Turmeric is the spice responsible for the yellow color in curry, and in American mustard. It is in the same botanical family as ginger (which you might be able to tell visually, if you’ve ever purchased both at the grocery store), and its most biologically active component is curcumin.

Health Benefits of Curcumin

Curcumin is really, really good for you. Here’s some of the highlights:

  • Blocks histamine release. As previously mentioned, curcumin stabilizes mast cells (those cells that have histamine granules inside of them, and break open when they encounter an allergen). If you suffer from allergies, this is a good time of year to start thinking about this. 
  • Highly anti-inflammatory. Curcumin inhibits inflammatory mediators, including cytokines and various other chemicals involved in the inflammatory process. 
  • Inhibits gas and bloating. Curcumin blocks formation of gas and calms intestinal spasms.
  • Liver protective. Curcumin encourages the formation of bile from cholesterol (the parent compound), simulates bile flow, and protects liver cells. It also increases activity of some of the Phase 2 Detoxification enzymes: in other words, it helps rid your body of toxins.
  • Antioxidant. Curcumin protects against oxidative DNA damage by quenching reactive oxygen species (ROS) and reactive nitrogen species. It also increases the expression (or production) of an enzyme responsible for producing glutathione, the most powerful antioxidant in the body.
  • Memory Support. In this study, curcumin was found to inhibit formation of Aβ fibrils, some of the structures in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s Disease. In this study, it was found to decrease amyloid plaque formation, also highly correlated with Alzheimer’s.
  • Cardiovascular support. Curcumin lowers total cholesterol and LDL numbers, decreases clot formation, and helps increase HDL (the “good” cholesterol).

How to Get Curcumin’s Benefits

Here’s the down side: according to this study, it’s not very bioavailable in food (meaning you don’t absorb much of it). Studies do show that you absorb more of it from your food if you pair it with black pepper (or piperine), though. If you choose to take curcumin as a supplement, it’s even better to take one complexed with phospholipid, as these are very well absorbed. (The one I like is called Meriva — this is a proprietary blend included in multiple brands of curcumin. Just look for it on the ingredient label.)

A few cautions: Be careful with higher curcumin dosing if you have active inflammation in your gut or an ulcer, as it can exacerbate the problem. Allergies to curcumin are rare but they do happen, so notice if it tends to make you feel worse. Also, the jury’s out on whether or not it’s safe in pregnancy, so better to avoid it.