Turmeric, or “Indian saffron,” has a long history of medicinal use. You can trace the origins of the Curcuma longa plant back nearly 4000 years, establishing its roots in natural medicine in Southeast Asia.
Turmeric’s brilliant yellow color is thanks in large part to the curcuminoid content within it. Curcumin is a powerful compound with numerous health benefits and almost no adverse side effects. But, is turmeric an antioxidant, and can it help boost your immune system health?
Turmeric Antioxidant Properties
Researchers have taken a keen interest in verifying the claims of our ancestors in the past few decades. Today, we know that curcumin possesses anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal activity. Now, studies confirm that turmeric acts as an antioxidant as well. This benefit is excellent news if you want to enhance your immunity. (1)
To better understand how turmeric behaves, let’s explore antioxidants in more detail.
What are Antioxidants?
In simple terms, an antioxidant is a substance that slows or delays specific types of cell damage. Among the most renowned antioxidants are vitamins C and E, which are abundant in diets high in fruits and vegetables. (2)
There are a couple of other terms we need to familiarize ourselves with before proceeding:
- Free Radicals: These are highly unstable molecules formed naturally within the body when we exercise or convert food into energy. Free radicals from external sources can also occur (cigarette smoke, pollution, etc.). These particles can cause oxidative stress or “oxidation” within the body.
- Oxidative Stress: This process may be most responsible for triggering cell damage. Higher levels of oxidation lead to more cell damage. This process plays a significant role in the development of many age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, diabetes, cancer, etc. It’s a natural process in all living organisms.
There is a balance among antioxidants and free radicals to help maintain proper brain function. If free radicals overwhelm the body, there will be adverse alternations to DNA, lipids, proteins, and an increased risk of chronic inflammatory diseases such as arthritis or ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
Why Turmeric Curcumin?
The thought is, if you can reduce the amount of active free radicals in the body, you will see a boost in your immune system function. While studies on some antioxidant supplements are inconclusive at best, turmeric’s main active, curcumin, demonstrates strong disease-fighting potential.
The way curcumin behaves as an anti-inflammatory, in itself, makes it an excellent therapeutic agent for immunity. It’s the capability to double as an antioxidant that gives us extra incentive to squeeze more turmeric into our daily regimen. (6)
In this post, we will review the science and research surrounding curcumin’s ability to enhance immune system function by acting as an antioxidant within then body.
Antioxidant Properties of Turmeric: Can Curcumin Boost Your Immune System?
Even at lower doses, curcumin has shown that it can improve antibody responses. This attribute suggests that turmeric’s reported benefits on various diseases may be partially due to its aptitude to modulate the immune system. (7)
One study demonstrated turmeric’s effects on 32 rats exposed to tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD). TCDD derives from material contaminant and may cause various metabolic disorders, immunological dysfunction, and even cancer. The results indicated that curcumin was effective in the prevention and treatment of TCDD-induced toxicity. (8)
A second animal study tested the detoxification and antioxidant effects of turmeric in a group of rats exposed to heightened levels of mercury.
The research concluded that curcumin exerted numerous defensive maneuvers against mercury‐induced oxidative stress. Curcumin was also able to reverse mercury‐induced serum biochemical changes linked to kidney and liver damage. (9)
Further research sought to test the antioxidant properties of individual curcuminoids using in vitro models. In vitro, meaning, “in the glass,” refers to testing that takes place in cells or microorganisms outside their typical biological context.
This study found that curcumin exhibited the highest level of antioxidant activity, followed by demethoxycurcumin and bisdemethoxycurcumin, respectively. (10)
Oxidative stress is a substantial contributor to the development of neurodegenerative diseases. Recent studies have focused on how curcumin can alleviate oxidation and serve as a therapeutic intervention and even prevention of these diseases.
The results showed that curcumin successfully inhibited oxidative stress-induced inflammation. Turmeric also protected astrocytes (critical workers in the central nervous system) from damage. (11)
Researchers have also tested curcumin’s antiproliferative and antioxidant effects against artichoke, rosemary, and dandelion extracts. Antiproliferative refers to inhibiting cell growth, such as tumor cells. The tests concluded that turmeric extract exhibited the highest levels of antiproliferative and antioxidant activity. (12)
Chronic inflammation and oxidative stress are also closely linked to metabolic syndrome (MetS). Metabolic syndrome is a combination of conditions that occur together, such as high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar, obesity, and irregular triglyceride levels. This dangerous mixture of abnormalities increases your risk of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes or having a stroke.
One study reviewed the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of curcumin as it pertained to patients with metabolic syndrome. The tests used a curcuminoid and piperine (black pepper extract or BioPerine) mixture. The results indicated that curcumin significantly reduced oxidative and inflammatory status in MetS patients. (13)
Curcumin may also serve as a means to protect the liver by enhancing antioxidation in the body. Using a rat model, scientists tested turmeric’s potential to counteract carbon tetrachloride (CCl4)-induced liver damage.
Researchers concluded a positive correlation between turmeric and the suppression of hepatic oxidative stress. Thus, curcumin may perform as a potential detox agent for the liver. (14)
Final Thoughts on Turmeric for Boosting Immunity
Can turmeric boost your immune system with its antioxidant properties? The answer appears to be, yes. Although it’s not meant to be a cure-all for various diseases, it does seem to exhibit significant antioxidant and radical scavenging activity in the body.
Thus, turmeric may help reduce free radical content in the body and slow the cell death process. This benefit makes curcumin an excellent contributor to overall mental and physical wellness and a potential ally against age-related diseases. (15)
As is the case with any medication or dietary supplement, please consult with a certified healthcare professional to see if turmeric is right for you.