A recent meta-analysis of more than 120 clinical trials and 5,000 published studies casts serious doubts on whether there are any significant health benefits to the spice.
A group of researchers led by Kathy Nelson, a research associate at the University of Minnesota Institute for Therapeutics Discovery and Development, found that not a single double-blind, placebo controlled clinical trial (the best type of research study) of curcumin, the active chemical in turmeric, has shown the spice to have an impact on human health.
That may be startling news for turmeric fans, who have been fervently adding the spice to their lattes and meals. Turmeric has gained a reputation for being a miracle spice, touted for its ability to possibly delay diabetes, ward off heart attacks and even fight against cancer. The spice was also among the ten most popularly searched superfoods in the U.S. in 2016.
Most scientists test out pure curcumin inside the lab when studying turmeric. The way we consume it ― derived from a spice, and prepared with heat ― may impact the effectiveness of possible health benefits.
"There may be something beneficial about turmeric," Nelson told The Huffington Post. But curcumin may not be the component that's making turmeric good for a person's wellbeing like scientists originally thought.
Another caveat: Not all curcumin studies that Nelson evaluated met best practices for a controlled study, she said. This could mean that although the study was controlled, in outcomes where it appeared as though the chemical worked in a beneficial way, under further review, may have actually been "false activity" as researchers wrote.
This all isn't to say you should toss your jar of turmeric away. As Nelson noted, there is anecdotal evidence that the spice may have some health benefits, such as helping with a cold or its use as a topical calming agent for bug bites. And it could be more effective when paired with other foods such as black pepper.
So there's no harm in shaking the spice into your latte. Just don't expect it to be a healing wunderkind.