Turmeric is the most famous golden spice in the world, known for its wide range of physical and mental health benefits. Recently, turmeric has claimed center stage in the scientific community as researchers look to verify the robust claims.
Turmeric’s main active ingredient, curcumin, has become increasingly popular for its use in dietary supplements. As such, many users are concerned about the possible side effects of turmeric, as well as its drug interactions and safety warnings.
This article will analyze the evidence regarding potential health risks.
What is Turmeric Curcumin?
Turmeric powder is an extract derived from the roots of the Curcuma longa plant, a species of ginger originating in Southeast Asia. Our ancestors discovered that turmeric offers significant healing and therapeutic properties, making it much more than just an ingredient in many Indian dishes. (1)
Within turmeric is a potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compound called curcumin. These curcuminoids provide the vast majority of turmeric’s benefits. But, the curcumin content within turmeric is only around 3%. (2)
Historically, turmeric’s main problem has been poor bioavailability. In other words, oral supplements containing curcumin have meager rates of absorption into the bloodstream. Studies have shown that when paired with piperine (black pepper extract), the body absorbs turmeric much more efficiently.
What Is Turmeric Good For?
Turmeric has many different uses in modern natural medicine. Here are a few of the primary reasons why people use turmeric supplements.
- It Reduces Inflammation: Turmeric is one of the best natural anti-inflammatory agents in existence. Studies show that it can inhibit many of the pathways responsible for chronic inflammation, helping to reduce arthritis and joint pain and lessen the severity of allergic reactions. It may also help back pain and inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis.
- It’s an Antioxidant: Curcumin is a powerful antioxidant shown to treat colds and flu, enhance immunity, and prevent many diseases. Research suggests turmeric may be a complementary treatment for several conditions, including cancer and fibromyalgia, due to its ability to reduce oxidative stress throughout the body.
- It Improves Heart Health: Turmeric helps improve blood vessel function by promoting timely dilation and increasing blood flow. Studies show that curcumin is beneficial for lowering blood pressure and reducing cholesterol and triglycerides.
- It Helps Weight Management: Several trials have shown promise for turmeric’s ability to treat metabolic disorders. Curcumin can target adipose tissue while increasing insulin sensitivity, regulating lipid metabolism, and improving thyroid function. These benefits make it useful in weight loss and for people with diabetes.
- It Boosts Brain Function: Curcuminoids can help mental acuity and cognitive function in many ways. Several studies demonstrate that turmeric can slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s, and may even reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. Thus, it appears to be a well-rounded supplement for brain health.
- It Supports the Liver: The liver is the body’s central filtration system, and it serves several critical functions for our survival. Current evidence suggests that curcumin can help cleanse and detox the liver, helping it dispel toxins from the body.
- It Aids Digestion: Turmeric can also help support the digestive process if you’re struggling with certain disorders characterized by inflammation. Research has shown that curcumin can help irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), including both ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
Turmeric Side Effects
The side effects of turmeric are both moderate and infrequent but can appear at higher dosages. There are substantial benefits in oral curcumin supplements, but there are a few potential health risks to consider.
- Bleeding & Clotting Problems: Turmeric is a known blood thinner. Curcumin may increase the risk of bleeding or bruising in some individuals. Curcumin may also cause increased bleeding following surgery. Discontinue turmeric use at least two weeks before a scheduled surgery.
- Diabetes & Blood Sugar: While turmeric can lower and stabilize blood sugar in diabetics, there is a slight chance that it can make blood sugar too low. Use with caution.
- Digestive Issues: At higher dosages exceeding 1,000 mg of curcumin per day, bloating, flatulence, acid reflux, and diarrhea may occur.
- Gallbladder Problems: Turmeric may worsen gallbladder problems such as bile duct obstruction and gallstones. Do not use turmeric if you have either of these conditions.
- Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD): Turmeric may worsen stomach problems such as GERD and may cause an upset stomach in some people.
- Headache and Nausea: Dosages exceeding 450 mg of curcumin per day may increase the chances of headaches and nausea in a small number of individuals.
- Hormone-Sensitive Conditions: Curcumin may act like the hormone estrogen within the body. In theory, turmeric may cause complications in hormone-sensitive conditions such as breast cancer, ovarian cancer, uterine cancer, endometriosis, and uterine fibroids. However, research shows that turmeric may reduce the effects of estrogen in cancer cells. Use with caution if you have a condition that could worsen with exposure to hormones.
- Infertility in Men: Oral curcumin supplementation may lower testosterone levels and reduce sperm movement in men. Therefore, turmeric may lower fertility, but we need more studies to confirm these findings.
- Iron Deficiency: High amounts of turmeric may inhibit iron absorption in the body. If you have an iron deficiency, use curcumin with caution.
- Kidney Stones: Turmeric may increase urinary oxalate levels which can lead to a higher risk of kidney stone formation.
- Skin Rash: In rare instances, a skin rash may develop at a dose of 8,000 mg of curcumin or more per day.
Turmeric Drug Interactions
What medications should not be taken with turmeric? Turmeric has the potential to slow blood clotting, which can increase the chance of bleeding and bruising. This interaction may occur in conjunction with other anticoagulants (blood thinners) such as aspirin, ibuprofen, diclofenac, naproxen, dalteparin, enoxaparin, heparin, warfarin, and others.
Turmeric may also interact with diabetes medications such as glimepiride, glyburide, insulin, pioglitazone, rosiglitazone, chlorpropamide, glipizide, tolbutamide, and others. To avoid problems with blood sugar, consult with a doctor before using this combination.
Medications that change in the liver may also have interactions with turmeric which can decrease how quickly the liver breaks them down. These drugs include calcium channel blockers, chemotherapeutic agents, antifungals, glucocorticoids, alfentanil, cisapride, fentanyl, lidocaine, losartan, fexofenadine, midazolam, and others.
Large amounts of curcumin may also influence estrogen in the body. Evidence suggests that turmeric supplementation may decrease the effectiveness of estrogen pills. Examples of drugs that may cause negative interactions are conjugated equine estrogens, estradiol, Ethinylestradiol (EE), and others.
Is Turmeric Safe?
Can turmeric be harmful? Turmeric and its constituent curcumin are LIKELY SAFE through oral supplementation or when applied as a topical to the skin for up to 8 months. When used as an enema or as a mouthwash, turmeric is POSSIBLY SAFE for short-term use.
How much turmeric is safe to take?
The best curcumin supplements are generally safe and well-tolerated with no adverse side effects reported at lower dosages. Most dietary supplements will contain 150-250 mg of curcumin per serving mixed with an abundance of turmeric root powder. This dose is well within the range of tolerability and safety.
- Recommended turmeric dosage.
Studies on cancer have used up to 8,000 mg of curcumin per day without any treatment-related side effects or toxicity to report. Although, this dosage is both excessive and impractical for the average user, yet still not enough for an overdose of any kind.
Is turmeric safe during pregnancy?
During pregnancy or while breastfeeding, turmeric is LIKELY SAFE at quantities commonly found in food. However, turmeric is LIKELY UNSAFE when taken orally in medicinal amounts during pregnancy or while nursing.
Curcumin may stimulate uterine contractions or promote the menstrual period, which can put the pregnancy at risk. While thought to be uncommon, there is currently not enough evidence available to guarantee the safety of turmeric during pregnancy.
Final Thoughts on the Side Effects of Turmeric Curcumin
The side effects of turmeric are moderate and extremely rare. For the vast majority of users, daily supplementation will be side effect free. While there are some drug interactions and safety precautions to be aware of, most users will find that turmeric’s benefits far outweigh any slight health risks that it may have.
- Difference between turmeric vs. curcumin.
Before taking a curcumin supplement, or any nutraceutical, please consult with a certified medical professional to see if it can improve your situation.