Is Turmeric Bad for Your Kidneys?

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Current evidence suggests that curcumin, the active compound in turmeric, may help slow the progression of chronic kidney disease and prevent kidney problems due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
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About 14 percent of American adults live with chronic kidney disease. Many sufferers turn to herbs for kidney failure and other renal disorders that may not respond to conventional treatment. Turmeric, for instance, may relieve some of the symptoms associated with kidney disease.

Tip

Current evidence suggests that curcumin, the active compound in turmeric, may help slow the progression of chronic kidney disease and prevent kidney problems due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. However, more research is needed to confirm its safety and effectiveness.

How Does Turmeric Work?

This brightly colored spice is the main ingredient in curry powder and can be added to rice, egg salad, oatmeal, meat dishes and even smoothies. The popular golden milk, for instance, is made with turmeric and cow's or vegan milk. Proponents say that it scavenges free radicals, prevents inflammation and protects against heart disease.

Curcumin, a phenolic compound, gives this plant its yellow color. According to a January 2013 review in the AAPS Journal, curcumin exhibits hypoglycemic, antioxidant, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory effects. In clinical trials, it has been proven effective in the treatment and management of peptic ulcers, psoriasis, vitiligo, diabetes, atherosclerosis, inflammatory bowel diseases and even cancer. Compared to most medications, it's safe and well-tolerated at high doses.

There's a catch, though. This antioxidant has poor bioavailability, meaning that your body cannot fully absorb it. To reap its benefits, it's necessary to mix it with piperine, an active compound in black pepper. This combo may increase curcumin's bioavailability by up to 2,000 percent, as reported in the above review. When you buy turmeric or curcumin supplements, check the label to make sure they contain piperine as well.

Read more: 7 Ways to Add the Health Benefits of Turmeric to Your Diet

According to the AAPS Journal review, curcumin appears to be particularly effective against colon, breast, prostate and pancreatic cancers. Furthermore, it may help improve the symptoms associated with Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis due to its anti-inflammatory properties.

Other studies have found that it may increase bowel motility and reduce the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. This compound may also benefit those with arthritis, Alzheimer's disease, recurrent respiratory tract infections and diabetes-related disorders.

Curcumin and Chronic Kidney Disease

As it turns out, there might be a connection between curcumin and chronic kidney disease. According to a December 2014 research paper featured in Molecules, the leakage of cytokines and other pro-inflammatory compounds in the gut increases intestinal permeability. This may lead to diabetes, chronic kidney disease and plaque buildup on the artery walls. Curcumin may help reduce inflammation in the gut and hence protect against these disorders or improve their symptoms.

Furthermore, curcumin may delay the progression of chronic kidney disease, but more research is needed to confirm these findings. Most studies conducted so far were small but had promising results.

For example, a small clinical trial involving 24 patients with lupus nephritis, or kidney inflammation caused by lupus, suggests that curcumin may reduce systolic blood pressure, excess proteins in the urine and hematuria (blood in the urine) over just three months of treatment. The results were published in the Journal of Renal Nutrition in January 2012.

Read more: Do These 11 So-Called Superfoods Live Up to the Hype?

If you're thinking about using herbs for kidney failure, turmeric may help. According to a December 2016 review in the Journal of Renal Endocrinology, this spice may decrease certain inflammatory markers in hemodialysis patients, improve blood lipids and reduce kidney disease risk. Researchers attribute these potential health benefits to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Again, more large-scale studies are needed to evaluate its effectiveness.

Are There Any Side Effects?

Turmeric is generally safe in healthy individuals when used in small doses. However, it may cause adverse reactions in some people. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health warns against using turmeric in high doses or for long periods, as it may trigger digestive problems. Constipation, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, acid reflux and abdominal pain are common side effects.

This spice may also interact with certain medications, such as anticancer and immunosuppressant drugs.

A case report published in Transplantation Proceedings in the January-February 2017 issue outlines the interaction between turmeric and Tacrolimus, an immunosuppressant drug. A 56-year-old man with a history of liver transplantation ended up in the ER after taking this medicine along with high doses of turmeric. His symptoms included high creatinine levels and edema (fluid buildup in the body).

Another case report, which was published in Nefrologia in the November-December 2018 issue, indicates that turmeric may not be safe for dialysis patients when used in large amounts. A 63-year-old woman on dialysis developed hematomas and experienced spontaneous bleeding episodes after taking 3 to 5 grams of turmeric infusions for several days. As the researchers note, this spice may have anticoagulant effects and increase the risk of bleeding.

In addition to these potential side effects, turmeric may contribute to acute toxic hepatitis, contact urticaria and allergic dermatitis. Furthermore, it may not be safe for people with digestive disorders or at risk for kidney stones, warns the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

Warning

Like most supplements and herbal remedies, this spice carries potential risks. Use it with caution, especially if you have a pre-existing condition.

Ask your doctor about curcumin and chronic kidney disease before you start taking this supplement. A doctor may prescribe additional tests to determine whether or not turmeric is safe for you.

Is This an Emergency?

To reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 infections, it is best to call your doctor before leaving the house if you are experiencing a high fever, shortness of breath or another, more serious symptom.
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