More than 37 million¹ Americans have diabetes. That's around 1 in 10 adults, and it's a condition that's becoming more common. If left untreated, it can cause kidney disease, increase your risk of heart disease, and even cause blindness. For many, the condition is manageable through diet and exercise.
Others may need additional treatment support through oral medication or insulin injections. By consistently monitoring blood sugar levels, it's possible to avoid many of the long-term risks associated with diabetes and live a long and healthy life.
There are numerous methods to control diabetic symptoms, but researchers continue to study alternative strategies to prevent and treat diabetes in all its forms.
One of these strategies is the use of turmeric supplements. Chinese and Ayurvedic medicines use turmeric for several medicinal purposes, including the prevention of diabetes.
Could a spice commonly found in curry really prevent diabetes? And how much of it would you have to take? Learn more about turmeric, its therapeutic properties, and whether you should be adding it to your daily routine to manage or prevent diabetes.
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Diabetes is a disease characterized by high blood sugar, also known as hyperglycemia. Your body needs glucose for energy. It gets glucose from the food you eat, most commonly as carbohydrates found in foods such as milk, bread, potatoes, spaghetti, and beans. After you ingest carbohydrates, your body breaks them down and turns them into glucose. The glucose enters your bloodstream, causing your blood sugar levels to rise. Some foods have more sugar than carbohydrates, which increases those levels even faster.
Normally, once glucose enters the bloodstream, insulin produced by the pancreas starts to move it into your cells. Insulin moves glucose from your blood into your cells, which use it for energy.
If you have diabetes, there is an issue with your insulin responsiveness or production. This causes more glucose to stay in your bloodstream. Over time, this can lead to many different health problems, including:
There is no cure for diabetes. However, by consistently monitoring your blood sugar levels and keeping them in a healthy range, it's possible to prevent the long-term effects of diabetes. Many people can manage their diabetes through diet and exercise. Others may need oral medication or insulin injections. The treatment you need will largely depend on the type of diabetes you have.
There are three main types of diabetes:
An autoimmune reaction that prevents your body from producing enough insulin causes type 1 diabetes. It’s usually diagnosed in children or young adults and accounts for 5-10%² of people with diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes happens when your body becomes insulin resistant and can't use your available insulin efficiently. This type of diabetes is diagnosed more commonly in adults and accounts for 90-95%² of people with diabetes.
Gestational diabetes only occurs during pregnancy. It goes away for most people after giving birth, but mother and child will be at an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.
Symptoms of diabetes include:
Being thirstier than normal
Needing to urinate more frequently
Having blurred vision
Experiencing unexplained weight loss
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, contact your doctor so they can determine if these symptoms are due to diabetes or other health conditions. They can check if it's diabetes through a blood test. Early diagnosis and treatment can prevent many complications of the disease.
Turmeric is a spice from the root of the turmeric plant, Curcuma longa. It’s native to Southeast Asia and related to the ginger plant. The turmeric you buy is made by drying and grinding up the plant's root. Turmeric is a common cooking ingredient, especially in curry dishes, and it's known for its vibrant yellow color.
While most people know turmeric as a spice they use in their kitchen, people have appreciated its medicinal qualities for more than 2000 years. The active chemical compound in turmeric is called curcumin. People practicing Ayurveda use curcumin to treat eye infections, wounds, burns, and coughs. It's still a popular remedy within Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine.
Since traditional medicine has used turmeric for at least two thousand years, the potential benefits of curcumin have drawn the attention of many researchers. They want to understand how and why the spice can help with various health conditions while also ensuring people use it safely and effectively.
While research is ongoing, the benefits of taking curcumin include:³
Easing discomfort and swelling from arthritis
Easing symptoms of anxiety
Aiding post-workout recovery, including reducing muscle aches
Supporting healthy kidney function
Removing fat from the bloodstream
Many of the benefits of curcumin come from its natural anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. Curcumin helps your body reduce inflammation by blocking enzymes that create an inflammatory reaction.
As an antioxidant, it can remove free radicals in the body. High concentrations of free radicals can cause premature aging, chronic inflammation, and damage to healthy cells. The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of turmeric may partially explain its effectiveness in preventing diabetes.
There is strong evidence that turmeric effectively reduces symptoms of diabetes and could even prevent prediabetic patients from developing type 2 diabetes.
Some of these benefits primarily come from turmeric's antioxidant and anti-inflammatory qualities. Researchers have found that chronic inflammation plays a role in developing several health concerns, including heart disease, certain types of cancers, and Crohn's disease.
Chronic inflammation also impacts insulin resistance and diabetes. It creates a vicious cycle: Excess body fat causes chronic inflammation, which makes you more resistant to the effects of insulin. Long-term inflammation may also contribute to obesity, creating more body fat and continuing the cycle.
As insulin resistance goes up, blood sugar levels continue to rise. If untreated, this will lead to type 2 diabetes. Inflammation may also play a role in type 1 diabetes. Researchers theorize that inflammation may trigger the autoimmune response that causes the body to stop producing insulin in those with type 1 diabetes.
Curcumin may prevent the development of diabetes by acting as an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant agent. It inhibits the effects of certain enzymes in the body that create inflammation. This is why turmeric is a popular treatment for those experiencing muscle pain after a workout or arthritis.
Antioxidants eliminate free radicals, which are molecules with high reactive power from our metabolism. External factors such as exposure to cigarette smoke, air pollution, industrial chemicals, ozone, and some foods can stimulate the production of free radicals.
A small number of free radicals are important to your health. A high concentration can cause oxidative stress. You are at risk of long-term oxidative stress and chronic inflammation if you:
Are overweight or obese
Are a smoker or user of tobacco products
Eat a lot of processed foods or foods high in fat and sugar
Are exposed to high amounts of air pollution, certain pesticides, or industrial chemicals
Oxidative stress damages healthy cells, causing chronic inflammation. As turmeric reduces inflammation and acts as an antioxidant, it may prevent that.
Turmeric may also offer benefits to those with diabetes. Research shows that turmeric may:
Lower blood sugar
Increase insulin sensitivity
Prevent weight gain
These effects may make it easier to keep blood sugar levels within a healthy range. This is key to diabetes management and preventing long-term health risks associated with the condition.
A systematic review of curcumin's effects on diabetes concluded that it could balance blood sugar levels and decrease insulin resistance. Increasing insulin sensitivity is key to preventing the development of type 2 diabetes.
During trials, curcumin:
Delayed the development of type 2 diabetes
Improved the function of beta cells
Prevented the destruction of beta cells
Improved insulin sensitivity
A study⁴ looked at the impact of taking curcumin supplements among 240 prediabetic people. In the group that was taking a placebo, 16.4% of them developed type 2 diabetes within nine months. In the group taking curcumin supplements, no one developed type 2 diabetes in that same period.
The group taking curcumin supplements also showed an improvement in the function of their beta cells, which are responsible for insulin production. They had also reduced their insulin resistance, meaning their bodies could use their insulin more efficiently to lower blood sugar levels.
While there are health benefits to taking turmeric, it's not easy to get enough of it to make a difference. Because turmeric has low bioavailability, it's difficult for your body to absorb, and it breaks down quickly once inside the body. Very few of the necessary chemicals reach your bloodstream.
When you eat turmeric, your body quickly eliminates about 90%⁵ of it as waste. Turmeric has to be mixed with other substances to increase your body's ability to absorb it.
If you want to take turmeric for diabetes, you'll need to take a turmeric supplement that's been treated to increase its bioavailability. There are many suitable over-the-counter turmeric supplements available that your body can absorb properly.
It's important to note that turmeric alone will not prevent or manage the symptoms of diabetes. You need a combination of treatments, including a change in your diet, increasing the amount of exercise you get, and possibly taking prescription medication. You should always work with your doctor to determine the best course of treatment.
While some research confirms the positive effects of turmeric, more studies are needed to determine potential side effects and drug interactions. For example, if you take certain prescription medications to thin your blood, avoid taking turmeric.
Turmeric in large doses can cause an upset stomach or abdominal pain. In one study, a few participants taking curcumin supplements reported itchiness, constipation, and vertigo.
Turmeric is not suitable for people who are:
Pregnant or who may become pregnant
Under the age of 12
Receiving treatment for anemia or liver disease
As with all supplements, check with your doctor before taking turmeric to determine if it's safe for you.
To avoid the side effects of taking turmeric, start with a smaller dose. If you tolerate that well, increase the dosage until you’re taking the recommended amount.
In general, most people tolerate turmeric well. Studies have shown that it's safe to take up to 12g of turmeric a day. However, how much you take will depend on the compound used to increase the bioavailability of the curcumin. If you are taking an over-the-counter supplement, follow the recommended dosage on the bottle.
You should always check with your doctor before starting a new medication or supplement to ensure it won’t interact with other medicines.
While research into the effects of turmeric on diabetes continues, there are many other treatment options for diabetes management. Taking turmeric alone won't prevent or manage diabetes, so you'll need a combination of treatment options. Other treatments include:
A well-balanced diet low in carbohydrates can keep your blood sugar low. In some prediabetic patients, it may even prevent the development of type 2 diabetes. That means eliminating simple carbohydrates such as those found in table sugar and baked goods. Replace them with lean proteins, fruits and vegetables, and whole grains.
Exercise can reduce blood sugar levels naturally. It allows the body to expend energy and can even boost the efficiency of insulin in the body. Try to get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day. Walking, swimming, dancing, or riding your bike are great ways to start being active.
While some patients can manage their blood sugar levels by changing their diet and getting more exercise, others will need additional support from medication. This is especially common in patients with type 1 diabetes.
Oral medications and insulin injections can bring blood sugar levels back into a healthy range and prevent long-term effects.
All successful diabetes management starts with consistent blood sugar monitoring. You can monitor your blood sugar levels at home using lancets and test strips or a continuous glucose monitor.
Keep a log of your blood sugar levels either in a notebook or on your phone, so you can track patterns and share them with your doctor. You may need to adjust treatments over time as your body's insulin needs change.
Around 1 in 10 adults in the United States have diabetes, a condition characterized by elevated blood sugar levels. While there is no cure for diabetes, it's largely manageable.
There is evidence that turmeric may be effective in diabetes prevention and treatment due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Inflammation can lead to weight gain, causing insulin sensitivity. This leads to a rise in blood sugar levels and the development of type 2 diabetes. Chronic inflammation has links to the development of type 1 diabetes.
Turmeric and its ingredient curcumin may assist in controlling diabetes. Studies have shown that it can reduce blood sugar levels, increase insulin sensitivity, and prevent weight gain. Always talk to your doctor before starting a supplement to ensure it's safe for you.
Turmeric shouldn't be the only treatment you use to prevent or manage diabetes. It can be part of a comprehensive diabetes treatment plan that includes good blood sugar level monitoring, a healthy diet, and plenty of exercise.
In some cases, you may also need medication to keep your glucose levels in a healthy range. Make an appointment with your primary care physician to discuss adding a turmeric supplement to your treatment protocol.
The facts, stats, and impacts of diabetes | Center for Disease Control and Prevention
What is diabetes? | Center for Disease Control and Prevention
How does oxidative stress affect the body? | Medical News Today
Can turmeric help prevent or treat Type 2 diabetes? | Everyday Health
Diabetes and inflammation | WebMD
Diabetes | World Health Organization
Understanding acute and chronic inflammation | Harvard Health Publishing