Tumeric (Curcuma longa) is a spice from the same family (Zingiberaceae) as ginger that originated from Southern Asia. As such, it is a popular choice in related cuisine, giving it a pleasant golden-yellow color (commonly associated with curry), but it is also used for dyeing.
Unfortunately, it is also used for dying as alternative medicine woo-meisters including Dr. Oz, Joseph Mercola, and NaturalNews seized upon it as a wonder herb panacea and superfood, due to its appeal as ancient medicine for centuries as Ayurvedic medicine. As such, turmeric has gotten popular to the point of being ubiquitous on store shelves. As medicine, turmeric can be used for pretty much anything. Traditionally, it is used to treat a range of ailments from stomach problems to the common cold and even disinfecting skin wounds, but today, in addition, it is claimed to treat cancer, Alzheimer’s, arthritis, and diabetes; prevent aging, treat depression, boost brain function, lose weight, aid in sleep; and it can be a somehow superior replacement for many drugs including oxaliplatin (a chemotherapy drug), steroids, pain-killers, and anti-coagulants such as aspirin.
Turmeric is composed of chemical compounds called curcuminoids, which include curcumin (diferuloylmethane) (which turmeric has most of), demethoxycurcumin, and bisdemethoxycurcumin. Curcumin is an antioxidant and is the chemical the alt-meddlers really love. Thus, turmeric is also sold in capsule form as a dietary supplement as an aid for digestive problems and inflammation. Curcumin has been used in in vitro research showing some effects including reducing inflammation, programming cancer cells to die (apoptosis) and may reduce amyloid plague, which likely plays a role in causing Alzheimer's.
Of course, turmeric is also found in
yellow corn syrup mustard sauce, but if most people were aware that it was no longer "exotic" it couldn't be marketed as a superfood or whatnot.
In a 1972 study, however, curcumin has been shown to lower blood glucose, one of the first effects observed from curcumin. The effect is stronger if insulin is present. In rats with diabetes, it can also inhibit inflammation and improve insulin resistance due to the anti-inflammation effects. Prediabestic populations that take curcumin supplements for nine months and lowered the chance of developing diabetes compared to the control group.
Not only is turmeric likely useless as a medicine, there are cases where turmeric substituted as medicine can kill. In one case, curcumin (though reported as turmeric) was used as part of an IV solution, and it killed the patient due to a bad reaction. In Scandinavia, tainted turmeric capsules manufactured by a California-based company were responsible for liver damage that led to some deaths.
Curcumin is not useful as a drug, however, since the body cannot effectively absorb it due to its fatty properties, making it insoluble in water. At higher doses, in animal studies, mice can develop liver toxicity while curcumin may cause nausea and diarrhea.
In 2017, a woman died after receiving an overdose of turmeric by IV infusion.
Curcumin, derived from turmeric, is listed as one of the ingredients in 187 Fake Cancer "Cures" Consumers Should Avoid.
Turmeric is ritualistically applied to the face of a bride as part of Bengali marriage ceremonies (see Gaye holud) and was traditionally used on the Indian subcontinent as a temporary skin dye for obtaining a golden complexion. For this reason, turmeric is promoted by naturopathic clickbait and mommy blogs as being useful for acne, dark spots, facial hair removal, sun protection, anti-aging and skin brightening. There is insufficient evidence that it does any of this, but your DIY turmeric facemask might dye your hairline bright yellow.
- Hall, H. (June 17, 2014). Turmeric: Tasty in Curry, Questionable as Medicine. Science-Based Medicine. Retrieved April 3, 2017.
- Mercola. Turmeric: How This Spice Can Potentially Improve Your Health. Retrieved April 3, 2017
- Heid, M. (August 5, 2015). You Asked: Should I Take Turmeric Supplements?. Time. Retrieved April 3, 2017.
- Turmeric. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Last updated December 16, 2016. Retrieved April 3. 2017. Note that even National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health isn't that impressed.
- Srinivasan M Effect of curcumin on blood sugar as seen in a diabetic subject. Indian J Med Sci. (1972). Retrieved April 19, 2017
- Chuengsamarn S, et al Curcumin extract for prevention of type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care. (2012). Retrieved April 19, 2017.
- Ash, A. (March 23, 2017). San Diego woman dead after turmeric IV infusion. ABC10 News. Retrieved April 3, 2017.
- Sharling, S. (March 23, 2009). Tainted turmeric supplements linked to Scandinavian deaths. Nutra Ingredients. Retrieved April 3, 2017.
- Orac. (March 23, 2017). An as yet unidentified "holistic" practitioner negligently kills a young woman with IV turmeric (yes, intravenous). Respectful Insolence. Retrieved April 3, 2017.
- P.N. Ravindran; K. Nirmal Babu; K. Sivaraman. (2007) Turmeric: The genus Curcuma. Taylor and Francis Group. Retrieved May 3, 2017.
- The Honey-Turmeric Face Mask That May Replace All Your Skincare Products. (2016). Healthy Holistic Living. Retrieved May 3, 2017.
- Turmeric Face Mask The Dermatology Review. Retrieved May 3, 2017.
- Telfer, T. (November 7, 2013). This Turmeric Face Mask is Anti-Inflammatory, Anti-Aging, and the Color of Sunshine. Bustle. Retrieved May 3, 2017.
- Effects of Turmeric (Curcuma longa) on Skin Health: A Systematic Review of the Clinical Evidence. (2016). PubMed. Retrieved May 3, 2017.
- Jenni. (November 11, 2014). Turmeric Yogurt Brigthening Mask. Jenni Raincloud. Retrieved May 3, 2017.