In the U.S., turmeric is best known as a spice. It's one of the main components of curry powder. In India and other parts of Asia, turmeric is used to treat many health conditions. It is believed to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and perhaps even anticancer properties.
Why do people take turmeric?
Curcumin, a substance in turmeric, may help to reduce inflammation. Several studies suggest that it might ease symptoms of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, like pain and inflammation. Other compounds in turmeric might also be medicinal.
In lab tests, curcumin seems to block the growth of certain kinds of tumors. One study showed that turmeric extract containing curcumin could -- in some cases -- stabilize colorectal cancer that wasn't helped by other treatments. But more research is needed.
Other preliminary lab studies suggest that curcumin or turmeric might protect against types of skin diseases, Alzheimer's disease, colitis, stomach ulcers, and high cholesterol. Based on lab studies, turmeric and curcumin might also help treat upset stomach, scabies, diabetes, HIV, uveitis, and viral infections.
But it’s important to keep in mind that most of these studies have been done in the laboratory. Researchers haven’t yet conducted significant studies on the benefits of turmeric and curcumin. So it's too early to say what health benefits turmeric might have.
How much turmeric should you take?
Turmeric is an unproven treatment, though it has years of traditional use and some preliminary convincing research. There is no standard dosage. Ask your health care provider for advice.
Can you get turmeric naturally from foods?
Turmeric, as a spice, is a common ingredient in Indian cooking. The spice (and supplement) comes from the underground stems (rhizomes) of the turmeric plant.
What are the risks of taking turmeric?
- Side effects. Turmeric is generally safe. It can cause nausea and diarrhea, especially in high doses or after long-term use. It might also pose a risk of ulcers in high doses. As a topical treatment, it can cause skin irritation. Caution is advised when turmeric is taken by people known to have gallstones; consult your health care provider first.
- Risks. Pregnant women should not use turmeric supplements. Talk to a doctor before using turmeric supplements regularly if you have any medical conditions, like gallbladder or kidney disease, bleeding disorders, diabetes, or immunity problems. Since turmeric can potentially increase bleeding, stop taking it at least two weeks before any surgery.
- Interactions. If you take any medicines regularly, talk to your doctor before you start using turmeric supplements. They could interact with medicines like aspirin, NSAID painkillers, statins, diabetes drugs, blood pressure medicines, and blood thinners. They might also interact with supplements that decrease clotting, like ginkgo, ginseng, and garlic.
Given the lack of evidence about its safety, children and women who are breastfeeding should only use turmeric if a doctor recommends it.