Turmeric is widely recommended for myriad diseases, from stomach ulcers and skin infections to eye conditions (such as chronic anterior uveitis). The evidence for it actually working for any of these conditions is mixed. For example, there’s no evidence that turmeric will help heal stomach ulcers but, when it’s applied as a paste, it may well eliminate scabies, an itchy skin condition caused by parasitic mites.
Specifically, turmeric may help to:
Relieve carpal tunnel syndrome, arthritis, and joint inflammation. The anti-inflammatory compounds in turmeric appear to ease inflammation. This makes it possibly useful for relieving the inflammation in wrist and hand joints associated with carpal tunnel syndrome, for example. In India, curcumin is considered a standard anti-inflammatory medication. It appears to be most effective for acute rather than chronic inflammation.
Many sources recommend curcumin for arthritis-related inflammation and pain, but the evidence showing its effectiveness for arthritis is unclear. In a 1980 study published in India, rheumatoid arthritis patients who took 1,200 mg of curcumin a day experienced the same reduction in stiffness and joint swelling as those who took the prescription anti-inflammatory drug phenylbutazone, which can have unpleasant side effects. Unfortunately, the study was flawed because results weren’t compared to a placebo (dummy pill) group.
Ease indigestion, excess gas (flatulence), bloating, and other stomach upset. Reinforcing an ancient use for turmeric, German health authorities have declared turmeric tea a valuable remedy for stomach upset. Laboratory findings back this up: The curcumin in turmeric fights bacteria commonly responsible for infectious diarrhea.
Clinical trials have been somewhat promising for this time-tested use as well. In a widely cited 1989 study, Thai researchers found that 500 mg capsules of curcumin (taken four times daily) was far more effective than a placebo in relieving indigestion. The study involved more than 116 adults at six Thai hospitals. And it was double-blind, meaning that neither the participants nor the researchers were aware of what each participant was taking during the trial. Nearly 90% of the participants taking the turmeric experienced full or partial pain relief after seven days, while only 53% of the group taking the placebo felt better.
Prevent cancer. In its role as an antioxidant, turmeric (presumably meaning the curcumin) inhibits damage to cells and thus helps to prevent cancer. In laboratory and small animal studies, curcumin has been found to hinder the growth of errant cells associated with cancer of the breast, skin, and colon, as well as lymphoma.
In a small but interesting 1992 clinical trial of 16 cigarette smokers, those taking 1.5 grams of turmeric a day for 30 days had a significantly lower level of mutagens (in the urine) than a control group consisting of six nonsmokers. Mutagens are substances that can increase the occurrence of a cancer-causing mutation.