Curcumin is the main bioactive ingredient in turmeric extract and widely consumed as part of the spice mix curry or as a dietary supplement. Turmeric has a long history of therapeutic application in traditional Asian medicine. Biomedical studies conducted in the past two decades have identified a large number of cellular targets and effects of curcumin. In vitro curcumin rapidly degrades in an autoxidative transformation to diverse chemical species, the formation of which has only recently been appreciated. This paper discusses how the degradation and metabolism of curcumin, through products and their mechanism of formation, provide a basis for the interpretation of preclinical data and clinical studies. It is suggested that the previously unrecognized diversity of its degradation products could be an important factor in explaining the polypharmacology of curcumin.