Written by: Ayelet Portman, Dietetic Intern
What is Turmeric and Curcumin?
Turmeric is a plant from the ginger family and grown in southeast Asia, specifically in India. Turmeric, a large component of curry powder, is a spice that has been used in cooking and as an herbal medicine in India and traditional Chinese medicine. In India, turmeric is often used to help with issues of the skin, respiratory tract, joints, and the digestive system (1).
Curcumin, which contributes to turmeric’s yellow color, is believed to be the most biologically active compound in turmeric and makes up about 3-5% ground turmeric powder (4).
What Are Turmeric and Curcumin Supplements Used For?
As turmeric supplements become more popular additional research is being conducted to examine potential benefits and it is increasingly showing connections between turmeric and health. In a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials examining patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), it was found that turmeric may be able to improve liver function (5). Among this population, it was found that at a high enough dosage, which would be considered 1000mg/day or higher, curcumin may be effective in treating NAFLD and possibly in lowering BMI and improving insulin sensitivity (5).
Another study looking at patients who were at risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), including those with acute coronary syndrome, type 2 diabetes, or obesity, found that turmeric may be protective against heart disease by decreasing LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels (6). The effect of turmeric on total cholesterol levels is unclear, since it may be more effective in LDL (“bad cholesterol”) than in HDL (“good cholesterol”). Additionally, it may be more protective in those who are already at higher risk for CVD as opposed to those who are not (6).
So What Do We Know About Turmeric?
- Turmeric and curcumin products are most likely safe in recommended amounts when ingested or applied to skin (1).
- It may be unsafe to ingest higher than natural amounts of turmeric found in food while pregnant or breastfeeding (1).
- Curcumin may have the ability to manage blood sugar in the body (2).
- Curcumin may have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anticancer properties (3,7).
Are Turmeric Supplements Safe?
The Food and Drug Administration has categorized turmeric as Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) and no serious adverse events have been documented from supplementation(5). Although it seems like the research is indicating that turmeric is safe to consume in recommended amounts, it is important to consider that some studies have reported possible side effects of turmeric in addition to health benefits. In one study, participants reported cases of abdominal pain, nausea, constipation, hot flashes, vertigo, itching, diarrhea, and dyspepsia, however, no serious side effects were found (6). Turmeric and curcumin supplements may interact with other medications including the blood thinner warfarin so it’s important to share any supplements you take with your doctor (5).
There is ongoing research that indicates turmeric supplementation may be beneficial for preventing certain diseases, including effects on cardiovascular health, cancer, diabetes, liver disease, and obesity. If you are considering taking turmeric, make sure to consult a doctor or registered dietitian before doing so.