Turmeric contains curcumin, an active compound that appears to have various properties that may help to combat many diseases, including some chronic inflammatory conditions.
People use turmeric, or curcumin, as a powder, in root form, as an ingredient in a topical ointment, or as a dietary supplement.
While the research is not conclusive, current evidence suggests that this spice may help in the management of certain skin disorders, such as psoriasis.
Can turmeric treat psoriasis?
Psoriasis is a systemic disease, which means it affects the whole body, although lesions appear in specific places on the skin. Researchers have looked at both topical and oral uses of curcumin for psoriasis.
Turmeric may have benefits for people with psoriasis.
A study published in 2015 in the Iranian Journal of Pharmaceutical Research looked at how applying a topical preparation containing extract of curcumin might benefit people with plaque psoriasis because of its effect on skin cell production.
The study consisted of 34 participants who applied the preparation for 9 weeks.
At the end of the study period, the participants' symptoms had improved significantly; they had fewer lesions and an improved quality of life.
In a more extensive study, published in 2011, 647 people with psoriasis applied a curcumin gel to psoriasis lesions.
After 16 weeks, they presented a significant reduction in symptoms, and symptoms disappeared completely in 72.2 percent of participants.
The researchers believe this happened because of the way the curcumin affected the activity of phosphorylase kinase (PhK). PhK is a protein that is involved in the over-production of skin cells and, as a result, the proliferation of psoriasis.
In 2016, authors of a mouse study found that oral treatment with curcumin led to improvements in ear redness, lymph node weight, and other features. They concluded that "Curcumin has a great potential to treat psoriasis."
Another study, from the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, looked at curcumin's effect on psoriasis when eight people took 4.5 grams of curcumin tablets a day for 12 weeks. The study found that the dietary supplement resulted in low benefit if any.
The researchers concluded that the supplement was probably no better than a placebo in controlling symptoms. There were also limitations to the study, including the small number of participants.
How does it work?
Practitioners of traditional medicine use curcumin for its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and anti-carcinogenic properties.
Features that may help to reduce the symptoms of psoriasis include its:
Antioxidant activity: This may decrease the oxidative stress related to skin lesions.
Anti-inflammatory activity: Curcumin appears to inhibit the production of substances known as cytokines, that can lead to inflammation. These may include tumor necrosis factor (TNF), interleukin-6 and interleukin-17.
Enhancement of the skin-barrier function: It may do this by regulating involucrin (iNV) and filaggrin, which are involved in this process.
Curcumin may also reduce PhK, which appears to be higher in people with psoriasis.
Find out more here about the health benefits of turmeric.
Ways of using turmeric include turmeric tea, adding it to food, and taking supplements.
Research into the most effective medicinal use of turmeric for psoriasis still has some way to go, but some topical applications containing curcumin are already available and may help some people.
Here are some ideas for using turmeric, or curcumin to help psoriasis:
Turmeric in cooking: Add a spoonful of curcumin to rice dishes, curries, and sauces for flavor, color, and possible health benefits.
Curcumin supplements: Available from health stores, but check first with a doctor about how much to use.
Turmeric tea: Boil up a teaspoon of ground turmeric with 4 cups of water, simmer for 10 minutes and add honey or lemon to taste.
Turmeric paste: Combine 1 part turmeric powder with 2 parts water in a pan, simmer to form a thick paste, cool, and store. Apply to the skin.
Remember, however, that research has not confirmed that applying turmeric in this way will make a difference. Also, turmeric is an intense yellow color and is likely to stain the skin. Try a small sample first.
Turmeric is available in grocery stores, and turmeric supplements and powder are available to purchase online.
Turmeric is likely safe for most people, but people should still take some precautions.
The Arthritis Foundation note that, in high doses, turmeric can act as a blood thinner. For this reason, people should not use it medically alongside anticoagulant drugs, such as warfarin (Coumadin), or if they:
- are due to have surgery
- are pregnant
- have gallbladder disease
- have a bleeding disorder, such as hemophilia, or other risks of bleeding
People who wish to use turmeric supplements for psoriasis should speak to their doctor first to ensure that it will not interfere with any current medications or health issues.
What is psoriasis?
Psoriasis causes scaly patches to appear on the skin.
Psoriasis is a chronic, inflammatory disorder. It is a systemic disease that affects the whole body, but the hallmark symptoms of most types of psoriasis are inflamed and scaly skin.
Psoriasis can reduce a person's quality of life, due to physical limitations caused by heat, pain, and swelling in the affected areas.
Psoriasis occurs when the body accidentally triggers the immune system, resulting in uncontrolled inflammation and a rapid turnover of skin cells. This overproduction of skin cells is what causes the plaques and lesions to develop on the skin.
Some people also have psoriatic arthritis, a condition in which inflammation affects the joints.
The symptoms of psoriasis and their severity vary between individuals. Most people also experience flare-ups, when symptoms worsen, and remission, when symptoms may go away entirely for a while.
Treatment will depend on the type of psoriasis a person has and how severe the symptoms are.
Conventional treatments aim to stop or slow the rate of cell turnover and to prevent ongoing inflammation.
Depending on the symptoms and how severe they are, a doctor may prescribe:
Topical creams or ointments: These will suppress the immune system, reduce inflammation, and soothe the skin symptoms.
Moisturizers: Applying a thick, fragrance-free moisturizer can help to ease discomfort and reduce dryness and cracking.
Light therapy: Light from the sun or artificial ultraviolet (UV) light sources may also help to control symptoms.
Systemic medications: These aim to reduce the activity of the immune system. Examples include methotrexate, acitretin (Soriatane), and cyclosporin (Neoral).
Biologics: This is a relatively new class of drug that targets the activity of specific cells. A doctor may prescribe a tumor necrosis factor (TNF-alpha) biologic, such as etanercept (Enbrel), infliximab (Remicade), and adalimumab (Humira).
Other health benefits of turmeric
Curcumin and turmeric have long been part of traditional medical practice. Here are some of the conditions they may help to treat.
Some studies have suggested that curcumin might have antidepressant effects.
In 2017, researchers gave people with major depressive disorder varying doses of curcumin extract or curcumin with saffron. Overall, the participants experienced an improvement in their symptoms of depression and anxiety.
However, researchers still do not know precisely how curcumin might boost a person's mood.
A review of studies published in 2016 concluded that curcumin might help people with arthritis, including osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Curcumin has a role as an anti-inflammatory treatment in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine.
According to the Arthritis Foundation, people can use capsules or powdered root to treat their symptoms.
The findings of a rat study published in 2016 suggested that curcumin might help balance blood sugar levels and manage type 2 diabetes if people combine it with lifestyle modifications and insulin therapy.
Scientists who carried out a study on mice in 2009 proposed that turmeric may help to burn fat and help people lose weight. The researchers call for further investigations to see how an intake of curcumin in some form might reduce the risk of obesity.
People with a condition called vascular thrombosis often use anticlotting drugs to slow or prevent blood clotting. Turmeric has anticlotting properties, and it has shown promise for helping reduce clotting in these situations.
A review of studies published in 2018 concluded that curcumin positively supports hemostasis, anticoagulation, and fibrinolysis.
These functions are crucial for stopping excessive bleeding on the one hand and preventing the formation of clots on the other.
People should never use turmeric as a replacement for prescribed drugs. Anyone wanting to use turmeric for a diagnosed condition should discuss it with a doctor.
Researchers have investigated the use of turmeric in preventing and managing a range of conditions, particularly those that involve inflammation.
Curcumin may help to relieve psoriasis and other inflammatory skin conditions, but more research is still necessary to find out the best way to take it and what doses will be effective and safe.
It is also worth remembering that research has focused on curcumin, which is the active ingredient of turmeric, rather than the food spice, turmeric. Consuming dishes that contain turmeric is unlikely to make much difference to a person's symptoms, but it may be beneficial, and it is unlikely to cause any harm.