Bold health claims have been made for the power of turmeric. Is there anything in them, asks Michael Mosley.
Turmeric is a spice which in its raw form looks a bit like ginger root, but when it’s ground down you get a distinctive yellowy orange powder that’s very popular in South Asian cuisine. Until recently the place you would most likely encounter turmeric would be in chicken tikka masala, one of Britain’s most popular dishes.
These days, thanks to claims that it can improve everything from allergies to depression, it’s become incredibly trendy, not just cooked and sprinkled on food but added to drinks like tea. Turmeric latte anyone?
Now I’m usually very cynical about such claims, but in the case of turmeric I thought there could be something to it. There are at least 200 different compounds in turmeric, but there’s one that scientists are particularly interested in. It gives this spice its colour. It’s called curcumin.
Thousands of scientific papers have been published looking at turmeric and curcumin in the laboratory – some with promising results. But they’ve mainly been done in mice, using unrealistically high doses. There have been few experiments done in the real world, on humans.