Turmeric Isn’t The Cure-All We All Thought It Was

Photographed by Erin Yamagata.
While turmeric might be the superfood du jour, appearing in everything from skin-care products to smoothies, scientists are out to debunk everyone's claims that it's a wonder cure-all. Earlier this week, researchers compiled the most comprehensive review of turmeric yet and found "no evidence it has any specific therapeutic benefits." Published in the journal Nature, the data, which was collected from 120 clinical trials and "thousands of research papers," focused on curcumin, the main chemical component in turmeric. After looking through what researchers called "muddled" research, they found no evidence that curcumin had any beneficial effects. Michael Walters, PhD, a medicinal chemist at the University of Minnesota at Minneapolis and the lead author on the study, told Nature, "Curcumin is a cautionary tale." That's because curcumin has misled some researchers by suggesting that it had some sort of therapeutic effect. That led to research exploring curcumin use in everything from treating asthma to erectile dysfunction. But don't lose hope yet. Turmeric is a complex ingredient and researchers aren't ready to give up on it just yet. Guido Pauli, PhD, a researcher at the University of Illinois at Chicago, told Nature that turmeric contains many other complex chemical compounds that are worthy of additional research. Bill Zeucher, PhD, a chemical biologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, added, “It may very well be the case that curcumin or turmeric extracts do have beneficial effects, but getting to the bottom of that is complex and might be impossible.”

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