Although best known as a spice that gives a distinctive flavor and yellow color to curry powder and mustard, turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a member of the ginger family and has long been used for healing. Ayurveda, Siddha, Unani, and other traditional medicine systems practiced in India have relied on this pungent spice for centuries, and so it’s not surprising that the Asian subcontinent is where the most intensive research about this herb has been conducted.
The plant’s healing properties reside in its fingerlike stalk, which is scalded and then dried for medicinal preparations. This is the same part of the plant used to flavor, color, and preserve foods.
–Formulations to take internally include capsules, fresh juice, boiled tea made from powder, and tinctures.
–Topical formulations include creams, lotions, pastes, and ointments.
–To treat a specific ailment, look for turmeric standardized to contain 95% curcumin. You’d need to consume 100 grams (about 3 1/2 ounces) of turmeric as a culinary spice to get a therapeutic dose of curcumin (1.2 g per day).
–Teas are not as potent as formulations standardized to a curcumin concentration (and they don’t always appeal because of the herb’s distinctive taste). To make a tea, pour 1 cup (8 ounces) of boiling water over 1/2 teaspoon to 1 teaspoon of powdered turmeric, let steep covered for 5 minutes, then strain. Drink two or three cups daily, as desired.
For carpal tunnel syndrome, indigestion, excess gas, and other other inflammation- and GI-related ailments: Take 300 to 600 mg (containing 95% curcumin) in capsule form three times a day. Alternatively, take 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of liquid extract, mixed into 1/2 cup of water, three times a day. Continue until symptoms are relieved. If there is no improvement after a week of continuous use, then it is unlikely turmeric is going to help.
For cancer prevention: At this point, there is not enough firm evidence to recommend turmeric on a daily basis as an aid for preventing cancer. However, you may want to take advantage of any possible benefits simply by using turmeric regularly as a spice or even sipping turmeric tea.
Guidelines for Use
Once inflammatory symptoms improve, cut the daily dose of turmeric in half. And once symptoms actually clear up, discontinue taking the herb altogether. Like other anti-inflammatory medications, turmeric provides no apparent benefit for inflammation after symptoms have disappeared.
Because turmeric is not particularly well absorbed when taken orally, you might want to look for products that combine it with bromelain, a group of protein-digesting enzymes found in the pineapple plant. The bromelain will enhance the absorption of the active compounds in turmeric. There are numerous commercial preparations combining bromelain and turmeric.
There are no known drug or nutrient interactions associated with turmeric.
Possible Side Effects
While turmeric is safe to take at recommended doses, prolonged use of higher than recommended doses can cause stomach upset and other gastrointestinal disturbances.
Don’t take turmeric if you have a bile duct blockage or a blood-clotting disorder; it may negatively affect these conditions.
Because the risks are unknown, avoid medicinal amounts of turmeric (or concentrated curcumin) if you are trying to conceive, are pregnant, or are breast-feeding.
If you have gallstones or any gallbladder problems, you probably should not use turmeric supplements. This caution stems in part from a small 1999 study (of 12 people) which found that curcumin in low doses stimulated contractions of the gallbladder. This means that turmeric could potentially harm a person with gallbladder problems.