Turmeric is among the trendiest health ingredients out there. Influencers are now blending raw or powdered turmeric, an ingredient long reputed to have medicinal properties, into smoothies and lattes and all manner of other recipes. Curcumin, turmeric’s signature component, has a gorgeous yellow color and several positive health effects; it’s also popular as a supplement.
Some people claim that turmeric and curcumin have special benefits for people with diabetes. Should you add turmeric or curcumin to your regimen?
At Diabetes Daily, we trust the science, and we also trust the experiences of people in the diabetes community. This article will outline what we know about turmeric and curcumin, and will explore whether real people with diabetes find these trendy supplements helpful.
What are Turmeric and Curcumin?
Turmeric is a root that’s been used in cooking for millennia. It’s a little knob that looks like ginger, to which it is related, and has a brilliant deep yellow-orange color. Turmeric imbues a rich color and subtle earthy flavor to recipes. Think about the characteristic hue of curry powder: That’s mostly turmeric.
You can purchase turmeric as a raw root, as a powder, as a pill, or in several other forms besides, such as gummies. It’s a traditional ingredient in many Indian dishes.
Curcumin is the chemical that gives turmeric its color; it’s a major component of any recipe, pill, or extract that uses turmeric. While it only makes up a small percentage of turmeric’s total volume, curcumin is it the focus of most of the attention turmeric gets as a natural medicine. It is also possible to buy isolated curcumin for use as a supplement.
The Reported Health Benefits of Turmeric and Curcumin
Let’s briefly review some of the major health benefits that are commonly ascribed to turmeric and curcumin:
Ease arthritis pain. At least one study found that curcumin can ease osteoarthritis pain, though a Harvard Medical School doctor cautions that more study is needed.
Reduce inflammation. Curcumin “has good anti-inflammatory properties,” according to a 2021 review.
Fight cancer. The National Cancer Institute reports that several “promising” early-phase trials have suggested that turmeric and curcumin can play a role in cancer therapy, but that “evidence is currently inadequate to recommend curcumin-containing products to be used as adjuncts for the treatment of cancer.”
Alleviate depression. Anti-inflammatories like turmeric can help improve your mood, and some trials of turmeric and curcumin have been encouraging, though Everyday Health concluded that much more study is needed before either substance can be recommended as a mental health treatment.
Improve skin health. Curcumin may help wounds heal faster, and there is some limited but unconvincing evidence that turmeric helps with skin issues such as eczema. Many people also believe that turmeric extracts, when applied as a spray or ointment, can improve the skin’s appearance.
There’s a trend here: Though more than a few small studies of curcumin have identified health effects, there just isn’t enough data here to convince medical authorities. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, for example, states that “no clear conclusions have been reached about whether these substances have benefits for health conditions.”
If there’s another reason for skepticism, it’s curcumin’s reportedly poor bioavailability. A very high percentage of the curcumin we ingest may pass through our body without effective our health in any real way. Some supplements claim to have added secondary ingredients, such as piperine, to enhance bioavailability.
You can find a very detailed discussion of turmeric’s health claims in this Everyday Health article: Turmeric (Curcumin): A Complete Scientific Guide.
Turmeric, Curcumin, and Diabetes Health
Many researchers have investigated curcumin and turmeric as diabetes remedies. Some of these studies and analyses are optimistic about the chemical’s effect on blood sugar management.
Curcumin’s known anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative effects could have a positive effect on glucose metabolism. Type 1 and type 2 diabetes are both associated with heightened inflammation levels, and scientists are very interested in the role that anti-inflammatory agents may play in future diabetes treatments.
A 2021 review evaluated 16 studies and reported that there is solid evidence that curcumin can reduce “fasting blood glucose, glycated hemoglobin, and body mass index.” Like other such reviews, however, the authors note that more study is required, and that we do not know what the effective dose may be.
In a 2012 study, researchers in Thailand recruited 240 volunteers with prediabetes to see if curcumin could prevent the progression to type 2 diabetes. For 9 months, half of these individuals took six pills per day, each containing 250 milligrams of curcumin extract; the other half received a placebo. At the end of the experiment, none of those using curcumin supplements had progressed to type 2 diabetes, but 16.4 percent of those on the placebo had developed the condition.
A recent study of 27 micronutrient supplements found that exactly one had “high quality” evidence for a positive effect on diabetes health: curcumin, which was found to reduce fasting blood insulin levels.
But the bottom line is that there isn’t enough evidence for diabetes authorities to recommend turmeric or curcumin as effective therapies. Turmeric and curcumin are not, for example, listed among the supplements that the American Diabetes Association considers potentially important for people with diabetes.
The Community Speaks
What do real people with diabetes believe? We lean heavily on the opinions of people in the diabetes online community, including Diabetes Daily readers and followers. Though it pays to be skeptical of anecdotes, diabetes is an unusual condition because it gives us pure hard data, in the form of blood sugar measurements, about the effectiveness of the treatments we use. If turmeric lowers your glucose level, you should be able to see it on your glucose meter or continuous glucose monitor (CGM).
What did we find? Some members of the Diabetes Daily forum love taking turmeric supplements, although not usually to help with blood sugar. We found similar opinions elsewhere on the internet — some people with diabetes take curcumin for cancer or arthritis, but very few seem to believe that it has a real role to play in glucose management.
Frankly, most of the comments we read were highly skeptical that turmeric or curcumin could have a significant effect on blood sugar levels. Many people with diabetes are fed up with folk remedies: How many times have we heard that cinnamon is a secret diabetes remedy? Of course, opinions likely differ in different communities.
Curcumin, the signature component of turmeric, has long been touted for its medicinal properties. It’s a delicious (and gorgeous) addition to many recipes.
The substance does have anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative properties, and there is some limited evidence that it may have benefits for people with diabetes. The evidence, however, is meager, and health authorities have not accepted that turmeric or curcumin will really do anything for your diabetes or metabolic health.