aromatic ingredients
Azurita/iStock/Getty Images

Turmeric is a spice commonly used in Indian and Asian cuisines. It is produced from the dried underground stem, or rhizome, of the Curcuma longa plant, a relative of the ginger plant. Turmeric is bright yellow and gives color to traditional Indian dishes. It is also a common component of several Asian herbal medicines, including traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda, the herbal medicine of India.

Curcumin: The Active Ingredient in Turmeric

Ground Turmeric
Fudio/iStock/Getty Images

The active agents in turmeric that make it useful for herbal medicine are called curcuminoids. The major member of this group is curcumin, a natural compound isolated from turmeric. The chemical properties of curcumin allow it to remove free radicals from the body and prevent DNA damage to cells, according to the Linus Pauling Institute. Curcumin may inhibit certain inflammatory enzymes and it may also support production of natural antioxidants by the body's cells.

Common Uses for Turmeric

joloei/iStock/Getty Images

Turmeric has a number of uses in Ayurvedic and Chinese herbal medicine, including as an aid for digestive problems, to support liver function, to relieve inflammation from arthritis and to help suppress pain from many sources. It is also applied topically to treat eczema, wounds and other skin problems. Turmeric is used as a preventive for certain types of cancer or to slow the growth of cancerous tumors.

The Evidence for Turmeric

eskaylim/iStock/Getty Images

Several lines of evidence suggest that curcumin, the active agent in turmeric, may be an anti-inflammatory agent and may also prevent or suppress cancer. The Linus Pauling Institute indicates that curcumin inhibits production of factors in cells that cause inflammation. Curcumin may also help the body eliminate potential carcinogens and prevent cancer cells from invading healthy tissue. The spice also seems to induce cancer cells cultured in the laboratory to stop growing and to die.

How to Take Turmeric

Handful of turmeric capsules with one spilled out
Sophie James/iStock/Getty Images

For gastric upset, studies have used a dose of 500 milligrams three or four times daily, reports MedlinePlus. The same dose has been used twice daily for osteoarthritis. You may also sprinkle the fine powder liberally on food at each meal. Curcumin extracts are available from health food stores in capsule form, usually at 600 to 800 milligram of curcumin per capsule. The usual dosage is one capsule two or three times daily. Choose a source that provides curcumin as a standardized extract to minimize differences between batches, and discuss consuming turmeric or curcumin with a doctor before adding it to your regimen.

Turmeric Safety

Doctor Giving an Explanation About the Medicine Given to a Male Patient
Digital Vision./Photodisc/Getty Images

Turmeric is generally considered safe and is not associated with any serious side effects. The Linus Pauling Institute reports that single oral doses of curcumin as high as 12 grams caused no adverse effects. However, curcumin may interact with some prescription drugs, including blood thinners. Discuss use of turmeric or curcumin with a doctor before combining it with any drug therapy.