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Is a Turmeric Supplement Good for You?

Turmeric has been in the news lately in connection with Coronavirus (COVID-19).  Conflicting articles and news reports have added to the confusion about whether turmeric could be helpful or harmful for COVID-19 symptoms, so I thought I’d delve into what exactly turmeric is and how it’s used.

What is Turmeric?

I like to cook, so I knew that turmeric is a spice used in Indian and Southeast Asian cooking.  It adds a distinctive yellow color to food and is a major ingredient in curry powder.  Turmeric is a member of the ginger family, and its root, or rhizome, contains the active component called curcumin.  Curcumin is also what gives turmeric its yellow color.

Turmeric has been used in traditional Chinese medicine and Indian medicine as an anti-inflammatory for bowel disorders and rheumatoid arthritis, as well as for liver disease, hyperlipidemia, depression, respiratory infections, allergies, and a whole host of other diseases.  Topical preparations have been used on the skin for pain, ringworm and other skin conditions, as well as an oral mouthwash for dental conditions.

Can Turmeric Improve Disease Symptoms?

Studies on turmeric have shown very limited improvement of most conditions because it’s been hard to study.  Curcumin is not a stable chemical and it can easily change to other substances, and after taking it orally it has a low bioavailability (the amount of drug that actually makes it into the bloodstream).  Consuming black pepper with turmeric can increase the amount of curcumin that is available in the bloodstream, thereby increasing both its positive and negative effects.  A few studies have shown that it may be helpful in osteoarthritis knee pain and function comparable to ibuprofen.  Most common side effects are gastrointestinal in nature: constipation, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and heartburn.

Will Turmeric Affect COVID-19 Responses?

Regarding the recent COVID-19 pandemic, some experts have warned against using turmeric or curcumin supplements because it may interfere with the body’s natural immune response to the virus. No studies have supported or refuted this claim.

Other Turmeric Studies

Many products are available on the market including capsules, tablets, oils, liquids, powders, and even a topical spray.  The amount of active ingredient varies by product.  Oral products containing up to 8 grams of curcumin have been used safely for up to 2 months, and most conventionally formulated products are considered generally safe.  However, pregnant and lactating females should only digest turmeric found in food and avoid any additional supplementation since it may stimulate the uterus and cause menstrual flow.  The safety in lactating women has not been established.  In addition, the toxicity of turmeric essential oils has been documented in animal research with an increase in mortality, so more studies are needed to establish safe doses and durations of therapy.

Drug interactions are also possible with many prescription drugs, including chemotherapy drugs, blood thinners, antibiotics, and diabetic medications.  It can also affect the metabolism of many drugs, so caution needs to be taken with these drug classes.

As you can see, there isn’t a lot of evidence that turmeric has definite health benefits.  Keep enjoying curry and Indian food, but if you’re considering adding a turmeric or curcumin supplement to your daily regimen, please check with your CHI Health pharmacist first.

Ann Thompson, RP, BCACP
Ann Thompson, RP, BCACP

Ann Thompson has been a pharmacist with CHI Health for 23 years, and is currently the CHI Health Retail Pharmacy manager. She has a board certification in Ambulatory Care, and loves working with patients and helping them manage their medications and overall health. In her spare time, she enjoys exercising, trying new healthy recipes, and spending time outdoors.

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