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Turmeric

Also indexed as: Curcumin

Botanical name: Curcuma longa

Photo

© Steven Foster

Parts used and where grown

The vast majority of turmeric comes from India. Turmeric is one of the key ingredients in many curries, giving them color and flavor. The root and rhizome (underground stem) are used medicinally.

Turmeric has been used in connection with the following conditions (refer to the individual health concern for complete information):

Science Ratings Health Concerns
2Stars

Indigestion

Rheumatoid arthritis

1Star

Anterior uveitis (chronic)

Atherosclerosis

Bursitis

Crohn's disease

Genital herpes (topical)

HIV support

Inflammation

Low back pain

Osteoarthritis (in combination with boswellia, ashwagandha, and zinc)

Pre- and post-surgery health

Ulcerative colitis

3Stars Reliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.
2Stars Contradictory, insufficient, or preliminary studies suggesting a health benefit or minimal health benefit.
1Star For an herb, supported by traditional use but minimal or no scientific evidence. For a supplement, little scientific support and/or minimal health benefit.

Historical or traditional use (may or may not be supported by scientific studies)

In Ayurvedic medicine, turmeric was prescribed for treatment of many conditions, including poor vision, rheumatic pains, and coughs, and to increase milk production. Native peoples of the Pacific sprinkled the dust on their shoulders during ceremonial dances and used it for numerous medical problems ranging from constipation to skin diseases. Turmeric was used for numerous intestinal infections and ailments in Southeast Asia.

Active constituents

The active constituent is known as curcumin. It has been shown to have a wide range of therapeutic actions. First, it protects against free radical damage because it is a strong antioxidant.1 2 Second, it reduces inflammation by lowering histamine levels and possibly by increasing production of natural cortisone by the adrenal glands.3 Third, it protects the liver from a number of toxic compounds.4 Fourth, it has been shown to reduce platelets from clumping together, which in turn improves circulation and may help protect against atherosclerosis.5 There are also test-tube and animal studies showing a cancer-preventing action of curcumin. In one of these studies, curcumin effectively inhibited metastasis (uncontrolled spread) of melanoma (skin cancer) cells.6 This may be due to its antioxidant activity in the body. Curcumin inhibits HIV in test tubes, though human trials are needed to determine if it has any usefulness for treating humans with this condition.7

A preliminary trial in people with rheumatoid arthritis found curcumin to be somewhat useful for reducing inflammation and symptoms such as pain and stiffness.8 A separate double-blind trial found that curcumin was superior to placebo or phenylbutazone (an NSAID) for alleviating post-surgical inflammation.9

While a double-blind trial has found turmeric helpful for people with indigestion,10 results in people with stomach or intestinal ulcers have not shown it to be superior to a placebo and have demonstrated it to be less effective than antacids.11 12

Preliminary research indicates a possible benefit of oral curcumin supplementation (375 mg of turmeric extract with 95% curcuminoids three times daily for 12 weeks) for chronic anterior uveitis (inflammation of the iris and middle coat of the eyeball).13

How much is usually taken?

Turmeric extracts standardized at 90 to 95% curcumin can be taken in the amount of 250 to 500 mg three times per day.14 Tincture, 0.5–1.5 ml three times per day, is sometimes recommended.

Are there any side effects or interactions?

Used in the recommended amounts, turmeric is generally safe. It has been used in large quantities as a condiment with no adverse reactions. Some herbal books recommend not taking high amounts of turmeric during pregnancy as it may cause uterine contractions and people with gallstones or obstruction of bile passages should consult their healthcare practitioner before using turmeric.15 16

At the time of writing, there were no well-known drug interactions with turmeric.

References:

1. Sreejayan N, Rao MNA. Free radical scavenging activity of curcuminoids. Arzneimittelforschung 1996;46:169–71.

2. Ramirez-Boscá A, Soler A, Gutierrez MAC, et al. Antioxidant curcuma extracts decrease the blood lipid peroxide levels of human subjects. Age 1995;18:167–9.

3. Arora RB, Basu N, Kapoor V, Jain AP. Anti-inflammatory studies on Curcuma longa (turmeric). Ind J Med Res 1971;59:1289–95.

4. Kiso Y, Suzuki Y, Watanbe N, et al. Antihepatotoxic principles of Curcuma longa rhizomes. Planta Med 1983;49:185–7.

5. Srivastava R, Dikshit M, Srimal RC, Dhawan BN. Anti-thrombotic effect of curcumin. Thromb Res 1985;40:413–7.

6. Menon LG, Kuttan R, Kuttan G. Anti-metastatic activity of curcumin and catechin. Cancer Lett 1999;141:159–65.

7. Barthelemy S, Vergnes L, Moynier M, et al. Curcumin and curcumin derivatives inhibit Tat-mediated transactivation of type 1 human immunodeficiency virus long terminal repeat. Res Virol 1998;149:43–52.

8. Deodhar SD, Sethi R, Srimal RC. Preliminary studies on antirheumatic activity of curcumin (diferuloyl methane). Ind J Med Res 1980;71:632–4.

9. Satoskar RR, Shah SJ, Shenoy SG. Evaluation of anti-inflammatory property of curcumin (diferuloyl methane) in patients with postoperative inflammation.Int J Clin Pharmacol Ther Toxicol 1986;24:651–4.

10. Thamlikitkul V, Bunyapraphathara N, Dechatiwongse T, et al. Randomized double-blind study of Curcuma domestica Val for dyspepsia. J Med Assoc Thai 1989;72:613–20.

11. Van Dau N, Ngoc Ham N, Huy Khac D, et al. The effects of traditional drug, turmeric (Curcuma longa), and placebo on the healing of duodenal ulcer. Phytomedicine 1998;5:29–34.

12. Kositchaiwat C, Kositchaiwat S, Havanondha J. Curcuma longa Linn in the treatment of gastric ulcer comparison to liquid antacid: A controlled clinical trial. J Med Assoc Thai 1993;76:601–5.

13. Lal B, Kapoor AK, Asthana OP, et al. Efficacy of curcumin in the management of chronic anterior uveitis. Phytotherapy Res 1999;13:318–22.

14. Foster S. 101 Medicinal Herbs. Loveland, CO: Interweave Press, 1998, 200–1.

15. Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, et al. (eds). The Complete Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Boston, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998, 222.

16. McGuffin M, Hobbs C, Upton R, et al. American Herbal Products Association Botanical Safety Handbook. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1997, 39.

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