Now that winter is upon us, what could be more warming than a steaming bowl of curry? Everyone recognises turmeric (the rhizome of Curcuma longa) as the yellow colour in curry powder and using turmeric regularly in cooking can have many health benefits. Other than in cooking, it is easy to take turmeric in capsule form with a little black pepper included, which aids absorption. There has been lots of recent research into turmeric although much of this has been carried out on isolated compounds forming ‘curcumin’ rather then the whole herb.

Turmeric is used in herbal medicine as an anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant and supportive herb for the liver. It is consequently used in a wide variety of conditions such as arthritis, peptic ulcers, skin disease, liver problems and inflammatory bowel disease. Recent trials suggested effectiveness in treatment of osteoarthritis (Chopra et al., 2004) maintaining remission in ulcerative colitis (Hanai et al., 2006) treatment of peptic ulcers (Prucksunand et al., 2001) and research is currently focused on Alzheimers disease (e.g. Baum et al., 2008) (see Alzheimer’s blog for further information).

Turmeric also has anti-cancer activity, via several mechanisms, and has a long history in traditional treatment of cancer. In human trials, for example, curcumin has been found to inhibit and improve effectiveness of chemotherapy in colorectal cancer (Patel and Majumdar, 2009) and breast cancer (Bayet-Robert et al., 2010) and has recently been in the news for research carried out on chemotherapy- resistant cancer cells.

Studies on curcumin indicate that it is poorly absorbed after oral administration, however this is increased with addition of black pepper. There have been few studies on whole turmeric extract, which is safer to use than curcumin and contains many more active constitiuents.


Baum L, Lam CW, Cheung SK, Kwok T, Lui V, Tsoh J, Lam L, Leung V, Hui E, Ng C, Woo J, Chiu HF, Goggins WB, Zee BC, Cheng KF, Fong CY, Wong A, Mok H, Chow MS, Ho PC, Ip SP, Ho CS, Yu XW, Lai CY, Chan MH, Szeto S, Chan IH, Mok V. (2008) ‘Six-month randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind, pilot clinical trial of curcumin in patients with Alzheimer disease.J Clin Psychopharmacol. 28(1):110-3.

Bayet-Robert M, Kwiatkowski F, Leheurteur M, Gachon F, Planchat E, Abrial C, Mouret-Reynier MA, Durando X, Barthomeuf C, Chollet P. (2010) ‘Phase I dose escalation trial of docetaxel plus curcumin in patients with advanced and metastatic breast cancer.Cancer Biol Ther. 9(1):8-14.

Chopra A, Lavin P, Patwardhan B, Chitre D.( 2004) ‘A 32-week randomized, placebo-controlled clinical evaluation of RA-11, an Ayurvedic drug, on osteoarthritis of the knees.J Clin Rheumatol. 10(5):236-45.

Hanai H, Iida T, Takeuchi K, Watanabe F, Maruyama Y, Andoh A, Tsujikawa T, Fujiyama Y, Mitsuyama K, Sata M, Yamada M, Iwaoka Y, Kanke K, Hiraishi H, Hirayama K, Arai H, Yoshii S, Uchijima M, Nagata T, Koide Y.(2006) ‘Curcumin maintenance therapy for ulcerative colitis: randomized, multicenter, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial.Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 4(12):1502-6.

Patel BB, Majumdar AP. (2009) ‘Synergistic role of curcumin with current therapeutics in colorectal cancer: minireview.Nutr Cancer. 61(6):842-6.

Prucksunand C, Indrasukhsri B, Leethochawalit M, Hungspreugs K. (2001) ‘Phase II clinical trial on effect of the long turmeric (Curcuma longa Linn) on healing of peptic ulcer.’ Southeast Asian J Trop Med Public Health. 32(1):208-15.