The Health Benefits and Side Effects of Turmeric

Turmeric, which contains curcumin, has been used as a treatment for a host of ailmentsn Ayurvedic medicine.
Image Credit: Westend61/Westend61/GettyImages

Turmeric, or Curcuma longa, has been used for more than 4,000 years to treat a wide range of diseases and conditions, from inflammation to indigestion to infections.

The turmeric plant, a relative of ginger root, grows primarily in India, China and Africa. It gives curry its bright yellow color and bitter flavor.


As an herb seasoning, turmeric appears in countless dishes in India. The root, or rhizome, has a rich supply of curcumin, a substance found in turmeric, is a potent antioxidant, according to a 2013 review in The AAPS Journal.

While there are promising health benefits associated with turmeric and its active ingredient curcumin, an in-depth January 2017 evaluation in Medicinal Chemistry reports that findings around the powers of the plant are inconclusive.

Where to Find Turmeric

Ground turmeric is available in the spice section of most grocery stores or online from health food distributors.

While generally recognized as safe (GRAS) for consumption by the FDA, it's possible for some people to experience unpleasant side effects after eating or drinking turmeric. Always talk to your doctor before taking herbs for medicinal purposes.


Turmeric Health Benefits

1. Turmeric Contains Anti-Inflammatory Properties

Turmeric is popularly recognized as an anti-inflammatory herbal medicine. According to the ​AAPS Journal​ review, it has been suggested that curcumin may play a role in preventing, managing and possibly even treating a number of cancers, including breast, colon, prostate and skin cancers.

While this review, among others, suggests turmeric and curcumin can potentially manage or treat cancer, most research has been based on test tube and animal research, not human trials. There is still no concrete research that shows a link between the medicinal herb and the prevention or treatment of these conditions.


2. Turmeric May Help Treat Depression Symptoms

Researchers have also explored the use of curcumin as a supplement to mitigate and treat depression. A June 2017 meta-analysis in the ​Journal of American Medical Directors Association​ examined several trials, finding that curcumin appeared to be not only safe but beneficial in treating the symptoms of depressed patients.

3. Turmeric May Support Pain Relief

Curcumin has also been used for pain management among people with osteoarthritis, according to the Mayo Clinic.


Some research suggests that curcumin's anti-inflammatory properties make it potentially beneficial for reducing pain in people with osteoarthritis.

Taking turmeric extract three times a day was comparable to taking a 1,200-milligram dose of ibuprofen daily, found one August 2016 study in the ​Journal of Medicinal Food​. Still, the Mayo Clinic says more research is necessary to confirm these effects.

4. Turmeric May Help Treat Oral Conditions

Some dental professionals have integrated turmeric into their practice in unique ways.

Turmeric has been used as a tool to detect dental plaque, according to a June 2017 article published in the International Journal of Oral Care and Research​. After rinsing with or ingesting turmeric, the bright yellow color stains plaque between the teeth, which dentists can then use to easily detect the location of plaque with a specialized tool.

According to the above mentioned research, turmeric water has also been used as a mouth rinse in dental offices to quickly relieve inflammation in the gums, teeth and tongue. Rubbing ground turmeric on swollen gums or teeth has also been shown to reduce pain.

Some clinical trials have tested the efficacy of topical curcumin in treating oral lichen planus, a chronic inflammatory condition that affects the mucus membranes in the mouth, according to a January 2019 review in ​Oral Diseases​.

While topical curcumin has shown some positive preliminary data, and patients may use it if they so choose, it still hasn't been shown to effectively replace more common topical treatments.

Turmeric Risks and Side Effects

Although turmeric is considered safe when taken in the recommended doses, some people may experience side effects, including nausea, dizziness, diarrhea or stomach upset.

Excessive use of turmeric may pose a risk for pregnant people, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). More research is needed to better understand these risks, as well as the risks associated with turmeric consumption and breastfeeding.

1. Turmeric May Interact With Certain Medications

Certain medications should not be mixed with turmeric or curcumin, UC San Diego Health. Warfarin, which is commonly used to treat blood clots, is one of these. When warfarin interacts with anti-inflammatory medications or sources, it can impact the rate at which blood clots.

The use of turmeric or curcumin with blood-thinning medications can result in longer bleeding times and should be avoided altogether, per St. Lukes Hospital.

Additional September 2017 research in the ​​Journal of Ethnopharmacology​​ found that some types of medications — heart drugs, antidepressants, anticoagulants, antibiotics, chemotherapy and antihistamines — may interact with curcumin.

When taken alongside curcumin supplements, tamoxifen, a common breast cancer drug, for instance, could reduce levels of the cancer drug in the body and may decrease its effectiveness, according to a March 2019 study in ​​Cancers (Basel)​​.

2. Turmeric Use May Be Associated With Skin Conditions

Curcumin has also been linked to some skin risks. Curcumin can cause reactions like contact dermatitis, according to a November 2015 study in Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. The study also references other examples of past research that has established curcumin as an allergen.

3. Turmeric May Be Linked to Stomach Discomfort

Some people may experience an upset stomach when they take turmeric in large doses or for extended periods, according to the NIH.

How to Take Turmeric

While adding a spoonful of turmeric in your scrambled eggs or in your smoothie may provide a nice zing and a touch of curcumin, using the spice in cooking alone is unlikely to provide enough of the active ingredient to make a difference.

For this reason, if your doctor approves of doing so, you make want to take turmeric in supplement form, starting with 1 gram per day and slowly increasing the dosage to two to 3 grams daily.

Taking up to 12 grams of turmeric daily is considered safe, according to a dose-escalation study cited by the Linus Pauling Institute.

In addition to eating turmeric in cooked dishes and taking supplements, you can also mix turmeric powder or extract into water and drink it as a tonic. You can also get more turmeric by adding the powder to hot water and drinking it as a tea.

Turmeric powder used in amounts tested for health purposes is generally considered safe when taken by mouth or applied to the skin, according to the NIH. However, turmeric powder taken in large doses or used long term could cause gastrointestinal problems.