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Updated September 14, 2022
Turmeric for Immunity: 6 Valuable Ways It Supports the Immune System
Turmeric dates back 5,000 years to Far Eastern medicine and is just as powerful and potent today as it was back then. So much so that it’s universally known as the “wonder drug of life” (1). This yellow-orange root contains more than 100 naturally-occurring elements like calcium, phosphorus, potassium, iron, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, and more (2).
In this article, you’ll learn what turmeric is, its most commonly-known benefits, and six ways it supports the immune system. Read on to learn more…
What Is Turmeric?
Turmeric is an herbaceous plant native to Southeast Asia and grown primarily in India. It's been used for thousands of years in both Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Ayurveda as a medicinal plant for treating skin disorders, upper respiratory tract infections, digestive disorders, and joint issues.
Today, turmeric is most well-known for its potent anti-inflammatory activity. Many people supplement with this plant (also commonly used as a spice for cooking) for conditions like arthritis, allergies, depression, liver disease, and much more (3). While several bioactive compounds have been identified in turmeric, curcumin—the main active ingredient in turmeric—is by far the most abundant and well-researched (4).
6 Ways Turmeric Supports Immunity
One of the many health-promoting aspects of turmeric is its direct impact on your immune system. In fact, there are several ways in which turmeric promotes immunity and enhances your body's defenses against infection and disease.
Six of the most well-researched ways that turmeric can enhance the function of your immune system include:
1. Turmeric for Healthy Inflammation
Did you know that inflammation is healthy when it happens in small doses? In fact, acute inflammation is your body’s way of protecting against injury or infection. This internal defense system can look like an area becoming swollen, hot, red, or painful. (The Latin word for inflammation, inflammare, literally means “to set on fire”.) This short-term inflammatory response is crucial for healing but can become dangerous when it persists and becomes chronic (5)...
Chronic inflammation happens when the inflammatory response doesn't resolve, and your immune system continues to signal that there's injury. This results in a continued state of imbalance in your body, which becomes a risk factor for several diseases such as metabolic syndrome, degenerative brain disease, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes (6, 7).
With turmeric’s powerful anti-inflammatory activity, it can help support your body and protect against inflammatory conditions like arthritis, metabolic syndrome, hyperlipidemia (a risk factor for heart disease), and even anxiety (8). By helping to calm your natural inflammatory response, turmeric effectively preserves your immune system.
2. Turmeric for Antioxidants
Antioxidants play a protective role in your body and support your immune system in fighting against free radicals (also known as reactive oxygen species or ROS), which cause oxidative damage (9).
Much like inflammation, oxidative stress is a natural byproduct of your body's normal functioning. With that being said, the balance of antioxidants to oxidative stress in your body is key. When the scales tip in the direction of oxidative stress and you don't have enough antioxidants to balance it out, damage to your cells and tissues can occur.
Turmeric possesses antioxidant activity that can help combat excessive oxidation and bring your body back into balance. Research shows that it exerts its antioxidant effects by neutralizing free radicals and enhancing antioxidant enzymes (10, 11).
3. Gut Health
Your gut plays a crucial and very active role in the function of your immune system. In fact, around 70% of your immune system lives in your gut (12).
Turmeric supports gut immunity by promoting balance in your gut microbiome (the millions of bacteria that live in your gut). Your gut microbiome is pivotal to your immune health—it even trains your immune cells to maintain a state of equilibrium called immune homeostasis.
Put simply, when your microbiome is in balance, it helps fight off invaders. When it's out of balance, however, the symbiotic relationship between your microbiome and your immune system falls apart and conditions like autoimmunity, inflammation, and infection can occur (13, 14).
To combat this, science is showing that turmeric plays a protective role in the beneficial bacteria in your gut, effectively enhancing your defenses against viruses. In fact, research shows that turmeric may have a direct impact on your gut immunity by enhancing the growth of beneficial bacteria while reducing pathogenic strains (17, 18).
4. Antiviral Properties
Along with its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and gut health properties, turmeric also boosts antiviral activity in your body. Curcumin, specifically, has been shown to display antiviral effects on a range of viruses, including influenza, HIV, herpes, Zika, and more (11).
Viruses work by inserting information into cells (human cells, bacteria cells, etc.) that contain instructions to make more of the virus. This allows for rapid replication of the virus while disrupting the function of healthy cells.
- It may directly kill the virus before it’s able to infect the cell.
- It integrates with the viral instructions and inactivates the virus.
- It alters the metabolism of healthy cells to prevent viral entry.
In addition to its antiviral activity, researchers also report antimicrobial, antibacterial, and antifungal activity of curcumin (21).
5. Improves Respiration
One of the traditional uses for turmeric, dating back about 5,000 years, was to support respiratory health. Modern application of turmeric backs up this ancient remedy as it shows protective activity against both acute and chronic lung disease.
Two markers of lung disease include inflammation and oxidation. When your lung tissue becomes damaged by these out-of-balance immune responses, it can make it harder to breathe as the inflammation constricts your airways and free radicals wreak havoc on the cells that line your respiratory tract.
Turmeric—a potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compound—has been shown to support lung health and play a protective role in several respiratory diseases, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), acute lung injury, acute respiratory distress syndrome, and allergic asthma (22).
In addition to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity, turmeric has also been shown to break down mucus in the airway, which helps relieve coughing and improve the ability to breathe (22).
6. Counteracts Stress
Chronic stress, both physical and psychological, can have a direct impact on the health of your immune system, slowly weakening your immunity and increasing your vulnerability to infections (23).
Stress can be stealthy, especially when it's chronic, as you often become slowly accustomed to the drain on your energy and well-being and start to feel that a stressed-out existence is just a standard way of life (24).
Although you can't necessarily remove all of your life stressors, you can certainly increase your resistance and tolerance to stress.
Stress can show up on your body in a number of ways, but two common side effects are increased inflammation and oxidation. As you've learned by now, turmeric is a superstar when it comes to combating both of these conditions (25).
In one study, researchers administered a curcumin supplement to mice and examined their response to stressors. The results showed that the mice given curcumin exhibited a 4.5-fold increase in stress resilience. In addition, the curcumin also seemed to prevent anxiety-like behavior in the defeated (stressed out) mice (26).
The Most Effective Turmeric Supplement to Take
Before you go out and buy a turmeric supplement, it's crucial to understand that not all turmeric supplements are created equal.
When looking for a turmeric supplement, there are two things you should keep in mind:
One secret that the ancient texts of Ayurveda understood is that the digestive tract does not absorb turmeric well. In other words, taking turmeric alone yields poor bioavailability—the ability to digest, absorb, and utilize a compound.
To combat this, NativePath’s Turmeric Supplement leverages a breakthrough technology that converts Curcuma into a fully water-soluble, pH-stable form, making it 185X more bioavailable and 27X more powerful than other turmeric supplements on the market.
The second feature of a high-quality turmeric supplement is its potency…
As previously mentioned, curcumin is the most potent and bioactive compound in turmeric. It's this powerhouse compound that's responsible for much of the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity in turmeric, which is why it continues to be the most heavily researched bioactive constituent in this medicinal plant (8). Clearly, you want to make sure that the turmeric you're taking is packed with the most bioavailable and potent version of curcumin. Which is exactly why we’ve included 500mg of Full-Spectrum Curcumin in each serving of just two softgels.
As long as you have a turmeric supplement that has both bioavailability and potency, you’ll be able to experience the vast array of benefits that this special plant has to offer.
The Bottom Line
Turmeric has become an increasingly popular herb in the last ten years. While ancient systems of medicine have understood the profound benefits of turmeric for thousands of years, researchers are now backing up this powerful herb's history of use with troves of groundbreaking studies.
From antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties to its direct antiviral activity, turmeric and its bioactive compound, curcumin, are becoming a must-have herb when it comes to immunity. To stay on top of your immune function year-round, be sure to add a high-quality turmeric supplement like NativePath Turmeric to your wellness routine.
As a doctor of Physical Therapy, Senior Wellness Expert, and co-founder of NativePath, Dr. Walding has helped millions of people improve their quality of life from the inside out—by speaking, writing, and educating others on how to live life a little more #OnThePath.
This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Chad Walding nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement, or lifestyle program.