Over the last several years, there has been increasing interest in
turmeric and its medicinal properties. This is partially evidenced
by the large numbers of scientific studies published on this topic.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa), a flowering plant in the ginger
family, is widely used as a food coloring and is one of the
principal ingredients in curry powder. Turmeric has long been used
in both Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine as an anti-inflammatory, to
treat digestive disorders and liver problems, and for the treatment
of skin diseases and wound healing. The active ingredient in
turmeric is curcumin, which has been the subject of numerous animal
studies—but as of yet, very few studies on people—demonstrating
various medicinal properties. Curcumin has been shown, for example,
to stimulate the production of bile and to facilitate the emptying
of the gallbladder. It has also demonstrated in animals a protective
effect on the liver, anti-tumor action, and ability to reduce
inflammation and fight certain infections.
A relative of ginger, turmeric is a perennial plant that grows 3 to
5 feet high in the tropical regions of Southern Asia, with
trumpet-shaped, dull yellow flowers. Turmeric is fragrant and has a
bitter, somewhat sharp taste.
The aboveground and underground roots, or rhizomes, are used in
medicinal and food preparations. These are generally boiled and then
dried, turning into the familiar yellow powder. Curcumin from
turmeric, as well as other substances in this herb, have antioxidant
properties, which some claim may be as strong as vitamins C and E.
Medicinal Uses and
While turmeric has a long history of use by herbalists, most studies
to date have been conducted in the laboratory or in animals and it
is not clear that these results apply to people. Nevertheless,
research suggests that turmeric may be helpful for the following
(stomach upset, gas, abdominal cramps): The German Commission E (an
authoritative body that determined which herbs could be safely
prescribed in that country and for which purpose[s]) approved
turmeric for a variety of digestive disorders. Curcumin, for
example, one of the active ingredients in turmeric, induces the flow
of bile, which helps break down fats. In an animal study, extracts
of turmeric root reduced secretion of acid from the stomach and
protected against injuries such as inflammation along the stomach
(gastritis) or intestinal walls and ulcers from certain medications,
stress, or alcohol. Further studies are needed to know to what
extent these protective effects apply to people as well.
Because of its ability to reduce inflammation, turmeric may help
relieve the symptoms of osteoarthritis. A study of people using an
Ayurvedic formula of herbs and minerals containing turmeric as well
as Withinia somnifera (winter cherry), Boswellia serrata
(Boswellia), and zinc significantly reduced pain and disability.
While encouraging for the value of this Ayurvedic combination
therapy to help with osteoarthritis, it is difficult to know how
much of this success is from turmeric alone, one of the other
individual herbs, or the combination of herbs working in tandem.
Early studies suggest that turmeric may prove helpful in preventing
the build up of atherosclerosis (blockage of arteries that can
eventually cause a heart attack or stroke) in one of two ways.
First, in animal studies an extract of turmeric lowered cholesterol
levels and inhibited the oxidation of LDL ("bad") cholesterol.
Oxidized LDL deposits in the walls of blood vessels and contributes
to the formation of atherosclerotic plaque. Turmeric may also
prevent platelet build up along the walls of an injured blood
vessel. Platelets collecting at the site of a damaged blood vessel
cause blood clots to form and blockage of the artery as well.
Studies of the use of turmeric to prevent or treat heart disease in
people would be interesting in terms of determining if these
mechanisms discovered in animals apply to people at risk for this
There has been a substantial amount of research on turmeric's
anti-cancer potential. Evidence from laboratory and animal studies
suggests that curcumin has potential in the treatment of various
forms of cancer, including prostate, breast, skin, and colon. Human
studies will be necessary before it is known to what extent these
results may apply to people.
Roundworms and Intestinal worms
Laboratory studies suggest that curcuminoids, the active components
of turmeric, may reduce the destructive activity of parasites or
Animal studies provide evidence that turmeric can protect the liver
from a number of damaging substances such as carbon tetrachloride
and acetominophen (also called paracetamol, this medication, used
commonly for headache and pain, can cause liver damage if taken in
large quantities or in someone who drinks alcohol regularly.)
Turmeric accomplishes this, in part, by helping to clear such toxins
from the body and by protecting the liver from damage.
Turmeric's volatile oil functions as an external antibiotic,
preventing bacterial infection in wounds.
In animal studies, turmeric applied to wounds hastens the healing
A mixture of the volatile oils of turmeric, citronella, and hairy
basil, with the addition of vanillin (an extract of vanilla bean
that is generally used for flavoring or perfumes), may be an
alternative to D.E.E.T., one of the most common chemical repellents
One study of 32 people with uveitis (inflammation of the uvea, the
middle layer of the eye between the sclera [white outer coat of the
eye] and the retina [the back of the eye]) suggests that curcumin
may prove to be as effective as corticosteroids, the type of
medication generally prescribed for this eye disorder. The uvea
contains many of the blood vessels that nourish the eye.
Inflammation of this area, therefore, can affect the cornea, the
retina, the sclera, and other important parts of the eye. More
research is needed to best understand whether curcumin may help
treat this eye inflammation.
Turmeric is commercially available in the following forms:
Bromelain enhances the absorption and anti-inflammatory effects of
curcumin, the best studied active ingredient of turmeric; therefore,
bromelain is often formulated with turmeric products.
How to Take It
While turmeric may be helpful for the treatment of inflammatory
conditions in children, appropriate doses have not yet been
established. Until more information is available, consider adjusting
the recommended adult dose to account for the child's weight. Most
herbal dosages for adults are calculated on the basis of a 150 lb
(70 kg) adult. Therefore, if the child weighs 50 lb (20 to 25 kg),
the appropriate dose of turmeric for this child would be 1/3 of the
The following are doses recommended for adults:
1,500 to 3,000 mg per day
powdered root: 1,000 to 3,000 mg per day
powder (curcumin): 400 to 600 mg, 3 times per day
(1:1) 30 to 90 drops a day
(1:2): 15 to 30 drops, 4 times per day
The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the
body and treating disease. Herbs, however, contain active substances
that can trigger side effects and interact with other herbs,
supplements, or medications. For these reasons, herbs should be
taken with care, under the supervision of a practitioner
knowledgeable in the field of botanical medicine.
Turmeric and curcumin are considered safe when taken at the
recommended doses. However, extended or excessive use of curcumin
may produce stomach upset and, in extreme cases, ulcers. (Note:
normal therapeutic doses of turmeric protect from ulcers – see
earlier discussion – but, at very high doses, it may induce ulcers.
This is why it is very important to stick with the recommended dose
of this herbal remedy.) Turmeric should not be taken by those who
have been diagnosed with gallstones or obstruction of the bile
passages without explicit direction from a qualified practitioner.
While pregnant women needn't avoid foods containing turmeric, its
use as a medicinal herb is not recommended during pregnancy because
the effects are not fully known. Studies in pregnant rats, mice,
guinea pigs, and monkeys suggest that it is safe for those animals,
but safety in pregnant women has not been tested.
If you are currently being treated with any of the following
medications, you should not use turmeric or curcumin in medicinal
forms without first talking to your healthcare provider.
Although no scientific reports have documented a bleed or other
adverse interaction, turmeric, taken in medicinal doses may
theoretically increase the blood thinning effects and, therefore the
risk of bleeding from, drugs such as warfarin and aspirin.
Non-Steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)
Turmeric has shown protection in animals from the development of
ulcers due to this class of medications. NSAIDs include indomethacin,
ibuprofen, and many other drugs that are often prescribed for pain
and inflammation, such as that of arthritis.
Turmeric protected animals from increased gastric secretions
(secretions in the stomach that can lead to damage along the walls
of this organ) from reserpine used for high blood pressure.
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Participants in the review process include: Jacqueline A. Hart, MD,
Department of Internal Medicine, Newton-Wellesley Hospital, Harvard
University and Senior Medical Editor Integrative Medicine, Boston,
MA; Gary Kracoff, RPh (Pediatric Dosing section February 2001),
Johnson Drugs, Natick, MA; Steven Ottariono, RPh (Pediatric Dosing
section February 2001), Veteran's Administrative Hospital,
Londonderry, NH; R. Lynn Shumake, PD, Director, Alternative Medicine
Apothecary, Blue Mountain Apothecary & Healing Arts, University of
Maryland Medical Center, Glenwood, MD; David Winston, Herbalist
(January 2000), Herbalist and Alchemist, Inc., Washington, NJ. All
interaction sections have also been reviewed by a team of experts
including Joseph Lamb, MD (July 2000), The Integrative Medicine
Works, Alexandria, VA;Enrico Liva, ND, RPh (August 2000), Vital
Nutrients, Middletown, CT; Brian T Sanderoff, PD, BS in Pharmacy
(March 2000), Clinical Assistant Professor, University of Maryland
School of Pharmacy; President, Your Prescription for Health, Owings
Mills, MD; Ira Zunin, MD, MPH, MBA (July 2000), President and
Chairman, Hawaii State Consortium for Integrative Medicine,
Copyright © 2002 A.D.A.M., Inc
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