- Turmeric is a popular spice similar to ginger, known for its bright yellow color and use in curries
- It can potentially treat a wide range of conditions
If you have an ailment, there's a good chance that someone, somewhere, is studying whether turmeric can treat it. There are more than 15,000 manuscripts published about curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, and about 50 manuscripts added to this collection each week, according to the National Institutes of Health.
"It's really taken on sort of panacea-like properties in terms of the things it's being studied for and the things it has been reported to be useful for," said D. Craig Hopp, deputy director of the Division of Extramural Research at the National Institutes of Health's National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.
What is turmeric?
Turmeric is a popular spice similar to ginger, known for its bright yellow color and use in curry powders and mustards. Also called "Indian saffron," the plant grows across India, other areas of Asia and Central America. Turmeric flavors a range of dishes, is a vital component of certain religious rituals and has been used for medicinal purposes for nearly 4,000 years.
"There are plenty of studies currently being done but already good evidence that turmeric can help control knee pain from arthritis as well as decrease the likelihood of a heart attack after bypass surgery," said Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN's chief medical correspondent.
Turmeric is one of many plants used in ayurveda, a traditional South Asian system of medicine, according to the National Institutes of Health. It is used to treat issues such as breathing problems, rheumatism, fatigue and pain.
"There's a distinction that's very important to make between turmeric, which is the plant and the spice, and what people often study, which is the curcumin, which is the proposed active constituent in turmeric," Hopp said. "And even curcumin, as it's usually sold or researched, is not a single compound. It's usually a collection of three or four compounds that are called curcuminoids, collectively."
The exact amount varies, but the turmeric root contains up to 5% of these curcuminoids typically, the National Institutes of Health says.
A gap between theory and practice
Extracting the curcumin and translating its power into a successful treatment is still a major challenge for researchers, experts say. There is epidemiologic evidence that people who eat a diet rich in turmeric can potentially attribute their substantial health benefits to the spice, Hopp said, citing a