Let's Talk Turmeric - Uses & Risks vs Benefits
As many would know I am a Canberra Doula and qualified Herbal Alchemist (amongst my other skills and qualifications) so it is not surprising to receive requests for posts that relate to specific herbs or spices. We also prepare and deliver ready to eat yummy postpartum ayurvedic meals for our Canberra Doula clients. Recently, I was sent a request to cover the spice turmeric and its risks vs benefits by one of our Birthing Individuals VIP members. So, I thought I would write a little blog post on Turmeric this week.
Turmeric is a food spice that is also known as Curcuma Longa, and the word Turmeric is often used interchangeably with Curcumin which is the name of one of the many chemical constitutions the spice Turmeric contains (Arnason, A. 2017; Robbins, O. 2017; ). Turmeric also contains the beneficial volatile oils tumerone, atlantone, and zingiberone, along with numerous beneficial nutrients (Worlds Healthiest Foods. 2019). In fact, just 1 teaspoon of ground Turmeric covers the following Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) amounts for a variety of nutrients:
The spice has been widely used throughout history in traditional Ayurvedic Medicines and Naturopathic Medicine (Robbins, O. 2017; Sen, C & Saberi, H. 2014; Hetchman, L. 2013; Duke, J.A. 1997; Pizzomo, J.E & Murray, M.T. 2012). However, over the last few decades, it has also made a name for itself in modern-day health care which has caught onto the many of turmeric’s beneficial properties (WebMd. 2019; Emedicine. 2019; Medical News Today. 2018).
The spice turmeric is part of the ginger family and is identifiable by its bright yellow or orange root stalks which are rich in the curcuminoid chemicals and other related chemicals – these combinations give turmeric its vibrant colour once dried and ground into a powder (Arnarson, A. 2017; Tumeric. 2019; Healthy Food Tribe. 2019; Eichenseher, J. 2018). Due to its colourful nature, the spice is also used as a natural dye for clothes and other items – it can also stain the skin.
It is believed that turmeric only contains 2-6% of curcumin (one of the curcuminoid chemicals) and this is where the majority of health benefits is believed to stem from (Tayyem, RF., et al. 2006; DeVries, C. 2016; Arthritis Foundation, 2019). For this reason, it is often recommended to take curcumin supplements to achieve the full effects of the curcumin rather than simply consuming turmeric (Gunnars, K. 2018). However, it is important to acknowledge that there have been no official guidelines or recommendations set out for turmeric or curcumin dosages and various studies have found beneficial effects in turmeric in doses of 400-2000mg per day (Link, R. 2019; Arthritis Foundation, 2019; Hewlings, SJ & Douglas, KS. 2017; European Food Safety Authority). In addition, benefits can often be obtained through Turmeric from amounts as little as 1/50th of a teaspoon daily consumed over several months. Furthermore, many sources recommend not simply commencing with the consumption of turmeric or curcumin in high medicinal amounts initially. This is to help reduce the chances of negative side effects (Mental Health Daily. 2015; Link, R. 2019) . Instead, the amount should start small and gradually increase over time until you have either reached your desired dosage or begin experiencing side effects which would result in the need for a reduction of the product in your diet. Adding black pepper to foods that contain turmeric is believed to assist with the absorption of curcumin within the body by 2000% (Shoba, G. et al. 1998).
So What Are The Side Effects Or Potential Side Effects Of Turmeric Use?
According to a variety of sources, the use of turmeric or curcumin is generally regarded as safe for most people and situations. However, it does come with some risks and side effects that are often seen in those who have known contradictions, or those who consume large amounts and/or those who are starting out on their turmeric and curcumin journey without a gradual introduction process (Hewlings, SJ & Douglas, KS. 2017; Carroll, RE., et al. 2011 ; Lao, CD., et al. 2006; Sharma, RA., et al. 2004; Aggarwal, BB & Harikumar, KB. 2009; Yadav, SK. 2013; Hsu, CH & Cheng, AL. 2007; Tang, M. et al. 2008). The gradual introduction process is believed by a range of sources to assist with discovering individual tolerance levels while also reducing the chances of potential unwanted side effects
•Increased Serum Alkaline Phosphate in body
•Increased Lactate Dehydrogenase in the body
•Blotchiness of Skin on face and neck
•Low-Grade Fever or Hot Flushes
•Reduced Testosterone and Sperm Mobility
•Impaired Iron Absorption (when doses of turmeric or curcumin are high)
•Jaundice – Yellowing of Skin
It is important to also be aware that the evidence to date suggests that most people do not experience these side effects at low dosages. However, once doses begin to increase (remembering that every person is an individual as are their tolerance thresholds) individuals often start experiencing 1 or more side effects. The dosage in which people experience the side effects is based on each individuals’ thresholds; however, this threshold is often reached between 400-12,000mg daily. Turmeric is considered safe for most people excluding those with known contradictions or where the turmeric exceeds individual tolerance levels (Chainani-Wu, N. 2003; Lal, B. et al. 1999 ; Soni, KB & Kuttan, R. 1992;Satoskar, RR. 1986 ). Some of the suggestions regarding how to reduce risk of unwanted side effects recommended by various sources including Mental Health Daily are:
1) Start with small amounts and increase gradually
2) Split up your turmeric in meals throughout the day
3) Have the turmeric with food to reduce the chance of stomach upset
4) If you are taking medications or supplements speak with your Doctor and Pharmacist first about any potential interactions with the turmeric or curcumin before using it.
5) Try to avoid food isle ground/powdered turmeric where possible and look for fresh raw turmeric or go to your local health food store or chemist. The reason for this is that over the years there have been some concerns regarding lead and additive contaminants in some ground/powdered turmeric often found in supermarkets with potential links to health issues (Cowell, W. et al. 2017; Parvathy, VA. et al. 2015; Dhakal, S. et al. 2016; Gupta, S. et al. 2003; Gleason, K. et al. 2014; Flora, G. et al. 2012).
6) Avoid using turmeric or curcumin if there is a known contradiction
7) Discontinue usage or reduce the amount of turmeric used if experiencing side effects
What Are The Benefits Of Using Turmeric?
Scientists and those within the medical field have been investigating the benefits of turmeric and its active chemical component curcumin for the past few decades while traditional medicine providers have employed the use of the spice for thousands of years. Over this time, it has demonstrated to be beneficial or potentially beneficial (still being investigated and studied) for several health issues (Garg, SK. 2012; Qin, S. 2017; Menon, VP. 2007; Akazawa, N. 2012; Usharani, P. 2008; Wongcharoen, W. et al. 2012; Jurenka, JS. 2009; Takada, Y. et al. 2004; Marin, YE. 2007; Barclay, LR. 2000;Agarwal, R. et al. 2010 ; Bulmus, GF. et al.2013; Biswas, SK. et al. 2005; Ying, Xu. et al. 2006; Belviranli, M. et al. 2013; Wongcharoean, W & Phrommintikul, A. 2009; Shrikant, M & Palanivelu, K. 2008; Hamaguchi,T. et al. 2010; Alwi, L. et al. 2008 ):
•Arthritis Inflammation and Pain
•Lowering Blood Lipids in those at risk of cardiovascular disease
•Improve Antioxidant Actions within the Body
•Improving Blood Vessel Function and Reducing Blood Pressure
•Reduce Heart Attack Risk
Turmeric is best known for its anti-inflammatory effects and pain-relieving abilities, particularly in those who suffer from arthritis (Chandran, B & Goel, A. 2012; Belcaro, G. et al. 2010; Kuptniratsaikul, V. et al. 2009); however, there have been studies emerging over the years in relation to its benefits in people who struggle with depression or anxiety (Sanmukhani, J. et al. 2014; Miller, AH & Charles LR. 2017; Shrinivas, K. et al. 2008; Ng, QX. et al. 2017. A 2013 study even found that curcumin was as effective as the anti-depressant medication known as fluoxetine. It is important to note though that many more studies need to be done in relation to turmeric, curcumin, and mental health issues.
In addition, some studies show that consumption of curcumin and/or turmeric may reduce cancer risk in people and it may even have some cancer fighting properties (Aggarwal, BB. et al. 2003; Anand, P. et al. 2008; Ravindran, J. et al. 2009; Kawamori, T. et al. 1999; Bar-Sela, G. et al. 2010; Carroll, RE. et al. 2011 ; Sourav, B. et al. 2018).
Turmeric and curcumin are also being studied for their potentially beneficial effect on memory and cognitive abilities (Cox, KH. 2015) and in culinary seasoning or flavoring usage, it is regarded as safe. This is also the case when used medicinally for many people; however, there are situations where the risk of medicinal turmeric usage supersede any potential benefits and needs to be seriously weighed up against the associated risks and discussed with the individuals’ medical care provider.
When The Real Risk May Outway The Benefits
Turmeric and curcumin have some very impressive benefits and uses; however, for some people, the risk of use may outweigh the benefits and should be seriously discussed with their health care provider and a pharmacist prior to using any more than just culinary quantities. These situations are:
• If you are pregnant or breastfeeding – turmeric has blood-thinning properties that carry risks and there are also some concerns regarding its potential to aggravate the uterus, although there is little evidence to back up the claims about the uterine aggravation the blood-thinning properties is still a concern. The limited studies surrounding its use during pregnancy and breastfeeding also may make it a questionable and possibly unsafe attribution to a pregnancy diet unless it is in small culinary seasoning amounts – NOT medicinal quantities (Kim, DC. et al. 2012).
• If you suffer from blood disorders where your body has difficulty clotting blood, or you are on blood-thinning medications turmeric may negatively impact (Kim, DC. et al. 2012 )
• If you have difficulties with iron absorption or low iron levels turmeric may not be suitable due to its ability to impact negatively on iron absorption with high turmeric consumption.
• If you are on any antacid or diabetes medications
• If you experience gallbladder problems as turmeric may make this worse
• If you have Diabetes – turmeric may reduce blood sugar levels (Zeinab, G. et al. 2014).
• If you have hormone-sensitive conditions such as breast cancer, endometriosis, uterine cancer, or ovarian cancer the turmeric may make things worse with its effects on estrogen.
• If you struggle with reflux issues – turmeric may make reflux worse
• If you are expecting to undergo any surgery within the next 2 weeks as there are some concerns this may slow down the clotting due to turmeric blood-thinning properties.
To conclude, Turmeric has some amazing health benefits; however, it also carries very real risks– particularly if using the spice in large amounts or the user has a known or unknown contradiction to use which creates an elevated risk. Regardless of where you sit on this scale, it is important to consult your medical care provider about your considerations and/or plans. These should all be discussed with your care provider along with the risks vs benefits attached to your individual circumstances. Turmeric roots, turmeric powder, turmeric tea, and both turmeric or curcumin supplements may be easily found and purchased at most shops; however, it is important to remember that even natural, easily accessible products come with their own set of risks. Therefore, it is important to do your own research and speak with your medical care provider if you are considering utilizing these medicinally.
If, however, you are wanting to add a little seasoning to your food you will be happy to know that this is usually considered to be quite safe for most people and delicious.
DISCLAIMER: Lee is a Qualified Doula and Level 2 Herbal Alchemist; she is NOT a medical care provider and none of this information within this blog article should be construed as medical advice. It is available for informational purposes only and people should always consult with their Doctor.