Are there benefits to eating turmeric and other spices?

There could be something about turmeric that’s beneficial, but it’s not curcumin, she says. Plus, if turmeric is cooked as part of a meal, she says, it’s added alongside other foods, and heated up, so its chemical components change.

“There might be something else in turmeric worth looking at, but not curcumin, and it might not be one thing. It might need to be chemically modified or added to something to be beneficial.”

She says consuming lots of turmeric isn’t harmful, but she wouldn’t advise using it as self-medication.

Correlation vs causation

Chilli and turmeric have been widely studied, but most trials have only compared data on consumption and different health outcomes, which doesn’t separate cause from effect. And research done in labs doesn’t necessarily translate to the human body.

And as is true for so many nutritional studies, it’s difficult to tease out correlation versus causation.

Take the 2019 Italian study finding that there was a lower risk of death associated with chilli consumption. It was observational, so it’s impossible to know whether eating chilli made people live longer, whether already healthy people tend to consume more chilli, or if something else is at work.

One clue could, however, lie in how chillies are consumed by Italians and other Mediterranean cultures, says the study’s author Marialaura Bonaccio, epidemiologist at Italy’s Mediterranean Neurological Institute.

“Chilli is common in Mediterranean countries,” says Bonaccio. “It’s mostly eaten with pasta and legumes or vegetables.”