Have you ever scanned the spice aisle shelves only to be caught by a bright yellow powder?
That would be turmeric—a spice native to India and Southeast Asia with a long history of uses in native cuisines and medicine.
It’s been touted as a superstar for everything from inflammation and heart health to cancer prevention, brain function, and mood disorders.
So, what’s this powerful little spice all about?
This article breaks down the details of turmeric supplements—what it is, the health benefits of turmeric root and curcumin extract, how it supports joint health, and the best turmeric supplements for improving joint health and function.
Let’s get started!
What Is Turmeric?
Apart from the fluorescent color that captures your eye, you’d probably never know turmeric was anything more than just another spice rich in flavor—but it is.
Turmeric powder is the primary spice that gives curry powder its rich yellow color; it’s derived from the turmeric root, which resembles ginger root but has a bright yellow interior as opposed to the muted yellow flesh of ginger root.
Before we dive into the details on turmeric, let’s get into the basics. Turmeric is derived from the Curcuma longa plant, a rhizomatous perennial part of the ginger family (hence why it looks similar) 1.
The rhizome, or the tuberous part of the plant, is what’s dried and ground to create turmeric. If you’ve ever tasted turmeric on its own, it offers a bitter and pungent taste but has subtle notes of sweetness.
While most people aren’t keen to consume it straight, it’s wonderful in various cuisines.
But when it comes to why people take turmeric supplements, looking at its composition will give you some idea. With over 100 compounds isolated from turmeric, there’s one we tend to hear about more than others: curcumin.
While the plant contains many essential oils (turmerones, atlantones, zingiberene) and curcuminoids, including curcumin, many of the benefits of turmeric are attributed this polyphenol with powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. 2.
That's why turmeric supplements have been used for thousands of years in Eastern medicine for ailments ranging from respiratory and liver disorders to rheumatism, diabetic wounds, and sinusitis 1.
Turmeric vs. Curcumin
There’s much confusion between turmeric and curcumin supplements; they’re often referred to as the same, but they’re not.
As mentioned, turmeric is the root of the Curcuma longa plant, which contains more than 100 compounds. Curcumin, however, is just one of those compounds—and one that happens to possess a fair bit of medicinal value.
That said, if you look at the research, both turmeric supplements (or turmeric root extract) and curcumin supplements have been shown to have benefits for many of the same conditions or concerns, including:
- Heart health
- Glucose metabolism
- Liver function
So, whether you choose to take a turmeric supplement or a more potent curcumin supplement largely depends on the conditions you’re taking it for.
Central Mechanisms Of Action For Turmeric And Curcumin
Turmeric’s antioxidant properties and anti-inflammatory properties are the two primary mechanisms of action that put turmeric on the map in the health and wellness space—and they explain many of the benefits for various conditions.
If you’re unfamiliar with antioxidants, they are volatile molecules that are missing an electron on their outer shell, which makes them incredibly volatile.
When free radicals collide with other molecules, they can cause serious damage, leading to DNA damage, protein death, and much more. As such, we want to neutralize free radicals as much as possible to avoid inflammation and entering a state of oxidative stress.
Some studies are showing that turmeric can increase the activities of antioxidants like superoxide dismutase (SOD) and catalase, along with serum concentrations of glutathione peroxidase (GSH) and lipid peroxides 3.
Curcumin’s potent antioxidant effects are carried out by several different mechanisms, including:
- Scavenging various forms of free radicals, including reactive oxygen and nitrogen species (RONS
- Modulating the activity of GSH, catalase, and SOD
- Inhibiting ROS-generating enzymes like lipoxygenase/cyclooxygenase (LOX and COX)
- Scavenging peroxyl radicals (it’s considered a chain-breaking antioxidant)
Turmeric’s ability to reduce inflammation is another reason it’s touted as an effective natural treatment for various health conditions.
Oxidative stress underlines several chronic diseases, and its pathological processes are closely linked to inflammation; oxidative stress can easily be triggered by inflammation and vice versa 4.
It’s been suggested that inflammatory cells release free radicals at the site of inflammation, which can contribute to increasing levels of oxidative stress, showing a clear link between inflammation and oxidative stress.
And because inflammation has been implicated in developing several health issues—Alzheimer’s disease (AD), Parkinson’s disease, MS, epilepsy, cerebral injury, CVD, metabolic syndrome, cancer, etc.—turmeric’s anti-inflammatory properties may provide an adjuvant treatment route.
Without getting too much into the details, tumor necrosis factor α (TNF-α) is the primary mediator of inflammation in most diseases; this mediation effect is regulated by the activation of a transcription factor called nuclear factor (NF)-κB.
While TNF-α may be the most potent NF-κB activator, it can also be activated by inflammatory cytokines, gram-negative bacteria, certain viruses, environmental pollutants, stress, UV radiation, and much more.
As such, any compounds that can downregulate NF-κB and NF-κB–regulated gene products have serious potential to fight these diseases 5.
And guess what? Curcumin shows much promise.
Evidence shows that curcumin can block NF-κB activation and suppress inflammation via several mechanisms beyond the scope of what we’re covering here, all of which still support its vast potential as an anti-inflammatory agent.
Also Read: Turmeric Dosage for Inflammation
Health Benefits Of Turmeric
Improves cardiovascular health
Your cardiovascular system works day in and day out to keep you healthy and functioning, and while there seems to be no end to the number of things that can harm it, curcumin isn’t one.
As a polyphenol with potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, studies show that curcumin and turmeric may protect the cardiovascular system; it also possesses anti-carcinogenic, anti-thrombotic, and anti-proliferative properties.
Studies have shown that curcumin can modulate several signaling pathways involved in cellular growth, proliferation, survival, inflammation, and oxidative stress 6.
It’s had beneficial effects on several diseases, including cardiac hypertrophy, atherosclerosis, heart failure, myocardial infarction, aortic aneurysm, stroke, and diabetic cardiovascular complications.
Some of the beneficial actions of curcumin for cardiovascular health include:
- Reducing apoptosis
- Decreasing cholesterol accumulation
- Improving endothelial function
- Improving mitochondrial function
- Decreasing cardiac fibrosis
- Enhances muscle recovery
Muscle soreness is typically the reward for a job well done at the gym, but prolonged soreness, AKA delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS), can interfere with training and decrease performance.
Although there are many supplements and strategies to combat muscle soreness and DOMS, turmeric might be a good one to consider.
While inflammation was previously thought to be detrimental to recovery from exercise, it’s not widely accepted that the inflammatory responses, if tightly regulated, are essential for the proper repair and regeneration of muscle tissue7.
However, when these responses become excessive or the inflammation doesn’t dissipate, it can damage tissue. In that case, an anti-inflammatory supplement can help mitigate inflammation and allow the repair process to continue.A study of 28 healthy untrained subjects assigned them to two groups: one received either curcumin (400 mg/day) for two days before and four days after muscle-soreness inducing eccentric exercise, and the other received a placebo 8. Results showed that the group consuming curcumin had substantially smaller increases in creatine kinase (CK), TNF-α, and IL-8 after resistance training than the other group.
Researchers concluded that curcumin could cause biological inflammation associated with muscle damage, facilitating and accelerating recovery and improving subsequent performance.
Boosts brain health
Science has long thought that once brain cells matured, they could not grow and divide.
They’ve since found that’s not the case, and neurons are, in fact, capable of forming new connections and multiplying in some regions of the brain.
One of the main drivers of neurogenesis is something called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF); it is a gene involved in creating a protein that’s responsible for promoting the life of neurons 9.
As such, BDNF plays a vital role in memory and learning but is also found in brain regions linked to eating, drinking, and weight regulation.
However, several chronic diseases have been linked to low levels of BDNF, such as depression and Alzheimer’s disease, but there may be hope 10.
Studies find that curcumin may have positive effects on levels of BDNF. One study found that curcumin supplementation can stimulate developmental and adult hippocampal neurogenesis and specific biological activity that can improve neural plasticity and repair 11.
By increasing levels of BDNF, curcumin may be effective in delaying or reversing several brain diseases and age-related cognitive impairments.
However, more studies are needed to confirm these effects.
We’ll talk more about this in a minute when we get to the beneficial effects of turmeric supplements or turmeric powder on joint health, but it’s one supplement that’s shown great promise for the pain and stiffness associated with arthritis.
Arthritis is a pervasive disease that’s highly prevalent in Western countries, characterized by pain and stiffness of the joints due to inflammation.
Since turmeric is such a powerful anti-inflammatory, it only makes sense that it may help combat symptoms of arthritis—and studies back it up.
One study found that in people with RA, curcumin supplements were more effective for reducing symptoms than the anti-inflammatory drug, while other studies have noted similar results in improving symptoms 12, 13.
Turmeric And Joint Health
With all of that said, there’s one place curcumin and turmeric supplements consistently show positive results: joint health.
Joint pain and stiffness are common complaints that occur with aging, but they can also result from exercise, health conditions, food sensitivities, and more. So, could throwing in some turmeric help?Most studies look at the effects of turmeric on arthritis—a (sometimes) degenerative joint condition that causes severe pain, stiffness, and swelling.Since chronic inflammation is a central characteristic of all types of arthritis, turmeric’s anti-inflammatory and anti-arthritic effects have shown benefits for people with osteo- and rheumatoid arthritis 3.Several studies show significant improvements in pain and physical function, along with decreases in systemic oxidative stress. However, it’s suggested that the beneficial effects of turmeric supplements on OA are likely due to local anti-inflammatory effects rather than systemic effects.Animal studies also show positive results before and after the onset of rheumatoid arthritis. One study found that turmeric supplements profoundly inhibited joint inflammation and periarticular joint destruction, preventing local activation of NF-kB, a major mediator of inflammation 14, 15.
While turmeric supplements have shown much potential for reducing symptoms of arthritis, it’s important to note that turmeric powder typically only contains small amounts of the active compound responsible for many of these benefits.
As such, opting for a more concentrated curcumin supplement may be better suited for improving arthritic symptoms and overall joint health.
Other Supplements For Joint Health Benefits
Turmeric supplements and curcumin may have a significant backing of research for improving various conditions, including joint health, but they’re not the only ones.
Boswellia serrata is a large branching tree native to India, Northern Africa, and the Middle East that, like turmeric, has been used for centuries in folk medicine for its antiseptic, antiarthritic, and anti-inflammatory effects 16.
Many clinical trials show that Boswellia offers potent anti-inflammatory and anti-arthritis effects and improves pain and physical function for people with joint disorders 17.
Glucosamine & Chondroitin
Glucosamine and chondroitin are staples for joint health.
Glucosamine is an amino sugar naturally found in tissues that surround, cushion, and support the joints (cartilage, ligaments, tendons, and synovial fluids).
It helps to support the proteins used to form connective tissues, chondrocyte cells within joints that repair and regenerate cartilage, and synovial fluid that lubricates the joints for a smooth, comfortable range of motion.
Chondroitin, on the other hand, is a complex of large molecules that weave through the extracellular matrix of cartilage.
Because of its strong negative charge, it attracts and retains water to maintain proper hydration for lubricated, shock-absorbing cartilage, support healthy collagen production for stronger, more mobile joints, and promote chondrocyte cells for cartilage growth and repair.
A critical structural nutrient required for the formation and maintenance of collagen, glucosamine, chondroitin, and other proteins that make up cartilage and connective tissues.
Best Turmeric Supplement For Joint Health: Performance Lab Flex
If you’re looking for maximum joint health benefits without having to pop 13 pills a day, we have your solution: Performance Lab Flex.
It’s a turmeric-containing joint health supplement designed for active joint demands. And because not all turmeric supplements and dietary supplements are created equal, you have to be careful about what you choose.
Flex soothes achy and stiff joints with the most powerful natural ingredients backed by science—AprèsFlex® Boswellia serrata and CurcuWIN® curcumin, Phytodroitin™, NutriGenesis® strontium, OptiMSM®, and corn glucosamine.
They're supplied in advanced forms and optimal dosages to enhance absorption and effectiveness to target peak flexibility, resilience, and comfort across all activities.
- Prasad S, Aggarwal BB. Turmeric, the Golden Spice: From Traditional Medicine to Modern Medicine. In: Benzie IFF, Wachtel-Galor S, editors. Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd edition. Boca Raton (FL): CRC Press/Taylor & Francis; 2011. Chapter 13. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92752/
- Sharma RA, Gescher AJ, Steward WP. Curcumin: the story so far. Eur J Cancer. 2005;41(13):1955-1968.
- Hewlings SJ, Kalman DS. Curcumin: A Review of Its Effects on Human Health. Foods. 2017;6(10):92.
- Biswas SK. Does the Interdependence between Oxidative Stress and Inflammation Explain the Antioxidant Paradox?. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2016;2016:5698931.
- Panahi Y, Hosseini MS, Khalili N, et al. Effects of curcumin on serum cytokine concentrations in subjects with metabolic syndrome: A post-hoc analysis of a randomized controlled trial. Biomed Pharmacother. 2016;82:578-582.
- Li H, Sureda A, Devkota HP, et al. Curcumin, the golden spice in treating cardiovascular diseases. Biotechnol Adv. 2020;38:107343.
- Peake JM, Neubauer O, Della Gatta PA, Nosaka K. Muscle damage and inflammation during recovery from exercise. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2017;122(3):559-570.
- McFarlin BK, Venable AS, Henning AL, et al. Reduced inflammatory and muscle damage biomarkers following oral supplementation with bioavailable curcumin. BBA Clin. 2016;5:72-78.
- Miranda M, Morici JF, Zanoni MB, Bekinschtein P. Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor: A Key Molecule for Memory in the Healthy and the Pathological Brain. Front Cell Neurosci. 2019;13:363.
- Ng TKS, Ho CSH, Tam WWS, Kua EH, Ho RC. Decreased Serum Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) Levels in Patients with Alzheimer's Disease (AD): A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Int J Mol Sci. 2019;20(2):257.
- Kim SJ, Son TG, Park HR, et al. Curcumin stimulates proliferation of embryonic neural progenitor cells and neurogenesis in the adult hippocampus. J Biol Chem. 2008;283(21):14497-14505.
- Chandran B, Goel A. A randomized, pilot study to assess the efficacy and safety of curcumin in patients with active rheumatoid arthritis. Phytother Res. 2012;26(11):1719-1725.
- Belcaro G, Cesarone MR, Dugall M, et al. Product-evaluation registry of Meriva®, a curcumin-phosphatidylcholine complex, for the complementary management of osteoarthritis. Panminerva Med. 2010;52(2 Suppl 1):55-62.
- Funk JL, Frye JB, Oyarzo JN, et al. Efficacy and mechanism of action of turmeric supplements in the treatment of experimental arthritis. Arthritis Rheum. 2006;54(11):3452-3464.
- Funk JL, Oyarzo JN, Frye JB, et al. Turmeric extracts containing curcuminoids prevent experimental rheumatoid arthritis. J Nat Prod. 2006;69(3):351-355.
- Siddiqui MZ. Boswellia serrata, a potential antiinflammatory agent: an overview. Indian J Pharm Sci. 2011;73(3):255-261.
- Yu G, Xiang W, Zhang T, Zeng L, Yang K, Li J. Effectiveness of Boswellia and Boswellia extract for osteoarthritis patients: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Complement Med Ther. 2020;20(1):225