Expert-reviewed by Ashwini S.Kanade, Registered Dietician and Certified Diabetes Educator with 17 years of experience
You’ve been using haldi (called turmeric in English) as a colouring agent and a spice in your cooking. Maybe you even stick a pinch of it over a superficial wound to stop mild bleeding and help the cut heal faster. But did you know that turmeric may also have anti-diabetic properties?
Let’s find out the best way to use turmeric before we get on to the research findings.
How to use turmeric
Commercially available turmeric powder may be adulterated with chemical dyes. So, it’s best to purchase the dried rhizomes (haldee prakand) and grind them at home.
You can sprinkle this powder into all your curries, vegetables and rice dishes. You could even add half a teaspoon to a glass of warm milk. If you like the strong flavour of fresh turmeric, try adding the washed and peeled root into curry pastes and pureed soups.
What the research shows
Research on animal models has shown that curcumin – the main ingredient of turmeric – may have a positive effect on lowering blood glucose levels. A systematic review published in 2013 studied the findings of more than 200 publications to see the data that has been collected about the effectiveness of turmeric as an anti-diabetic agent. The review found that curcumin showed an ability to reduce levels of glucose and lipids (types of fats, oils, etc that don’t dissolve in water that increase cholesterol) in blood and also helped overcome insulin resistance that is seen in Type 2 diabetes. Besides, curcumin was also found to play a role in preventing the damaging complications that are seen in diabetes. (1)
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The flip side
But this review also noted that except for one paper, published in 1972, all other publications were on animal models. Clinical trials on curcumin have mainly focused on its role in treating the complications of diabetes (such as nerve damage, liver disorders and diabetic cataract), rather than the disease itself. More studies with humans are therefore required to arrive at a clearer picture of the actual benefits of turmeric in humans. (1)
Moreover, the authors make another important point – as curcumin does not easily dissolve in water, it has low bioavailability, meaning only a small portion of its consumed quantity is able to reach (blood) circulation to be able to exert its therapeutic effect. (1)
This drawback was again highlighted by an article as recently as March 2017, where the researchers pointed out that along with low bioavailability, there is also the factor of differences in herb quality of the plant itself that may cause misleading results. (2)
So, future research that focuses on overcoming these difficulties is necessary before curcumin can become a valuable agent against diabetes.
But wait a minute – turmeric may help to prevent diabetes though.
A research article published in Diabetes Care, a journal of the American Diabetes Association, studied the effect of curcumin on people at risk for diabetes (those with blood sugar levels higher than the normal range, but not high enough to be diagnosed with diabetes). The subjects were divided into two groups of 117 people each and for 9 months, one group received curcumin while the other did not. Of those who were administered curcumin, no one developed diabetes, whereas 16.4% of the other group developed type 2 diabetes. (3)
So, if you want to reduce the risk of developing diabetes, adding turmeric to your diet might prove to be useful.
A word of caution, though…
Although the effects of turmeric in people with diabetes has not been studied extensively, the fact that it has the potential to reduce blood sugar means that people with diabetes should be cautious when using turmeric. This is because it could contribute to the sugar-lowering effect of any existing diabetes medication they are taking and may lead to hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar).
People with anaemia (low haemoglobin in the blood), kidney stones and gallbladder disease should not consume turmeric. Further, if you are on medication for diabetes, blood-thinning or hyperacidity, do consult your doctor before you start using turmeric in quantities beyond what you normally use in your daily cooking, which may be an average of 0.5 to 3 grams per day. (4) This is important because using greater quantities can also lead to stomach or gallbladder problems.
As is the case with most things, using turmeric in moderation comes with certain health benefits, especially for people with diabetes. Just ensure that you are monitoring your health regularly to avoid any potential side-effects.
- D. Zhang, M. Fu, S-H Gao, J-L Liu. Curcumin and Diabetes: A Systematic Review Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013, Nov; 2013: 636053. Doi: 10.1155/2013/636053
- K.M. Nelson, J.L. Dahlin,J. Bisson, J. Graham, G.F. Pauli, M.A. Walters. The Essential Medicinal Chemistry of Curcumin. Miniperspective. J. Med. Chem., 2017, 60 (5), pp 1620–1637; DOI: 10.1021/acs.jmedchem.6b00975
- S. Chuengsamarn, S. Rattanamongkolgul, R. Luechapudiporn, C. Phisalaphong, S. Jirawatnotai. Curcumin Extract for Prevention of Type 2 Diabetes. Diabetes Care 2012 Nov; 35(11): 2121-2127. https://doi.org/10.2337/dc12-0116
- Turmeric: University of Maryland Medical Center. Available online at http://www.umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/turmeric