The next time you get a headache, you might want to head for your spice cabinet instead of your medicine cabinet. That's because turmeric (Curcuma longa), a bold yellow Indian spice that's ground from the roots of the turmeric plant, may be a natural way to find relief from migraines and headaches.
Read more: Benefits of Turmeric Powder
Turmeric for Headaches and Health
Turmeric, a cousin of ginger, has been used for centuries as a natural treatment for a number of ailments. "Turmeric is well known as an anti-inflammatory," says Tasneem "Taz" Bhatia, MD, integrative health expert, founder of CentreSpringMD in Atlanta and the author of What Doctors Eat. "Curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric and confers the majority of the anti-inflammatory activity."
According to a January 2017 article published in Aging, curcumin can help improve blood flow and reduce oxidative stress, which can help reduce the pressure that leads to migraine headaches in the first place. "Migraines are created by vasoconstriction [constriction of blood vessels], and turmeric helps to improve overall circulation and functions as a blood thinner," says Dr. Bhatia. "Turmeric can help reduce overall inflammation, making it a great candidate for migraine therapy."
Curcumin has shown some promise in conjunction with another migraine treatment. In a small double-blind study, people who took the popular migraine supplement, coenzyme Q10, along with a curcumin supplement reported reduced frequency, severity and duration of migraines compared with those who took one supplement or the other or a placebo. Researchers reported their findings in June 2019 in the journal Nutritional Neuroscience.
But the potential benefits of turmeric don't stop there. Other studies have suggested that the spice may play a significant role in treating serious illnesses like cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, Alzheimer's disease and arthritis. The Mayo Clinic notes that turmeric has anti-inflammatory compounds, known as curcuminoids, that have a positive effect on conditions and diseases from obesity and type 2 diabetes to cancer.
What You Need to Know
While putting a spoonful of turmeric in your scrambled eggs or in your smoothie may add a little zing of flavor to your menu and a touch of that all-important curcumin, using the spice in your cooking alone won't give you enough of the active ingredient to make a difference. Dr. Bhatia recommends choosing a curcumin supplement instead.
"I like a high-quality supplement since I know the amount I'm getting," she says. "Start with a gram per day, and increase to 2 to 3 grams per day for optimal anti-inflammatory effect and migraine relief." (Ingesting up to 12 grams of turmeric daily is considered safe, according to an dose-escalation study cited by the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University. )
Though turmeric tea has become popular, Dr. Bhatia suggests skipping the tea as well, as it may not have enough of the beneficial compounds to reduce inflammation.
As a common spice in Indian cooking, the US Food and Drug Administration considers turmeric generally safe to use and eat in typical doses, adds the Linus Pauling Institute. However, if you're on other medications, check with your doctor before taking turmeric or curcumin supplements.
Efforts by supplement makers to increase the amount of the active ingredient that can be absorbed and used by the body might lead products that have potentially harmful effects, notes the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. It may be unsafe for pregnant women when consumed in amounts greater than those found in food, and the impact of such higher dosages on breastfeeding babies is unknown, the center notes.
What's more, research published in September 2017 in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology found that some types of medications — cardiovascular drugs, antidepressants, anticoagulants, antibiotics, chemotherapeutic agents and antihistamines — may interact with curcumin.
The common breast cancer drug, tamoxifen, for instance, when taken while taking curcumin supplements during treatment, could reduce levels of the cancer drug in the body and may decrease its effectiveness, according to study published in March 2019 in Cancers (Basel).
Read more: How Much Turmeric to Take?
Is This an Emergency?
- Tasneem “Taz” Bhatia, MD, integrative health expert, founder of CentreSpringMD, Atlanta, and author, What Doctors Eat
- Mayo Clinic: “Mayo Clinic Minute: Are There Health Benefits to Taking Turmeric?”
- Aging: “Curcumin Supplementation Improves Vascular Endothelial Function in Healthy Middle-Aged and Older Adults by Increasing Nitric Oxide Bioavailability and Reducing Oxidative Stress”
- Nutritional Neuroscience: “The Synergistic Effects of Nano-Curcumin and Coenzyme Q10 Supplementation in Migraine Prophylaxis: A Randomized, Placebo-Controlled, Double-Blind Trial”
- Journal of Ethnopharmacology: “Pharmacokinetic Interactions of Curcuminoids With Conventional Drugs: A Review”
- Cancers (Basel): “Impact of Curcumin (With or Without Piperine) on the Pharmacokinetics of Tamoxifen”
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: "Tumeric"
- Linus Pauling Institute: "Curcumin"