Turmeric is a rhizome spice that has been used for centuries in India and other Asian countries.
It is bright yellow-orange in color and has a slightly metallic tang. “Indian saffron” is also the subject of many thousands of scientific studies.
The reason turmeric is so heavily studied is its broad range of applications as a health food and natural remedy.
It is equally or more effective than many pharmaceuticals in preventing and treating disease—without harmful side effects.
Its main phytochemical, curcumin, is believed to be its most active anti-inflammatory agent—the medicinal properties of this amazing plant, however, are too complex to reduce to one single effective component.
Its entire composition and the ways in which it interacts with other chemicals and processes in the body are what make this spice almost magical in its healing abilities.
Here are 10 pharmaceutical drugs you can replace with turmeric
Sounds too good to be true? Read on!
1. Antidepressants (fluoxetine)
A study published in 2014 separated a group of sixty people diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD) into three groups and gave one group curcumin (turmeric), one group fluoxetine, and one group a combination of the two.
“Interestingly, the mean change in HAM-D17 score [rating depression scale] at the end of six weeks was comparable in all three groups (P = 0.77). This study provides first clinical evidence that curcumin may be used as an effective and safe modality for treatment in patients with MDD without concurrent suicidal ideation or other psychotic disorders. [emphasis added]” (1).
Other studies of pharmaceutical antidepressants have found that they negatively impact all processes in the body that are regulated by the hormone serotonin (2). Among these functions are sleep, mood, appetite, digestion, memory, and sexual desire. Regular use of these drugs has been found to significantly compound the accumulation of plaque in the arteries, leading to heart disease.
2. Anti-inflammatory Drugs
Curcumin and resveratrol (an antioxidant anti-inflammatory found in red-colored foods like grapes) were among the most potent anti-inflammatory and antiproliferative substances tested in one study. In comparison, aspirin and ibuprofen were the least (3).
3. Blood Thinners (ASA, aspirin)
With implications for circulatory and heart conditions, curcumin has been found to be an anticoagulant, preventing blood clots (thrombosis) (4). Unlike aspirin, Turmeric won’t cause ulcers or deterioration of the stomach lining.
4. Cholesterol Medication (Lipitor)
Curcumin has long been known as effective as atorvastatin (trade name: Lipitor) in regulating epithelial dysfunction, the condition in which inner linings of blood vessels are damaged and plaque stick to artery walls, leading to heart disease.
In two 2008 studies, curcumin showed anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects and improvement of epithelial function as well as reducing low-density lipoprotein (LDL, “bad”) and overall cholesterol levels (5, 6).
This is a very good thing, as statin medications such as Lipitor have been found to create over three hundred adverse reactions in those who take them.
5. Steroid Medication (corticosteroids)
Corticosteroids are prescribed for inflammation-related conditions including skin irritation, asthma, and arthritis. Dexamethasone is a common corticosteroid.
Curcumin has been found to be as effective in reducing inflammation as this toxic chemical (7). It’s interesting to note that dexamethasone was used as the intoxicating factor in another trial of curcumin-related to testicular cancer. That is, researchers used dexamethasone to cause cancer in mice, then treated it with curcumin—successfully (8)!
Corticosteroids are also sometimes used to treat inflammatory bowel disease (IBD, a malady caused by immune system dysfunction). Long-term used of this type of medication is not recommended by physicians because of negative side effects, e.g., diabetes. A comprehensive study of curcumin on IBD concluded:
“Curcumin is a natural compound that reduces the development of chronic experimental colitis and alleviates the inflammatory response whose precise modes of action is still unclear, and it seems likely that its molecular targets differ according to cell and disease system. Several studies have demonstrated the promising role of curcumin as a novel therapy for children and adults with IBD.” (9).
6. Arthritis Medication (Diclofenac Sodium)
A study published in the Journal of Phytotherapy Research examined the effects of turmeric (500 mg) on arthritic patients in comparison to diclofenac sodium (50mg), a popular arthritis drug. The effects of both solutions in combination were also examined.
Research not only found the turmeric-only group had similar to the group and combination groups, they also had better results and experienced no side effects compared to well-known and well-documented risks of diclofenac (10).
Turmeric actually contains 3 major curcuminoids (curcumin, desmethoxycurcumin, and bisdemethoxycurcumin) that have anti-arthritic effects by interrupting the expression of pro-inflammatory cytokines (11).
7. Chemotherapy Drug (Oxaliplatin)
Oxaliplatin is a powerful chemotherapy drug typically used to fight aggressive cancers like colorectal cancer. It’s typically combined with other cancer drugs to improve its efficacy and given to patients intravenously. Common side effects include peripheral neuropathy (numbness triggered by cold), nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, mouth sores, fatigue, loss of appetite, and low blood count (12).
According to a 2007 study published in the International Journal of Cancer, curcumin may be as effective as this drug in treating cancer. It acts as an antiproliferative agent in colorectal cell lines and induces apoptosis in cancerous cells. However, unlike chemotherapy, turmeric has the ability to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy cells so the spice has no harmful side-effects (13).
8. Diabetes Drug (Metformin)
Turmeric doesn’t just modulate inflammatory response, it can also help control blood sugar.
A study published in the scientific journal Biochemistry and Biophysical Research Community found that turmeric has the ability to lower blood glucose levels by improving glucose intake by the liver and suppressing glucose production, therefore preventing the long-term complications of diabetes. Although the results are poorly understood, the researchers who conducted the study believe that these results may be due to the spice’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects (14).
Another study examined its ability to prevent diabetes in prediabetics. The 9-months study involved two groups: one receiving a placebo and another receiving daily turmeric supplementation. They found that that the spice prevented the progression of the disease in all patients in the turmeric group while 16.4% of subjects in the placebo group were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes by the end of the study (15).
9. Pain Killers
Painkillers are one of the worst offenders when it comes to liver damage caused by pharmaceutical drugs.
That’s why it’s promising that researchers have discovered that the active compound in turmeric, curcumin, has analgesic properties, meaning that it can diminish the sensation of pain by triggering a response in the opioid receptors in the brain (16,17).
Unlike pharmaceuticals, turmeric has no potential for addiction, making it an attractive alternative to prescription and over-the-counter pain medication.
10. Burn Ointment
Like honey, turmeric has the ability to heal burns and other surface wounds.
A 2013 study discovered that turmeric paste can improve healing time of burns and reduce pain. Since burns are prone to infection, turmeric’s ability to destroy the cellular membrane of harmful bacteria is also well appreciated in its first aid use (18,19).
Additionally, turmeric has the ability to heal multiple skin conditions, including acne, alopecia, atopic dermatitis, facial photoaging, oral lichen planus, pruritus, psoriasis, radiodermatitis, and vitiligo (20).