Curcuma longa is from the Zingiberaceae family, which also includes ginger and cardamom. It is commonly known as turmeric, curcuma, haldi, Indian saffron, yellow ginger, and yellowroot (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013; Ulbricht, 2010; Wichtl, 2004). The roots and rhizomes are cultivated from plants grown in Asia, particularly China, India, Indonesia, Japan, and Taiwan, and in Africa (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013; Wichtl, 2004).
The most therapeutic active constituent is curcumin, a curcuminoid present at 0.3 to 5.4%. It also contains gum and resins; sugars, mostly as 28% glucose, 12% fructose, and 1% arabinose; proteins; vitamins; minerals, such as calcium chloride; 4 to 14% volatile oils composed of turmerone, atlantone, and zingiberone; 2 to 7% essential oils, consisting of sesquiterpenes; woody fiber; and brown and yellow coloring matter (Gale, 2014; Pizzorno & Murray, 2013; Wichtl, 2004).
Turmeric has been used in India and China within Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and herbal medicine to treat a variety of diseases (Gale, 2014; Thavorn, Mamdani, & Straus, 2014). It protected the liver, prevented gallstones, increased the flow of bile, was an anti-inflammatory, was a remedy for eye discharges, treated jaundice, reduced flatulence and colic, increased menstrual flow, relieved insomnia, and relieved pain. It also was a dye for fabrics and medicines, and a condiment in curry powder and mustard (Gale, 2014; Pizzorno & Murray, 2013).
Turmeric is a root widely used as a spice for cooking and herbal supplements. Turmeric is indicated as an anti-dyspeptic, antiphlogistic, carminative, cholecystokinetic, choleretic, and stomachic (Weiss & Fintelmann, 2000; Wichtl, 2004). It can be consumed as an alcohol extract, capsule, infusion, powder, spice, tablet, tea, and tincture (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013; Weiss & Fintelmann, 2000). Curcumin has been extracted and included in ointments or other supplements, such as Meriva or Theracurmin (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013). There is no reported toxicity after consuming turmeric at standard dosages. It has been considered safe at up to 8,000 mg daily for up to 3 months (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013). The daily recommended therapeutic dose is up to 12 g of powdered decoction; 5 to 15 mL of a fluid extract or tincture prepared at a 1:1 vol / vol equivalent; or 1,200 to 1,400 mg of standardized extract (Stargrove, Treasure, & McKee, 2008).
Turmeric, its essential oil, and its natural extracts are Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) by the United States (US) Food and Drug Administration (FDA) (Wichtl, 2004). The Botanical Safety Handbook includes turmeric under the list of herbs “not to be used during pregnancy unless otherwise directed by an expert qualified in the appropriate use of this substance” (Hoffman, 2003, p. 394). Curcumin can be an irritant (Weiss & Fintelmann, 2000), and has some drug interactions, affecting the absorption of the beta-blocker talinolol; norfloxacin; chemotherapy agents camtothecin, mechlorethamine, and doxorubicin; and drugs metabolized through the CYP3A4, CYP1A2, and CYP2A6 pathways (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013). Specific dosages, possible contra-indicatory effects, and drug interactions should be reviewed with a health care provider.
Clinical studies indicated turmeric was antiaging, anticarcinogenic anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antioxidant, antiplatelet, cardio-protective, carminative, choleretic, hepatoprotective, and neuroprotective. It also protected the gastrointestinal (GI) tract; increased secretions of gastrin, secretin, bicarbonate, gastric wall mucus, and pancreatic enzymes; inhibited intestinal spasms and formation of ulcers; and improved dyspepsia (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013; Thavorn et al., 2014). Turmeric and curcumin have been used in clinical applications as antioxidants to prevent heart disease and slow down aging (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013).
Turmeric and curcumin can protect against cancer and serve as adjunct treatment support to cancer treatments. In a study on 16 smokers, a group of 6 who received turmeric excreted a reduced number of mutagens in their urine (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013). An 18-month long study on 62 patients, who had not responded to surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy to treat ulcerating oral carcinoma or cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma, responded after taking an ointment with 0.5% curcumin. The patients saw a 90% reduction in the smell of their lesions, 10% reduction in size, 70% reduction in itching and exudate, and 50% reduction in pain (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013).
Curcumin proved to be as effective as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) in reducing inflammation and aiding in wound healing. In a study with 50 patients with osteoarthritis, those who received 1,000 mg of Meriva, which contained 200 mg of curcumin, experienced a 58% improvement in symptom scores, increased capacity to walk on a treadmill from 76 to 332 meters, and reduced blood anti-inflammatory markers. The study was repeated on 100 patients with the same results (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013).
Natural Medicines, formerly Natural Standard, provided a Grade C to scientific evidence that turmeric helped prevent blood clots; treated stomach problems such as dyspepsia and peptic ulcer disease; prevented gallstones and stimulated bile flow; reduced low-density lipoproteins or LDL cholesterol levels; treated viral infections; toned and protected the liver; treated rheumatic conditions; and treated chronic skin ulcers and scabies when used topically. Turmeric and curcumin had anti-cancer effects and anti-inflammatory activity; and curcumin improved cognitive function and had activity against HIV (Ulbricht, 2010). A grade C indicates there is unclear or conflicting scientific evidence. Thus, more studies are needed to continue testing the effectiveness of turmeric.
Gale (2014). The Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine, (4th Ed). Farmington Hilla, MI: Gale Cengage Learning.
Hoffman, D. (2003). Medical Herbalism, The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press.
Pizzorno, J. E. & Murray, M. T. (2013). Textbook of Natural Medicine (4th ed.). St. Louis, MO: Churchill Livingstone.
Stargrove, M. B., Treasure, J., & McKee, D. L. (2008). Herb, Nutrient, and Drug Interactions: Clinical Implications and Therapeutic Strategies. St. Louis, MO: Mosby Elsevier.
Thavorn, K., Mamdani, M. M., & Straus, S. E. (2014). Efficacy of turmeric in the treatment of digestive disorders: a systematic review and meta-analysis protocol. Systematic Reviews, 3, 71-77. doi:10.1186/2046-4053-3-71
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Wichtl, M. (Ed.). (2004). Herbal Drugs and Phytopharmaceuticals: A Handbook for the Practice on a Scientific Basis, 3rd ed. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.