Using Turmeric As Anti-Inflammatory

Woman holding turmeric latte.jpg

Have you heard the buzz around turmeric? A relatively new health trend, this spice is praised for its ability to reduce inflammation. But, when it comes to using turmeric as an anti-inflammatory, UnityPoint Health Dietitian Krista Kohls, RDN, CD, explains what you should keep in mind before you hop on the turmeric train.  

Using Turmeric As An Anti-Inflammatory

Turmeric is a spice that comes from the root of the turmeric plant. While it’s related to ginger, Kohls describes turmeric as having a warm, pungent and bitter taste.

“Curcumin, a substance in turmeric, may help reduce inflammation in the body, so it’s been sold widely as a supplement,” Kohls says. “It’s also been touted as an antioxidant. Turmeric has also been applied to the skin for pain or swelling, and the essential oil can be used in perfume.”

The supplement form of turmeric usually contains more of the spice than what is used in cooking, and Kohls says high levels of turmeric are what reportedly help inflammation, as well as other conditions:

  • Arthritis
  • Heartburn
  • Joint pain
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Kidney problems
  • Alzheimer’s disease

“Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of studies to back up the effectiveness of turmeric. According to the Natural Medicines Database (NMD), turmeric could be possibly effective for high cholesterol, osteoarthritis and itching, while it’s possibly ineffective for stomach ulcers. For everything else, there’s not enough evidence to support effectiveness,” Kohls says.

So, is turmeric an effective anti-inflammatory? Kohls says it’s unclear. But, NMD reports suggest some have seen success consuming the following amounts of turmeric with associated conditions:

  • For high cholesterol, 1.4 grams of turmeric extract in two divided doses daily for three months
  • For osteoarthritis, 500 milligrams two-four times daily for four to 12 weeks
  • For itching, 1500 milligrams of turmeric in three divided doses daily for 8 weeks

“Medicinal amounts of turmeric from supplements should be avoided by children and pregnant women, and there’s not enough information to rate the safety of medicinal amounts of turmeric during breastfeeding,” Kohls says.

She advises talking with your provider before taking a turmeric supplement, especially if you have pre-existing conditions (such as gallbladder problems, diabetes, certain types of cancers, etc.), as there have been reports of warnings. Supplements may also interfere with some medications.

“With more chronic diseases being linked to inflammation, anything quoted as possibly anti-inflammatory seems to be getting a lot of attention. It seems our society is always looking for the next magical pill, but unfortunately we'll be looking forever,” Kohls says.

Recipes Using Turmeric

While turmeric supplements should be approached with caution, naturally adding turmeric in spice form to your diet doesn’t carry the risk, and instead, is based on your taste preference.

“Turmeric is used to flavor Indian curry powder, mustards and even some cheeses and butters. If you cook regularly with Indian curry, then you might not realize you already have turmeric in your diet,” Kohls says.

Personally, Kohls’ favorite way to enjoy turmeric is in curries, but if curry isn’t your thing, she offers the following recipe suggestions:

  • Sprinkle on chicken, fish and/or vegetables. Turmeric provides wonderful flavor to almost any dish, even chicken salad and baked garbanzo beans. Throw in turmeric with your other favorite seasoning combinations with bay leaf, thyme, cumin or garlic.
  • Use in marinade or lentils. If you love mixing new marinades, try turmeric with your next batch. Or, add turmeric to lentils, along with other preferred spices.
  • Try it in tea. While Kohls hasn’t had it herself, she says turmeric tea, sometimes called “golden milk,” is quite popular. Some turmeric tea recipes involve milk and additional spices, and others are similar to traditional tea.

Kohls recommends checking out your local grocery store and/or spice shop, if you’re ready to start cooking with turmeric as a spice.

“Overall, the best way to include turmeric as a spice is part of a more plant-based diet. If you’re looking to add a turmeric supplement, talk to your health care provider. He/she can see if the supplement you’re considering interact with any of your medications or pre-existing conditions.” Kohls says.