Turmeric and Curcumin: Overview and Health Benefits
Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, is known for its medicinal properties — touted in recent years for providing a range of health benefits. This overview of turmeric and curcumin details findings from research regarding the substance’s effects on the mind and body.
Turmeric is a cooking staple in many cultures and even a medicinal ingredient in some. In recent years, the spice has gained worldwide popularity as a nutritional supplement with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, among other health benefits derived from its main active ingredient, curcumin — a bright yellow compound.
Research on turmeric and curcumin’s effect on symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD) is scarce. But a growing number of studies reveal other possible health benefits, ranging from improved cognitive functioning to therapeutic effects on chronic conditions ranging from heart disease and cancer to Alzheimer’s disease. 1 2
Turmeric and Curcumin: Health Benefits
Despite increased interest in the health benefits of turmeric and curcumin, the ginger plant from which they are derived has been used in Indian and Eastern Asian medical systems for thousands of years. Findings from clinical studies substantiate these traditional uses, showing that curcumin possesses anti-inflammatory, hypoglycemic, antioxidant, wound-healing, antimicrobial, and possible neuroprotective properties. 4 1
Curcumin for Mood and Mind
Preliminary research shows that curcumin may improve cognitive functioning. In one small study that examined the effects of a curcumin formulation (400 mg once daily) on healthy adults aged 60 to 85, participants showed improved performance on sustained attention and working memory tasks one hour after administration (compared to placebo).5 Working memory and mood also fared significantly better in participants following four weeks of steady administration.
Another small study found that a daily oral curcumin supplement (Theracurmin, 90 mg dose delivered twice daily) improves memory, attention, and mood.1 The 40 participants in the 18-month study were between the ages of 51 to 84, and randomized to receive curcumin or placebo. Compared to the placebo, the curcumin group improved in several measures of memory, including long-term retrieval and visual memory. The curcumin group also showed significant improvement in depression screener scores compared to the placebo group.
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Other studies suggest that curcumin may have anti-anxiety and anti-depressant effects.6 7 According to one review, available research suggests a small, non-significant benefit of curcumin for major depression, but more research is needed to better understand this benefit.8
Curcumin for Body
As a natural anti-inflammatory agent, curcumin may have therapeutic effects on a variety of chronic conditions,9 including the following:
- Alzheimer’s disease11
- inflammatory bowel disease12
- metabolic syndrome13
- cancer14 15
- cardiovascular diseases16
Though literature on curcumin is growing, no clear conclusions were reached about turmeric and curcumin’s role in decisively treating or preventing health conditions.17 Curcumin is also challenging to study, given its low bioavailability, among other reasons.15
[Read: 10 Foods (and Supplements and Vitamins!) to Boost Your ADHD Brain]
Turmeric and Curcumin: Forms, Dosage, and Consumption Tips
Turmeric supplements are available in a variety of dosages, and most are advertised as containing 95% curcuminoids. Many turmeric and curcumin supplements also contain piperine, a compound found in black pepper, which is known to increase bioavailability (bloodstream absorption) of the substance.3
Taking turmeric in supplement form may be the best way to reach the elevated curcumin levels that are associated with health benefits. In spice form, black pepper may enhance its benefits.
Curcumin is generally recognized as a safe substance, and there is no recommended turmeric or curcumin dosage established for adults and children. Across supplements, 500 mg, twice a day, is a commonly recommended dosage. One review found that curcumin was safe at 6 g/daily, orally, for 4 to 7 weeks, but stomach upset may occur.18 Curcumin dosages have also varied considerably in studies, but have shown to be safe and tolerable even at doses between 4,000 mg and 8,000 mg/daily.3
In the aforementioned studies on cognition, benefits were associated with 90 mg of curcumin taken twice daily,1 and 400 mg taken daily.5
As with all supplements, the source and quality are important. Choose supplements that are USP certified, indicated by a silver stamp on the label. And be sure to tell your doctor if you’re taking turmeric supplements. Some studies suggest that turmeric ingested in large amounts may interfere with iron absorption.19
Turmeric and Curcumin: Conclusions
Turmeric and its active ingredient curcumin have a variety of properties that may benefit both mind and body. Further studies and clinical trials, however, are needed to validate these substances as effective therapeutic agents for a variety of conditions, including ADHD.
Turmeric and Curcumin: Next Steps
- Free Download: 5 Vitamins and Supplements for ADHD
- Read: What Is Integrative Medicine for ADHD? A Holistic Health & Wellness Guide
- Read: The Big 3 — How Nutrition, Exercise & Sleep Curb ADHD in Children
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2 Gupta, S. C., Patchva, S., & Aggarwal, B. B. (2013). Therapeutic roles of curcumin: lessons learned from clinical trials. The AAPS Journal, 15(1), 195–218. https://doi.org/10.1208/s12248-012-9432-8
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