What is turmeric?
The turmeric that we see on shelves and in spice cabinets is made of the ground roots of the plant. The bright yellow color of processed turmeric has inspired many cultures to use it as a dye. Ground turmeric is also a major ingredient in curry powder. Capsules, teas, powders, and extracts are some of the turmeric products available commercially.
Curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric, and it has powerful biological properties. Ayurvedic medicine, a traditional Indian system of treatment, recommends turmeric for a variety of health conditions. These include chronic pain and inflammation. Western medicine has begun to study turmeric as a pain reliever and healing agent.
Keep reading to find out more about how turmeric might benefit your health, as well as some of its negative side effects.
Positive side effects of turmeric
The Arthritis Foundation cites several studies in which turmeric has reduced inflammation. This anti-inflammatory ability might reduce the aggravation that people with arthritis feel in their joints. The foundation suggests taking capsules of 400 to 600 milligrams (mg) of turmeric up to three times per day for inflammation relief.
It can relieve pain
Many people, including doctors, cite their own anecdotal experience with turmeric as a pain reliever. The spice is reputed to relieve arthritis pain as well.
Studies seem to support turmeric for pain relief, with one noting that it seemed to work as well as ibuprofen (Advil) in people with arthritis in their knees. Though dosing recommendations seem to vary, those who participated in the study took 800 mg of turmeric in capsule form each day.
It improves liver function
Turmeric has been getting attention recently because of its antioxidant abilities. The antioxidant effect of turmeric appears to be so powerful that it may stop your liver from being damaged by toxins. This could be good news for people who take strong drugs for diabetes or other health conditions that might hurt their liver with long-term use.
It may help reduce the risk of cancer
It can aid your digestion
Part of the reason that turmeric is in curry powder is because it adds an element of deliciousness to food. But turmeric can also play an important role in digesting that food. Because of its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, turmeric can contribute to healthy digestion.
It's used in ayurvedic medicine as a digestive healing agent. Now Western medicine has begun to study how turmeric can help with gut inflammation and gut permeability, two measures of your digestive efficiency. Turmeric is even being explored as a treatment for irritable bowel syndrome.
Negative side effects of turmeric
It can upset your stomach
The same agents in turmeric that support digestive health can cause irritation when taken in large amounts. Some participants in studies looking at the use of turmeric for cancer treatment had to drop out because their digestion was so negatively affected. Turmeric stimulates the stomach to produce more gastric acid. While this helps some people's digestion, it can really do a number on others.
It thins your blood
Turmeric's purifying properties may also make you bleed more easily. It's not clear why this happens. Other suggested benefits of turmeric, such as lowered cholesterol and lowered blood pressure, probably have something to do with the way turmeric functions in your blood.
People who take blood-thinning drugs like warfarin (Coumadin) should avoid consuming large doses of turmeric.
It may stimulate contractions
You may have heard that eating foods seasoned with curry can stimulate labor. Although there's little clinical data to back up this claim, studies suggest turmeric can ease symptoms of PMS. So there may be something to the old wives' tale.
Because of its blood-thinning effects alone, pregnant women should avoid taking turmeric supplements. Adding small amounts of turmeric as a spice to food shouldn't be a problem.
It appears that there are health benefits to including turmeric in your diet. The golden spice supports immune health, helps relieve pain, and can aid in digestion, among other things. But because of some of its side effects, turmeric may not be worth taking for some people.
It's important to use caution when deciding whether turmeric is something you need to try. As with any alternative therapy, speak with your doctor before you use turmeric to treat any health condition that you have.