranging from supplements to tea, crackers and salad dressings infused with turmeric, the Indian spice best known for its distinctive yellow-gold color. According to a report, annual sales of turmeric supplements alone in the United States exceed $20 million.
It’s no wonder: The use of turmeric for medicinal and other purposes dates back nearly 4000 years. Recently, this ancient spice has been touted as a superfood to help a variety of conditions like arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, gastrointestinal disorders, skin and autoimmune diseases and even cancer. But is this golden-hued spice really a panacea of health or is it more marketing hype?
A 2017 comprehensive scientific review of curcumin, the active component of turmeric, has put a damper on its health halo. Published in the Review of Medicinal Chemistry, the report revealed that despite thousands of studies, there were no double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials (the gold-standard of medical research) to support its wide range of health claims. And recent clinical trials and epidemiological studies on curcumin had inconsistent findings or errors in reporting, as well as conflicts of interest.
According to researchers, one of the problems with turmeric for medicinal use is its limited ability to be absorbed by the body. Some experts recommend using black pepper to help boost turmeric’s absorption from the digestive system into the bloodstream. You’ll find many supplement formulations that include black pepper to help increase the bioavailability of turmeric compounds. Still, it we do not yet have enough research to back turmeric’s purported health benefits.
However, there is some promising news: Researchers at the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health say that although we have few studies in humans confirm its medical benefits, there also isn’t enough data to refute them. And the authors of the review study concede that further studies should be conducted to see if this ancient spice does have some medicinal uses.
The bottom line: Don’t look to turmeric and products made with turmeric to alleviate your health conditions, and always check with your doctor before taking supplements. But while the jury is still out on this delicious golden spice, you should enjoy it in your food. Try this Slow Cooker Moroccan Chicken to add a little turmeric spice to your life.