Turmeric is the darling of the spice industry these days *sips golden milk latte* and for good reason. It has major anti-inflammatory and antioxidant power, and some say its benefits extend to everything from pain relief to cancer prevention.
Because of this, you can find turmeric in powder and capsule form so you can get a supplemental dose of it with or without cooking.
But are there any side effects or interactions you should be worried about if taking high-dose turmeric supplements?
Turmeric is a rhizome (a plant stem or root) and is made up of a whole gaggle of beneficial compounds and nutrients.
It’s a popular spice, especially in Southeast Asian and Indian cuisines, and has been used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine to treat an array of inflammatory conditions for hundreds of years.
Its reputation has since caught the attention of the Western world, and you can now find it everywhere from snacks to teas.
Curcumin and turmeric: What’s the diff?
You’ll often hear curcumin and turmeric mentioned together, which can be a little confusing.
Curcumin is a curcuminoid (a chemical compound) that is the main active component of turmeric. In addition to offering health benefits, curcumin helps give turmeric its signature yellow hue.
While they’re technically different compounds, they offer many of the same benefits since curcumin is part of turmeric.
Both turmeric and curcumin supplements may support a variety of health conditions. In fact, the synergy of these compounds working together is likely what makes turmeric so powerful.
Help reduces inflammation
There isn’t much widely available research on turmeric in people with no underlying health conditions, but small studies have shown that supplements that include just 80 milligrams of curcumin can help reduce levels of inflammation in otherwise healthy adults.
Higher doses (up to 2 grams of curcumin) combined with piperine have also been shown to support recovery in elite athletes by reducing exercise-induced inflammation and muscle soreness.
Improve antioxidant status
We already know curcumin is an antioxidant. It fights oxidative stress on its own and can activate the stress-busting activities of other antioxidants circulating around the body. This translates to a bigger army to help fight the bad stuff we encounter all day long.
Improve blood vessel function
Curcumin may protect heart health by improving endothelial function (the function of the membranes that line your heart and blood vessels). Keeping these membranes in tip-top shape helps regulate blood pressure and generally helps keep your blood flowing.
Reduce risk of heart attack
In addition to the anti-inflammatory benefits already mentioned (which also contribute to heart health), turmeric and curcumin may help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides, both of which affect your risk of heart disease.
May prevent cancer cell growth
Curcumin is sometimes used as a complementary therapy along with chemotherapy treatments to help prevent disease progression.
Test tube studies have shown that curcumin can help slow the growth and development of cancer cells and may even be able to target and kill off these cells in certain types of cancer. Still, more research is needed.
Turmeric for cooking is typically found in a dried and powdered form as a standalone spice or as part of a spice blend. Turmeric supplements are typically much more potent than the spice itself and are more often sold as:
- an extract
- pills or capsules
Can I just skip to a curcumin supplement to maximize benefits?
You totally can, but here’s a little intel on curcumin supplements.
First, the curcumin isn’t very bioavailable, which means not much of it is absorbed into your bloodstream and therefore it may not be particularly effective.
Gotta love science, though. Researchers found a fix for bioavailability by combining curcumin with piperine, the active ingredient in black pepper. You can also find it combined with a little fat, which vastly improves curcumin’s bioavailability and allows it to spread its antioxidant wings and fly.
There’s no rule about how much turmeric you can take, so it’s best to stick to the recommended dosage on any turmeric supplement you’re taking. But there are some guidelines for curcumin.
The Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) recommends taking 1.4 milligrams of curcumin per pound (3 milligrams per kilogram) of body weight per day.
However, a 2017 review also notes that clinical trials have shown doses from 4,000 to 8,000 milligrams or even 12,000 milligrams a day to be well-tolerated and safe.
Pure turmeric is generally safe, but long-term use of high-dose turmeric supplements may result in gastrointestinal symptoms like:
- yellow poop
Turmeric supplements have also come under scrutiny lately due to other ingredients they contain that may have negative effects. Fillers like wheat, barley, or rye can cause significant GI symptoms in people who have celiac disease or a wheat or gluten intolerance.
Curcumin is also generally considered safe in lower doses.
While most people experience no side effects with higher doses, some may experience GI symptoms (especially with doses above 1,000 milligrams), including:
- skin rash
Look out for piperine if you’re on blood thinners!
Many curcumin supplements also include piperine to improve curcumin bioavailability. But piperine may interfere with the breakdown of certain drugs, and curcumin itself may increase bleeding and decrease blood sugar.
If you take blood thinners or other medications, chat with a doctor before hitting the supplement aisle for turmeric.
Using turmeric regularly to cook and flavor food is a great, safe way to reap the benefits of this inflammation-fighting spice. If you decide to go the supplement route, be sure to find a quality product.
Supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA, so be sure the quality and safety of your supplement is verified by an independent third-party agency like NSF International or USP.
We can’t stress enough the importance of being an informed consumer, especially when it comes to supplements. Do your research and always talk to your doctor before taking a new supplement.
Using turmeric (the spice) in food on the regular is a great way to incorporate antioxidants and potentially reduce inflammation.
The supplement form offers a much more potent dose of curcuminoids. While turmeric is generally recognized as safe by the FDA, that doesn’t mean it’s totally safe for everyone.
Remember to look for that third-party quality and safety seal when purchasing. And if you have any health conditions or take any prescribed medications, talk to your doctor before trying a turmeric supplement.