Are turmeric supplements effective?
- Turmeric, or Curcuma longa, comes from the same botanical family as ginger and is native to Southeast Asia. Its rhizome (underground stem) is used for culinary and medicinal purposes.
- Statista reports that India is the world's leading exporter of turmeric, having exported nearly $226 billion of the spice in 2021.
- The 2020 CRN Consumer Survey on Dietary Supplements revealed that turmeric ranked #7 in the 'Top 10 Ingredients for Immunity,' with vitamin C coming in first place.
- According to the FDA, dietary supplements 'can help you improve or maintain your overall health,' but they can also 'interact with medications, interfere with lab tests, or have dangerous effects during surgery.'
The history of the curcuma longa plant's roots--commonly known as turmeric--dates back nearly 4,000 years to ancient India, where the golden yellow spice was used in various ways, from flavoring foods to religious rituals. However, turmeric also has a long recorded history of medicinal use, with explicit medical references worldwide dating back more than 2,000 years. Further attesting to the reverence that cultures have had for turmeric's benefits, Sanskrit has over 50 names for the spice, many of them related to health and medicine, such as 'one that wins over diseases' and '[that] which cures fevers.'
In the modern era, various studies have been conducted to determine whether or not there is any truth to the folklore surrounding turmeric. These studies have verified some of the alleged properties, particularly turmeric's anti-inflammatory ability. Beyond this, several studies indicate numerous additional benefits to ingesting the spice, including antimicrobial defense. The Cleveland Clinic even relates that turmeric is as effective as Prozac in “lessening symptoms of depression.”
Additionally, unlike pharmaceuticals with numerous adverse side effects, modern science has determined that turmeric is generally safe for consumption, with only mild side effects of diarrhea and nausea typically arising from ingesting large doses.
The fact that a readily available spice has such powerful medicinal effects has helped bolster the popularity of turmeric, with sales exceeding $32 million in 2017, and for good reason. A 'potent anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant' with the power to 'improve heart health and prevent against Alzheimer's and cancer,' turmeric is a staple in any natural healing medicine cabinet.
Turmeric supplements have become the wellness industry’s new cure-all due to an active ingredient known as curcumin, which has been shown to aid the management of oxidative and inflammatory conditions. However, though some studies do back the health benefits of curcumin, consumers should be aware that generic daily turmeric supplements typically do not contain the 1,000mg of curcumin per dose needed for people to see an effect.
This is because, by weight, curcumin only makes up about 3% of turmeric. One must also note that studies observing the positive health associations mostly tend to use either pure curcumin or turmeric that has been developed with a higher proportion of curcumin. These studies have also not shown consistent results. Many of them have been done on small groups of people or animals, making it difficult for researchers to draw reliable conclusions.
It is also known that turmeric is poorly absorbed by the body. Since curcumin does not dissolve in fat, the body will likely excrete most of what is consumed.
Turmeric supplements can also be potentially toxic for some people because the supplements also have an ingredient called piperine, which is added to boost the effects of curcumin. However, piperine can also be dangerous, as it slows down the elimination of curcumin and some prescription drugs. Due to concerns relating to curcumin’s toxicity, the FDA also previously proposed banning the use of the ingredient in compounded drugs.
Therefore, though turmeric supplements have been subject to numerous extraordinary health claims, they are unlikely to be as effective as many believe them to be.