Turmeric in diet is safe and research suggests that curcumin also has a safety profile such that it can serve as an alternative to many medications and reduce drug toxicity.
One of the most famous studies quoted about turmeric’s safety is Dose escalation of a curcuminoid formulation by Lao et. al.
In this study 24 healthy individuals were enrolled in the study and were given doses ranging from 500mg to 12,000 mg. The curcumin used was 95% standardized curcumin which is a mixture of all three curcuminoids. (Read Is Curcumin Different From Curcuminoid?)
Adverse events were of grade one toxicity. Researchers concluded that curcumin has excellent tolerance and safety profile.
However there are certain precautions to be kept in mind when taking turmeric or curcumin.
Again, we would like to stress that turmeric has been part of diet for thousands of years and its benefits have been mentioned in Ayurveda too. Below we discuss possible side effects of turmeric.
Side effects associated with Turmeric usage
Here is a list of possible side effects that have been associated with turmeric.
1. Gastric discomfort is possible if trying turmeric for the first time or if taking large doses of turmeric or curcumin. Acid reflux like symptoms is possible if taken on an empty stomach.
2. One may experience allergy to turmeric and other members of ginger family.
3. Turmeric has blood thinning activity. If suffering from bleeding or clotting disorder, consult a health practitioner before taking turmeric. Avoid turmeric supplements if taking blood thinners. (Read Is turmeric a blood thinner?)
For more details on reader reported possible side effects of turmeric please read Side effects of Turmeric-Can It Harm you?
What are the precautions one needs to take with turmeric?
Here are a couple of precautions one should be aware of when using turmeric. Also we have answered some of the precautions that are associated with turmeric but are not validated by research.
1. Discontinue turmeric supplements prior to surgery
It is recommended to discontinue taking turmeric supplements 2 weeks prior to surgery. This is because it is said that turmeric, due to its anti-coagulant effect, may increase bleeding time in surgery.
However this applies to turmeric supplements and not dietary turmeric.
Common Reader Query – When do I stop turmeric prior to a surgery and when do I take it again after surgery?
Ans: Turmeric supplements should be discontinued 2 weeks prior surgery. Turmeric in diet can be taken if it is limited to ¼-1/2 tsp but if you are skeptic about it or you are taking high doses then discontinue it at least 3 days prior to surgery.
After surgery, you can start taking turmeric in diet, especially Turmeric Milk, once you are discharged and your digestion has stabilised. This will help in recovery. (Read Turmeric for Post surgical recovery) Always start with small doses.
2. Avoid or limit intake of turmeric in kidney stones or disorders
Curcumin is therapeutic in kidney problems (Read Turmeric for kidney disorders) but here are a few precautions about the same.
Turmeric, as a spice, is high in oxalates. Oxalates are one of the components that cause kidney stones. So if you are at a risk of developing kidney stones and already have a high or close to the limit oxalate dietary load, then yes turmeric as a spice could add to this load and increase the risk of developing kidney stones.
However by itself turmeric cannot cause kidney stones. For more details on this please read Does Turmeric Cause Kidney Stones?
Turmeric, as a spice, is high in potassium levels. In case of kidney disorders it is advised to limit potassium intake; so if you are already having potassium from other sources in diet, then taking turmeric may add to it.
Common Reader Query – How to take turmeric if I have kidney issues or kidney stone problems?
Here is what you could do about using turmeric for kidney health:
• If you need to use turmeric for a therapeutic purpose in case of kidney stone; then consult a doctor for curcumin supplements.
• Consult a dietician or calculate your oxalate and potassium intake via diet. If it is well below the recommended levels then add ¼-1/2 tsp turmeric to your diet. This should not cause any problems.
3. Limit or avoid turmeric in gout
Gout is a form of arthritis caused by accumulation of uric acid crystals in joints leading to inflammation and pain. This occurs due to a metabolic effect.
It is recommended to avoid taking turmeric, as a spice, in gout due to its high oxalate content.
Common Reader Query – How do I take turmeric for gout?
If you intend to take turmeric to treat gout, it is advisable to consult a doctor about curcumin supplements.
4. Avoid turmeric supplements in gall bladder obstruction
Curcumin and piperine can actually prevent gallstone formation. But a study in humans shows that curcumin at a dose of 20mg causes contraction of gall bladder up to 29% and a 50% contraction is caused by a 40mg dose.
Now this a good property in prevention of gallstone but if you already have an obstruction in the bile duct passages, then this contraction can be really painful.
Common Reader Query – I suffer from gallbladder issues, can I take turmeric?
If you do not actively have gallstones, then yes you can include turmeric in diet say about ¼-1/2 tsp. This will help in increasing motility of gallbladder and prevent formation of gallstones.
Common Reader Query – I don’t have a gall bladder, as it has been surgically removed, can I take turmeric?
It is presumed that turmeric consumption after gall bladder removal, stimulates bile production and worsens health.
Interestingly this study has administered curcumin to patients who have undergone cholecystectomy (surgical removal of bladder) to relieve pain and fatigue. And no such side effect was reported.
It is absolutely safe to include turmeric in diet (root or powder) initially in small amounts after digestion has stabilized post surgery.
5. Dietary turmeric is safe in Pregnancy
One of the most controversial topics is regarding safety of turmeric in pregnancy. Why as this topic arisen?
Turmeric, traditionally is said to have uterine stimulating properties and may cause uterine bleeding. This not proven by any study but is used traditionally to treat amenorrhoea.
Asian women, especially in India, consume turmeric even during pregnancy. Turmeric Milk or Haldi Doodh is highly recommended in India during pregnancy for boosting immunity and as a benefit for the baby’s skin. (Read Turmeric for Pregnancy)
Indian women are advised to take turmeric instead of antibiotics in pregnancy to fight infections without side effects.
You may have come across studies that show that curcumin damages embryonic cells, but these involve exceptionally high doses of curcumin reaching the cell. I do not deny these studies since there is no other way to study this effect; only experimental conditions permit such studies.
But in real life this would not be the case since that quantity of curcumin won’t reach the cells due to its absorption limitations.
Turmeric supplements should be avoided in pregnancy and lactation. Turmeric in diet can be safely taken during pregnancy and lactation.
Common Reader Query – Can I take turmeric during pregnancy or lactation?
Yes you can include turmeric in diet during pregnancy and lactation. Limit it to ¼-1/2 tsp a day or you can occasionally take turmeric in diet during pregnancy. Turmeric Milk can be safely consumed during pregnancy and lactation.
Avoid turmeric/curcumin supplements during pregnancy and lactation.
7. Turmeric in diet does not affect fertility adversely
Studies do suggest that curcumin has contraceptive action but that applies to topical curcumin and not oral.
It is safe to include turmeric in diet (1/2 to 1 tsp/day) when planning pregnancy.
Common Reader Query – I am planning pregnancy, can I take turmeric or will turmeric affect fertility?
You can safely include turmeric in diet when planning pregnancy. Dietary turmeric does not affect fertility adversely.
8. Turmeric in diet does not lower iron levels
Curcumin is found to have chelating properties and this is said to be harmful if you have low iron levels.
Now turmeric as a root is rich in iron and also turmeric in diet does not affect iron absorption (Read Turmeric and Anemia)
Common Reader Query – I have low iron levels or I am anemic, can I take turmeric?
Yes, you can take fresh turmeric root or turmeric in diet (1/2-1 tsp/ day spread over meals) in anemia. Avoid curcumin supplements in case of low iron or anemia.
Possible drug interactions with turmeric
Herb-drug interaction is not generally involving a reaction between drug components and active ingredients of herbs. What can happen is that the herb may increase the amount of the drug in the blood and this on long term may have toxic effect.
University of Maryland Medical Center mentions that turmeric could have possible drug interaction with blood thinning medicines, stomach acid reducing medicines and diabetes medications.
Curcumin in turmeric interferes in the activity of drug metabolizing enzymes, hence if taken concomitantly with any medication can increase the concentration of the drug in blood. This on long term may have side effects.
Black pepper contains an active ingredient piperine, which when given with any herb or drug increases its absorption in the body.
Therefore we advise not to take large dose of Golden Paste close to the time of taking any other medication. (Read Black Pepper in GP: Does it cause drug interactions?)
Therefore it is advisable to consult a health practitioner before taking curcumin supplements if you are already taking any medication. Dietary amounts of turmeric should not pose any risk.
Maintain a 3-4 hour gap between taking curcumin supplements or large doses of turmeric (Golden Paste) and any medication.
Curcumin supplements should not be taken if you are already taking an anticoagulant. Small amounts of turmeric can be included in diet if suffering from bleeding/clotting risk but it is best to consult a health practitioner about this. (Read Is Turmeric A blood thinner?)
Curcumin, found in turmeric, works as a chemo and radiosensitizer- it increases the sensitivity of cancer cells to chemotherapy and radiotherapy, reverses chemoresistance and helps terminate the cancer cells better. It also counteracts side effects of cancer treatment.
This is a good thing but this also means that you may require a lower dose of chemo/radiotherapy. Therefore in our article Turmeric/Curcumin Dosage For Cancer: A scientific plan we recommend consulting a doctor before taking turmeric/ curcumin supplements.
These are a few precautions that one needs to consider when taking therapeutic amounts of turmeric or curcumin.
Dietary amounts of turmeric (up to 1 tsp a day ) is very safe, in the sense that it shouldn’t pose a health risk to anyone. Higher quantities (doses as high as 8g curcumin) are found to be safe in studies.
In the end, taking good quality turmeric is very safe. It has been tried and tested for thousands of years and its benefits are in front of us from various scientific studies done by researchers.
Our advice – give turmeric a try, It’s worth it.