Many high-quality studies show that turmeric has major benefits for your body and brain. Many of these benefits come from its main active ingredient, curcumin.

The spice known as turmeric could be one of the most effective nutritional supplements in existence.

Read on to learn what the science says about turmeric and curcumin as well as their benefits.

Turmeric is the spice that gives curry its yellow color. It has been used in India for thousands of years as both a spice and medicinal herb. Research has shown that turmeric contains compounds with medicinal properties.

These compounds are called curcuminoids. The most important one is curcumin, which is the main active ingredient in turmeric.

Here are the top 10 evidence-based health benefits of turmeric and curcumin.

It has powerful anti-inflammatory effects and is a very strong antioxidant. That said, the curcumin content of turmeric is only around 1-6% by weight.

Most studies on this herb use turmeric extracts that contain mostly curcumin itself, with dosages usually exceeding 1 gram (g) per day, which means it would be hard to reach these levels just by using turmeric as a spice. That’s why some people choose to use supplements.

In addition, curcumin is poorly absorbed into your bloodstream. In order to experience the full effects of curcumin, its bioavailability (the rate at which your body absorbs a substance) needs to improve.

It helps to consume it with black pepper, which contains piperine. Piperine is a natural substance that enhances the absorption of curcumin by 2,000%.

In fact, the best curcumin supplements contain piperine, and this makes them substantially more effective.

Curcumin is also fat soluble, which means it breaks down and dissolves in fat or oil. That’s why it may be a good idea to take curcumin supplements with a meal that’s high in fat.

Curcumin is a bioactive substance that can help fight inflammation, though very high doses are required to produce medicinal results.

Still, it means it has the potential to fight the inflammation that plays a role in many health conditions and diseases.

That’s why anything that can help fight chronic inflammation is potentially important in preventing and helping treat these conditions.

3. Turmeric can increase the antioxidant capacity of the body

Oxidative damage is believed to be one of the mechanisms behind aging and many diseases.

It involves free radicals, highly reactive molecules with unpaired electrons. Free radicals tend to react with important organic substances, such as fatty acids, proteins, or DNA.

Curcumin is a potent antioxidant that can neutralize free radicals due to its chemical structure.

In addition, animal and cellular studies suggest that curcumin may block the action of free radicals and may stimulate the action of other antioxidants. Further clinical studies are needed in humans to confirm these benefits.

4. Curcumin can boost brain-derived neurotrophic factor

Even in adulthood, brain neurons are capable of forming new connections, and in certain areas of the brain, they can multiply and increase in number.

One of the main drivers of this process is brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which plays a role in memory and learning, and it can be found in areas of the brain responsible for eating, drinking, and body weight.

Many common brain disorders have been linked to decreased levels of BDNF protein, including depression and Alzheimer’s disease.

Both animal and human studies have found that curcumin may increase brain levels of BDNF. By doing this, it may be effective in delaying or even reversing many brain diseases and age-related decreases in brain function.

It may also help improve memory and attention, which seems logical given its effects on BDNF levels. However, more studies are needed to confirm this.

5. Curcumin may lower your risk of heart disease

Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the world. Research suggests that curcumin may help protect against many steps in the heart disease process.

Specifically, it helps improve the function of the endothelium or the lining of your blood vessels.

Endothelial dysfunction is a major driver of heart disease. This is when your endothelium is unable to regulate blood pressure, blood clotting, and various other factors.

Several other studies also suggest that curcumin can lead to improvements in heart health. In addition, curcumin can help reduce inflammation and oxidation (as discussed above), which can play a role in heart disease.

6. Turmeric may help prevent cancer

Many different forms of cancer appear to be affected by curcumin supplements.

In fact, curcumin has been studied as a beneficial herb in cancer treatment and has been found to affect cancer growth and development.

Studies have shown that it can:

  • contribute to the death of cancerous cells
  • reduce angiogenesis (growth of new blood vessels in tumors)
  • reduce metastasis (spread of cancer)

There is also evidence that curcumin may prevent cancer from occurring in the first place, especially cancers of the digestive system like colorectal cancer.

7. Curcumin may be useful in treating Alzheimer’s disease

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia and may contribute to up to 70% of dementia cases.

It’s known that inflammation and oxidative damage play a role in Alzheimer’s disease, and curcumin has been found to have beneficial effects on both.

In addition, research suggests that curcumin can help clear the buildup of protein tangles called amyloid plaques that are caused by the disease.

That said, whether curcumin can slow or even reverse the progression of Alzheimer’s disease in people is currently unknown and needs to be studied.

8. Arthritis patients respond well to curcumin supplements

There are several different types of arthritis, most of which involve inflammation in the joints.

In a study on people with osteoarthritis, curcumin appeared to be more effective in relieving pain than a placebo, and research has also found its effect to be similar to that of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

In another study on rheumatoid arthritis, curcumin appeared to have helped reduce disease-related inflammation.

That said, more study is needed to understand if curcumin can actually replace such drugs as a treatment for arthritis inflammation pain.

9. Curcumin has benefits against depression

Curcumin has shown some promise in treating mood disorders. Its positive effects on the brain include boosting the brain neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, reducing inflammation, and encouraging brain plasticity. This suggests the herb may be an effective antidepressant.

Depression is also linked to reduced levels of BDNF and a shrinking hippocampus, a brain area with a role in learning and memory. Curcumin can help boost BDNF levels, potentially reversing some of these changes.

A 2018 animal study also found that curcumin may help reduce anxiety, though studies on humans are needed to verify this.

10. Curcumin may help delay aging and fight age-related chronic diseases

If curcumin can really help prevent heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s, it may have benefits for longevity as well.

This suggests that curcumin may have potential as an anti-aging supplement.

Given that oxidation and inflammation are believed to play a role in aging, curcumin may have effects that go way beyond just preventing disease.

Is it good to take turmeric every day?

Given turmeric’s various beneficial properties to health, it’s not a bad idea to take it daily. If you stick to 12 g or less, you are not likely to experience side effects such as diarrhea, constipation, or vomiting.

Learn more about turmeric dosage.

Who shouldn’t take turmeric?

People who are pregnant or nursing, people who have gallbladder or kidney problems, those with bleeding disorders, diabetes, or iron deficiency should limit turmeric. If you have any of these conditions, ask your doctor before taking turmeric. Also, ask your doctor if turmeric would interact with any medications you’re taking.

Can turmeric burn belly fat?

There is research suggesting that curcumin, the main component of turmeric, might help with reducing belly fat.

Learn more: Does turmeric help you lose weight?

The bottom line

Turmeric — and especially its most active compound, curcumin — has many scientifically proven health benefits, such as the potential to improve heart health and prevent Alzheimer’s and cancer.

It’s a potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. It may also help improve symptoms of depression and arthritis.

While these benefits are possible, they are limited at this time because of curcumin’s scarce bioavailability and more research is needed.