It wasn’t long ago that we were all singing the praises of turmeric’s apparent magical healing powers (and sprinkling the golden-yellow spice on just about everything we eat and drink). But now, a major study has found that there’s no evidence that turmeric’s main chemical component — curcumin — actually has any medicinal properties.
As Nature reports, there have already been “thousands of research papers and more than 120 clinical trials” on curcumin, even though the chemical never ended up in a drug. A new review in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry sorted through the “muddled research” and found that, once and for all, there’s no evidence that curcumin has any therapeutic benefits.
Lead study author Michael Walters, a medicinal chemist at the University of Minnesota at Minneapolis, told Nature, “Curcumin is a cautionary tale.” That’s because curcumin has led to false drug screens — which means, it shows activity that could hint it should be used in a drug, when in reality it doesn’t really do much. It has therefore been proposed to treat a variety of disorders, from erectile dysfunction to cancer, but never resulted in any treatments.
This all may stem from the fact that researchers aren’t always aware of what molecule they are studying, co-author Guido Pauli, a natural-product researcher at the University of Illinois at Chicago, told Nature. Turmeric has a bunch of different compounds besides curcumin, so research could potentially be seeing “promising biological effects” in a different molecule instead of curcumin.
Bill Zeucher, a chemical biologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, told Nature, “It may very well be the case that curcumin or turmeric extracts do have beneficial effects, but getting to the bottom of that is complex and might be impossible.”