This time, however, there’s plenty of research to back up the health claims and it could be here to stay, according to the experts. The reason?
Turmeric’s active ingredient curcumin, is thought to be a powerful anti-inflammatory antioxidant and has been used in India for thousands of years in culinary and healing methods. In the early 1970s, researchers first uncovered the science behind its benefits. Read on for the conditions it might help plus the expert opinion as to why this yellow wonder could be one of the healthiest ways to add flavour - and colour - to home-cooked meals.
“Curcumin lowers inflammation by reducing formation of inflammatory substances,” says GP and medical nutritionist Dr Sarah Brewer. “Like aspirin, it helps to reduce abnormal blood clotting. Unlike aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), however, far from causing peptic ulcers, turmeric has been used to successfully treat gastric and duodenal ulcers, gastric erosions, gastritis and dyspepsia,” she adds.
A small study in Thailand in 2012 found turmeric may help lower the risk of type 2 diabetes. It found that over nine months, a daily dose of a supplement containing curcumin seemed to prevent new cases of type 2 diabetes among certain people at risk.
Osteoarthritis affects more than eight million people in the UK. A recent clinical trial divided randomised osteoarthritis sufferers into two groups: those who took ibuprofen and those who took turmeric. The trial results showed that the turmeric extract was just as effective as the ibuprofen for reducing pain.
Taking a combination of three traditional herbal medicines, devil’s claw, turmeric and bromelain also significantly improved joint health in people with osteoarthritis in the spine, hips or knees, according to a study published in Alternative Therapy. Most importantly, study participants all reported a significant reduction in pain.
Researchers in Austria and the US have suggested that curcumin may help protect liver health and may even delay the onset of cirrhosis.
Their work builds upon previous research, which has also indicated that its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties may be helpful in combating liver disease.
A study published in Alternative Complementary Medicine involving over 200 people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) found that taking turmeric every day reduced pain by more than half. “Turmeric also stimulates bile production and improves digestion to relieve abdominal bloating,” Dr Brewer adds.
A recent headline in the Daily Mail stated that a “curry a week could prevent dementia”. This may currently be a claim too far but the study from which the headline emanated showed that turmeric protects against memory loss in old age. This preliminary evidence suggests that curry may be associated with improved cognitive performance; however, additional research is necessary. “But there is evidence that it may help protect the brain,” says nutritional therapist Martina Watts, “especially if taken alongside vitamin D.”
When combined with cinnamon, turmeric may help protect us from the physical damage caused by fatty meals, say scientists. A team from Penn State University found that the blend could reduce the stress that high-fat foods can place on the heart.