In America turmeric is best known as a spice. It is one of the main components of curry powder found in most household pantries. Curcumin is a substance in turmeric and provides the orange-yellow color. In India and other parts of Asia, turmeric is used to treat many health conditions. It is believed to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and some claim it to have anticancer properties.
Curcumin is the principal chemical (a curcuminoid) found in turmeric (Curcuma longa), a member of the ginger family of plants. Some refer to curcumin and cumin as the same. In reality they are different. It is incorrect to mistake curcumin for cumin. Cumin is a spice by itself from a different plant origin and is often a component of curry powder.
Why do people take turmeric? Turmeric is a very common ingredient found in dietary supplements. It is also used in the cosmetics industry and as a food flavoring agent such as turmeric-flavored beverages and as a food additive for orange-yellow coloring.
Medicinal Uses: There are many medical claims for both turmeric and for curcumin. However, there are no scientific reports to support the many claims despite many ongoing efforts in both the laboratory and the clinical studies. Curcumin is a diifficult chemical to study because it is both unstable and not bioavailable (not absorbed) in humans. It is unlikely to become useful as a medication.
Marketing: Turmeric and curcumin are both promoted to all segments of our population and with all sorts of media coverage. There are many medical claims for both turmeric as well as curcumin, however, demonstrated medical use is lacking for both. Science evidence is missing and claims are unsubstantiated. Some claim to help healthy joints, improve circulation, protect from osteoporosis, protect brain cells, maintain a healthy liver, provide a healthy inflammatory response and others. Turmeric (curcumin) benefits from a large market in North America where the sales exceeded U.S. $20 million in 2014.
Recommendation: Be a wise consumer and choose a known reliable product from a healthful source. There are many to choose from. Ask the pharmacist or your care provider for assistance. Choose the best product and leave the rest. Always read the label.
Keith Miller, Pharm.D.