Turmeric, an ancient spice popular in traditional Chinese herbalism and Ayurveda, is one of the most well-known functional foods in the world.

Functional foods are foods believed to positively influence health in some way, more than just offering calories or flavor.

Turmeric and its active compound, curcumin, are frequently used for mood and immune support. But the advantages of this golden spice span more than just the mind and immune system.

Here, we will cover what turmeric is, how it works, and the benefits and risks associated with it.

What are Turmeric and Curcumin?

What is turmeric? Turmeric is a popular yellow spice, also known as Curcuma longa, belonging to the ginger family. It is a perennial plant that gives off roots and shoots (rhizomes) and is typically about 3 feet high when fully grown.

There are at least 133 species of Curcuma throughout the world.

The spice turmeric comes from Southeast Asia, where it has been used in traditional herbalist practices for thousands of years.

What is curcumin? Curcumin (the grouping of curcuminoids in turmeric) is the primary active component in turmeric. The curcuminoids in turmeric are thought to give the spice both its color and its health-promoting benefits, such as the way it supports joint function and supports a healthy inflammatory response.

The History of Turmeric Throughout the World

The earliest use of turmeric is thought to be about 4,000 years ago in India. The Vedic culture (where Ayurveda originated) used turmeric as a culinary spice. It also had a place in their religious culture.

Thousands of years later, the golden spice reached China (700 AD). Marco Polo was documented in 1280 discussing turmeric as a marvelous vegetable with similar qualities to saffron — which is how it garnered the nickname “Indian saffron” in medieval Europe.

Turmeric was used in South Asia as a widely prescribed remedy for all sorts of concerns dating back thousands of years.

These ancient peoples didn’t just consume turmeric in food — they burned it to inhale its fumes, made it into tinctures and oils, used it as a perfume, and even utilized it in the creation of ointments and topical pastes.

According to The Cultural History of Plants (2005), turmeric was separately found growing in Tahiti and Hawaii before Europeans brought Indian turmeric with them.

In more modern history, turmeric made its United States debut in 1831 in Virginia Housewife by Mary Randolph.

Today, India accounts for 80% of the turmeric cultivated in the world.

Inflammation: When The Body’s Response Isn’t Ideal

Inflammation occurs when your immune system protects you from infection or injury. Your immune system’s inflammatory response is only meant to be short-term.

Unfortunately, long-term inflammation is a widespread health problem in our world today.

Long-term inflammation can be caused by:

  • Untreated infection
  • Untreated injury
  • Toxin exposure
  • Alcohol
  • Smoking
  • Weight problems
  • Excess stress

When your immune system’s natural inflammatory response lasts a lot longer than it is meant to, it can affect the body’s ability to maintain optimal health.  

Supporting normal levels of inflammation is an important part of living a vibrant life.

Benefits of Turmeric

Adding turmeric or curcumin to your diet may promote many areas of health.

However, turmeric used as a spice is not highly bioavailable, meaning it can be difficult for your body to absorb it effectively.

1. Mood Support

Both human and animal studies suggest that curcumin may lift the spirits and support an attitude of positivity.

Animal studies seem to indicate curcumin can reduce occasional feelings of sadness due to curcumin’s effect on brain-derived neurotrophic factor.

Human clinical studies indicate that curcumin may reduce feelings of concern about the stressors in life.

Researchers also note that targets of curcumin may include proteins implicated in changes of mood.

Turmeric/curcumin seems to affect your mood because it supports healthy inflammation levels within the body. Inflammation imbalance may cause unwanted changes in mood.

2. Healthy Inflammation Levels

Turmeric supports healthy levels of inflammation throughout the body. One study found that curcumin was similar to resveratrol, the active compound in red wine, in supporting healthy inflammatory response.

3. Brain Support

Turmeric/curcumin has been observed to promote the health of the brain by supporting normal brain activity and keeping the mind sharp.

4. Vision Support

A 2013 study suggests that curcumin may help to promote eye health throughout an individual’s lifespan without significant side effects.

5. Cardiovascular Support

Your cardiovascular system likes turmeric! This spice mediates the processes of:

  • Blood platelet aggregation
  • Normal cholesterol function
  • Inflammation within the vascular system

6. Healthy Skin

Remember the ancient Indian peoples who used turmeric in their skin ointments? These sorts of ointments and pastes may help to promote healthy blood flow and appearance of the skin.

7. Metabolic Support

Metabolism is the way which your body processes what goes into your body and uses it to live and function.

Turmeric and/or curcumin may offer some metabolic support for various functions of the body, including the endocrine system and weight management.

8. Digestive Support

A small clinical trial in 2005 suggests that turmeric may promote healthy digestion, though more evidence is needed to confirm whether or not this is the case on a larger scale.

How to Use Turmeric

There are many ways to incorporate turmeric into your routine. Consider one of the following:

  • In cooking: Turmeric recipes can be found on virtually every website featuring food — for good reason! It’s got an earthy, bitter, musky smell that flavors curry powders. However, it’s not just for curry! You can add turmeric to eggs, soups, homemade bread, or ground beef. Experiment with your favorite flavors and turmeric to find what suits you best.
  • In tea: “Golden milk” is the popular term for tea drinks that include turmeric. Recipes for golden milk tea frequently feature coconut milk, ginger, black pepper, and cinnamon for a well-rounded flavor.
  • In mouthwash: Believe it or not, turmeric is a great ingredient for a homemade mouthwash. It may not smell minty fresh, but it’s great for supporting a balanced oral microbiome.
  • Essential oil: High-quality essential oil of turmeric may be used (very sparingly) in dishes or diffused for a scent reminiscent of ancient India.
  • Dietary supplements: Supplements containing turmeric/curcumin are available from a wide number of sources. But tread carefully — turmeric is best absorbed when combined, for instance, with black pepper and/or taken in liposomal form.

Turmeric/Curcumin Side Effects

For some individuals, turmeric/curcumin has potential side effects.

Side effects of curcumin/turmeric may include:

  • Upset stomach or other digestive issues
  • Headache
  • Skin rash
  • Increased risk of kidney stones

These side effects are not common. Many studies report no adverse side effects; however, upset stomach is the most common side effect when someone consumes too much.

Turmeric/curcumin may have adverse interactions with blood thinners.

The Bottom Line

Turmeric has been used for the promotion of health for thousands of years throughout the world.

Today, turmeric is still used worldwide as a popular functional food. Its active compound, curcumin, is touted for its overall benefits to health.

It’s important to consult your physician before beginning any new supplement regimen, particularly if you are on any medications or have diagnosed health conditions.


Feng, T., Wei, Y., Lee, R. J., & Zhao, L. (2017).  International journal of nanomedicine, 12, 6027. Full text: