You may know turmeric primarily as a spice, but it’s also used in Ayurvedic medicine, a holistic approach to health that originated in India over 3,000 years ago.
Turmeric supplements are now widely available for medicinal use, but knowing how much to take can be confusing. Here’s a look at the uses and benefits of turmeric, effective doses and safety concerns.
Uses and Benefits
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Curcumin, a potent plant chemical in turmeric, is believed to have powerful anti-inflammatory effects.
Many studies indicate that chronic, low-grade inflammation may be a key factor in developing conditions like heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and cancer.
Turmeric contains curcumin, a potent plant chemical with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Many suggested benefits of turmeric are supported by evidence from randomized controlled trials — the gold standard of research.
In test-tube and animal studies, curcumin has been shown to block certain biological pathways leading to inflammation. The effects of turmeric and curcumin have also been investigated by randomized controlled trials (RCTs), the gold standard of research.
While some were inconclusive, many produced significant results. For instance, several studies found that turmeric may reduce knee pain and improve function in people with osteoarthritis — one even suggests it may work as well as ibuprofen for reducing pain.
In another RCT, 120 overweight individuals took turmeric supplements for three months. On average, total cholesterol was reduced by 32%, “bad” LDL cholesterol by 42% and triglycerides by 39%.
Turmeric may also improve quality of life for people with chronic kidney disease who are experiencing itchy skin. In one RCT, those taking turmeric had decreased markers of inflammation and reported less itching. Though less conclusive, other RCTs indicate turmeric may play a beneficial role in heart disease, diabetes prevention, surgery recovery and irritable bowel syndrome.
Studies typically use doses of 500–2,000 mg of turmeric per day, often in the form of an extract with a curcumin concentration that is much higher than the amounts naturally occurring in foods.
For instance, the average Indian diet provides around 2,000–2,500 mg of turmeric (60–100 mg of curcumin) per day. The same amount in extract form may pack up to 1,900–2,375 mg of curcumin.
In other words, turmeric spices contain around 3% curcumin, compared to 95% curcumin in extracts.
Nonetheless, turmeric may still have benefits when used as a spice.
One observational study in older adults positively associated curry consumption with cognitive health.
While there is no official consensus on effective turmeric or curcumin doses, the following have been used in research with promising results:
- For osteoarthritis: 500 mg of turmeric extract twice daily for 2–3 months.
- For high cholesterol: 700 mg of turmeric extract twice daily for 3 months.
- For itchy skin: 500 mg of turmeric three times daily for 2 months.
High doses of turmeric and curcumin are not recommended long-term since research confirming their safety is lacking.
However, the World Health Organization (WHO) has determined 1.4 mg per pound (0–3 mg/kg) of body weight an acceptable daily intake.
Keep in mind, all herbal supplements should be used with caution. Always notify your health care provider of any supplements you’re taking, including turmeric and curcumin.
Who Should Not Take It?
Although turmeric is believed to be safe for most individuals, certain people may have to avoid it. Minimal adverse effects of taking turmeric supplements short-term have been reported, but more long-term studies are needed.
These conditions warrant extreme caution:
- Pregnancy and breastfeeding: There is not enough research to determine if turmeric supplements are safe for pregnant or breastfeeding women.
- Gallbladder disease: Turmeric may cause the gallbladder to contract, worsening symptoms.
- Kidney stones: It’s high in oxalate, which can bind with calcium and cause kidney stones formation.
- Bleeding disorders: It may slow the ability of your blood to clot, which can worsen bleeding problems.
- Diabetes: It may cause blood sugar levels to drop too low.
- Iron-deficiency: It may interfere with iron absorption.
In addition, turmeric supplements can interact with certain medications such as blood thinners and diabetes medications.
However, turmeric seems to be safe under these circumstances in the amounts typically eaten in food.
For short periods of time, doses of up to 8 grams per day have been used in research without any toxic effects. Turmeric extracts are highly concentrated with curcumin and less likely to be contaminated with other substances. All supplements should be bought from a reputable source.
Still, side effects have been reported. The more common adverse effects include allergic reactions, stomach pain, diarrhea, constipation, nausea and vomiting. In one severe instance, an individual taking high doses of 1,500–2,250 mg twice daily experienced an abnormal heart rhythm. More studies are needed to determine possible additional adverse effects associated with long-term use.
Choosing a Supplement
Extracts are the most potent form of turmeric supplements.
They’re concentrated, packing up to 95% of curcumin. In contrast, powders and spices can contain as little as 3% of curcuminoids.
What’s more, extracts are less likely to be contaminated with other substances such as heavy metals.
Whatever form of turmeric you choose, consider combining your supplement with black pepper. Black pepper contains the compound piperine, which has been shown to increase curcumin absorption by 2,000%.
And, as always, make sure you buy from a reputable brand.
Consider supplements that have been tested by a third party, such as NSF International, Informed Choice or the US Pharmacopeial Convention (USP).
These companies ensure you are getting what’s on the label and that your product is free from contaminants.
The Bottom Line
Research suggests 500–2,000 mg of turmeric per day may have potential benefits, particularly in extract form.
The exact dose may depend on the medical condition, for which you seek help, though official dosing recommendations are unavailable.
The risk of side effects is minimal but turmeric supplements are unsuitable for some people.As with any supplement, turmeric should be used with caution and you should discuss its use with your doctor.