The plant turmeric (Curcuma longa) is very well known in India. The root is harvested, cleaned, dried, and powdered to be used as a spice (turmeric gives curry its beautiful golden yellow color) and as a medicine. Traditionally, turmeric was used for nearly every health condition known - from smallpox to a sprained ankle. The reason for its health effects is the compound known as curcumin. Just as oranges are a source of vitamin C, turmeric is a source of curcumin. Today, we extract curcumin from turmeric to use as a natural medicine.
But, a typical turmeric root contains about 2-5% curcumin, so taking an unstandardized, powdered turmeric root product means that very large amounts would be required to get a beneficial amount of curcumin. Additionally, curcumin is poorly absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract. While turmeric is excellent when used as a spice, a curcumin extract is a better choice for health benefits.
As a separate, identifiable substance, curcumin was first isolated in 1815. But it would take almost another hundred years before its full chemical structure was accurately mapped in 1910.
Since then, research on curcumin has exploded. It works on multiple pathways at multiple levels of those pathways all simultaneously. It's like a whole pharmacy of nutrients working harmoniously.
Because of its many beneficial effects, curcumin is well regarded for many health concerns. It stops pain and inflammation, and is being currently investigated for inhibiting tumors and fighting cancer, preventing fat growth and accumulation, regulating blood sugar, stopping depression and slowing the effects of Alzheimer's disease.
Curcumin is like a pharmacy unto itself working harmoniously in many different ways.