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Turmeric is the darling of the spice industry these days * sips golden milk latte * and for good reason. It has great anti-inflammatory and antioxidant power, and some say its benefits extend to everything from pain relief to cancer prevention.
This is why you can find turmeric in powder and capsule form so you can get an extra dose of it with or without cooking.
But are there any side effects or interactions you should be concerned about when taking high dose turmeric supplements?
Turmeric is a rhizome (a plant stem or root) and is made up of a whole range of beneficial compounds and nutrients.
Its reputation has since caught the attention of the western world, and you can now find it anywhere from snacks to teas.
Curcumin and Turmeric: What’s the Difference?
You will often hear curcumin and turmeric mentioned together, which can be a bit confusing.
Curcumin is a curcuminoid (a chemical compound) that is the main active ingredient in turmeric. In addition to providing health benefits, curcumin also gives turmeric its signature yellow hue.
Although they are technically different compounds, since curcumin is part of turmeric, they offer many of the same benefits.
Both turmeric and curcumin supplements can support a wide variety of health conditions. In fact, the synergy of these compounds is probably what makes turmeric so powerful.
Help reduce inflammation
There isn’t a lot of generally available research on turmeric in people with no underlying health conditions, but small studies have shown that supplements containing as little as 80 milligrams of curcumin can help reduce inflammation levels in otherwise healthy adults.
Higher doses (up to 2 grams of curcumin) combined with piperine have also been shown to aid recovery in elite athletes by reducing inflammation and muscle soreness from exercise.
Improve the antioxidant status
We already know that curcumin is an antioxidant. It fights oxidative stress on its own and can activate the stress-relieving activities of other antioxidants that circulate in the body. This means a bigger army to fight the bad things we face all day.
Improve blood vessel function
Curcumin can protect heart health by improving endothelial function (the function of the membranes that line your heart and blood vessels). By keeping these membranes in tip-top shape, you can regulate blood pressure and generally maintain blood flow.
Reduce the risk of a heart attack
In addition to the anti-inflammatory benefits already mentioned (which also contribute to heart health), turmeric and curcumin can help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides, both of which affect your risk of heart disease.
Can prevent cancer cells from growing
Curcumin is sometimes used as a complementary therapy along with chemotherapy treatments to prevent the disease from getting worse.
Test-tube studies have shown that curcumin slows the growth and development of cancer cells, and may even be able to fight and kill these cells in certain types of cancer. However, more research is needed.
Turmeric for cooking is typically found in dried and powdered form as a spice on its own or as part of a spice mix. Turmeric supplements are usually much stronger than the spice itself and are more commonly sold as:
- an excerpt
- Pills or capsules
Can I Just Jump Over To A Curcumin Supplement To Maximize The Benefits?
You can, but here is some information about curcumin supplements.
First, the curcumin is not very bioavailable, which means that not much of it gets into your bloodstream and therefore it may not be particularly effective.
I have to love science. The researchers found a solution to bioavailability by combining curcumin with piperine, the active ingredient in black pepper. You can also find it paired with some fat, which greatly improves curcumin’s bioavailability and allows it to spread its antioxidant wings and fly.
There is no rule about how much turmeric you can take. So it’s best to stick to the recommended dosage for each turmeric supplement you take. There are some guidelines for curcumin, however.
The Joint FAO / WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) recommends consuming 1.4 milligrams of curcumin per pound (3 milligrams per kilogram) of body weight per day.
However, a 2017 review also found that clinical studies have shown that doses of 4,000 to 8,000 milligrams, or even 12,000 milligrams per day, are well tolerated and safe.
Pure turmeric is generally safe, but long-term use of high-dose turmeric supplements can lead to gastrointestinal symptoms such as:
- yellow poop
Turmeric supplements have also been under scrutiny lately for other ingredients that can have negative effects. Fillers such as wheat, barley, or rye can cause significant GI symptoms in people with celiac disease or a wheat or gluten intolerance.
Curcumin is generally considered safe even at lower doses.
While most people won’t experience side effects at higher doses, some may experience symptoms of GI (especially at doses above 1,000 milligrams), including:
- a headache
- skin rash
Watch out for piperine if you have blood thinners!
Many curcumin supplements also contain piperine to improve curcumin’s bioavailability. However, piperine can interfere with the breakdown of certain drugs, and curcumin itself can increase bleeding and lower blood sugar.
If you are taking blood thinners or other medications, speak to a doctor before reaching the aisle for turmeric.
Using turmeric for cooking and seasoning foods regularly is a great and safe way to reap the benefits of this anti-inflammatory spice. If you choose to take the supplement, make sure you find a quality product.
Diet supplements are not regulated by the FDA. So make sure that the quality and safety of your dietary supplement is verified by an independent third party agency such as NSF International or USP.
We cannot stress enough the importance of being an informed consumer, especially when it comes to nutritional supplements. Do your research and always speak to your doctor before taking any new supplement.
Regularly using turmeric (the spice) in food is a great way to incorporate antioxidants and potentially reduce inflammation.
The supplement form offers a much stronger dose of curcuminoids. While turmeric is generally recognized as safe by the FDA, that doesn’t mean it is completely safe for everyone.
Remember to look for a third-party quality and security seal when purchasing. And if you have any health issues or are taking any prescribed medication, speak to your doctor before trying a turmeric supplement.