Several readers have asked me if there are severe side effects of turmeric. While I mention major possible side effects and precautions after every article, I through it to be a good idea to write one dedicated research piece on the topic.
Turmeric has a very long history of usage in India and several other countries. There is so much of accumulated knowledge which has been passed on from generation to generation which also includes precautions to be taken while using turmeric.
With modern science and testing methods we have been able to find a few more possible side effects. But let me start by saying that scientists after so many experiments and studies have found turmeric to be very safe unless one takes it in excess.
Now one need to put things in perspective here, excess of even water (which in devoid of nutrition and complex chemicals) can also cause health issues then of course it is logical that excess of a complex herb as turmeric can cause too.
Second point here is most side effects are generally associated when you take turmeric supplements, not when it is included in your regular diet. This is simply because it is very easy to pop-in 3 turmeric capsules instead of one. Thirdly, its benefits outweigh possible side effects by far (you can explore them on this portal).
How safe is turmeric?
There have been many clinical trials using turmeric and curcumin for various disorders and there has been no significant side effect reported. In fact due to its safety profile, it is considered that turmeric or curcumin could be a good non toxic alternative to NSAIDs, anti-arthritic drugs etc.
Due to it’s unique safety profile, turmeric can even counteract side effects of drugs and cancer treatment. (Read Turmeric and drug induced toxicity)
Scientific Research on Turmeric’s Safety
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?)
No curcumin was detected in blood serum at doses from 500-8000mg. Low levels of curcumin was detected in two individuals at a dose of 10000 and 12000mg.
7 out of 24 experienced side effects, that’s about 30% but the authors that this was not a dose related toxicity.
1 individual experienced diarrhoea at a dose of 1000mg. 1 experienced headache in the 4000mg group. In the 8000mg group 1 individual experienced rash and 1 reported yellow stool.
In the 10000mg one individual reported yellow stool and one experienced headache while in 12000mg group one individual experienced diarrhoea.
However all these adverse events were of grade one toxicity. Researchers concluded that curcumin has excellent tolerance and safety profile.
If you observe no side effects were reported at 500mg dose of curcumin and this dose is higher than the amounts that we generally consume in diet.
That’s why we recommend starting with small doses of turmeric and gradually increase the dose to avoid such adverse events.
If turmeric is safe, why do I face side effects?
There are a couple of factors due to which one may face side effects of turmeric:
- Dose: High doses of turmeric are more likely to cause side effects than low dose.
- Form: Turmeric supplements are more likely to cause side effects than spice.
- Time: Some side effects like stomach discomfort are transient so you won’t face this on long term. However long term usage of high dose supplements can be harmful.
- Time of taking turmeric: There is no specific time of taking turmeric. However if you are taking it on an empty stomach or close to the time of taking medicines you could face side effects.
- Quality: Always opt for a top brand turmeric supplement or organic turmeric to avoid risk of heavy metal contamination and adulteration.
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.
What are possible side effects of taking turmeric?
Here is a list of possible side effects that have been associated with turmeric.
Now this one probably the most common side effect of turmeric. Also you may wonder how is it possible when turmeric actually helps in digestion, IBS, Crohn’s etc. (Read Turmeric for stomach, Turmeric for IBS, Turmeric for Crohn’s)
I have not come across any scientific explanation for this; but here are a couple of reasons.
If you are taking turmeric for the first time, then it is quite possible that just as your tongue is getting used to the acquired taste of turmeric so is your system. Also the slight apprehension or anxiety about taking a new herb or spice in diet may affect its digestion.
Next you are probably taking high doses of turmeric. A study shows that curcuminoid mixture can be safely taken up to a dose of 12g but this was dose was administered only once. So on long term high doses may cause gastric side effects.
However it is not the case for everyone; some individuals take as much as 4 tablespoons of Golden Paste every day and they are doing just fine.
But yes if the high doses are curcumin supplements we suggest you don’t take it on a long term. Instead once you have achieved and maintained a therapeutic status we recommend slowly switching to Golden Paste.
Another thing could be that you are taking turmeric on an empty stomach. This may trigger acid reflux (Read Can Turmeric Cause Acidity/Acid Reflux). Avoid that for two reasons: one to stop acid reflux and two because turmeric is best digested with food and oil.
Common Reader Query – How to avoid stomach related side effects with turmeric?
Here are 3 things you could do to avoid these side effects:
- Start with a small dose of turmeric powder/Golden Paste say 1/8-1/4 tsp a day and continue this for a week. If you don’t observe any side effects increase by ¼ tsp every week and continue this till you reach the ideal dose.
- Avoid taking turmeric (spice or supplement) on empty stomach. It is best to take it after meals.
- Avoid taking high doses in the form of supplements for a long time period.
If you are allergic to ginger then it is likely that you may be allergic to turmeric as well. In this case it is best to steer clear of turmeric as well as turmeric supplements.
Turmeric as a herb is said to have anticoagulant properties and its active ingredient, curcumin is proven to have anti-coagulant effect.
This is not really a side effect. Say you are suffering from heart condition or thrombosis and you are taking warfarin for it; well turmeric could do exactly the same thing that warfarin is doing for you without the side effects.
So turmeric can help maintain anti-coagulant status and benefit in heart risks. There are some speculations that turmeric could have an additive effect with anti-coagulants.
However science proves that curcumin does not have any such additive effect and does affect warfarin’s and clopidogrel’s action on bleeding time. But it did increase the concentration of the drugs in the blood and this on long term can have toxic effects.
Common Reader Query – How do I take turmeric, if I have a bleeding/clotting disorder or I am taking blood thinners/Anticoagulants?
This is actually a tricky question but for the benefit of readers worldwide here is the answer:
- Do not take curcumin/turmeric supplements in case of bleeding/clotting disorder.
- First consult your doctor about introducing turmeric in your diet.
- Consult a herbalist or naturopath about how you could introduce turmeric in your diet and life.
- If the above fail and you are brave enough to start turmeric, take a very small dose say 1/8-1/4 tsp in just one meal in a day. Occasional dietary consumption of turmeric would not cause any bleeding risks but still benefit you.
- Do not take a single large dose of turmeric, take it in small divided doses not more than thrice a day.
- Do not take turmeric/Golden Paste close to the time of taking anticoagulants.
Readers have successfully taken turmeric in a bleeding disorder, read Is Turmeric A Blood Thinner?
What side effects have been reported by readers and real life turmeric users?
Here is a list of side effects that have been reported by our readers. Only a minor percentage of readers have reported may be one of these side effects; most of which are minor and transient side effects. Each of these are presented just to increase awareness and not to intimidate you from taking turmeric.
1.Skin rash and itching
This could be due to allergy to turmeric/curcumin or to the additive in the supplements. Even presence of heavy metals in turmeric could cause such rashes.
Common Reader Query – Turmeric gives me a rash and itching sensation, what should I do?
Opt for organic turmeric powder (For help with brands click here). If taking supplements opt for a better brand or consult a health practitioner.
If the rash is too severe stop taking turmeric.
2.Yellow stools, sweat, skin and nails
There is no scientific explanation that I have come across for this. Yellowing of skin, sweat etc could occur at exceptionally high doses.
Common Reader Query – I am experiencing yellow stools, sweat, skin or nails after taking turmeric, what should I do?
Reduce the dose of turmeric you are taking. If taking supplements, switch to dietary turmeric. Also this effect may be transient so wait for a week till your body gets used to turmeric.
3.Excessive blood flow during menstruation
Turmeric may initiate menstrual flow in some individuals, as traditional medicine suggests that turmeric has uterine stimulating properties. Even post menopausal women have experienced slight uterine bleeding with turmeric supplements.
Common Reader Query – Turmeric started my periods or I have heavy uterine bleeding, what should I do?
So firstly if you are taking supplements and experiencing this symptom, my advice go off the supplement. If you are taking turmeric as a spice then reduce the dosage or limit your intake to ½ tsp a day.
Also if you are experiencing this after menopause even with dietary turmeric discontinue turmeric’s use.
4.Face flushing or hot flashes
I can’t give a genuine scientific explanation for this right now but to keep it simple turmeric may regulate your hormones but for good.And this why you could be possibly experiencing hot flashes.
Common Reader Query – I am experiencing hot flashes/face flushes/night sweats with turmeric, what should I do?
There are few things you could do if you are experiencing hot flashes with turmeric:
- Reduce the dosage of turmeric.
- Switch to a different brand of turmeric or turmeric supplements.
- If using supplements switch to dietary turmeric.
This symptom is commonly noted in animals but a few users have reported this symptom too.
Common Reader Query – I experience body odor or cat pee smell after taking turmeric, what should I do?
Adding cinnamon to your Golden Paste can take care of this. A pinch with every dose should help and if for the entire batch ½ tsp should suffice.
6.Flatulence/Bloating /Increased Bowel Movements
If you are taking turmeric for the first time, mild side effects like bloating, flatulence and frequent bowel movements are possible but they should disappear in 2-3 days.
Pronounced gastric side effects could occur as a result of poor quality turmeric spice/supplement or due to high doses.
Common Reader Query- I have experienced increased bowel movements/flatulence/ bloating with turmeric, what should I do?
Make sure you are using organic turmeric and always start with small doses.This effects are transient and will reduce as your body gets used to turmeric. If taking high doses, please reduce the dose of turmeric.
Mild nausea is possible if you take high dose of turmeric or you do not like its taste. Turmeric would not cause vomiting. It could occur as a result of contamination of turmeric.
Common Reader Query – I am experiencing nausea/vomiting after taking turmeric, what should I do?
If its mild nausea then it will pass and if it is due to the taste try masking it in food. If it is severe nausea/vomiting discontinue turmeric usage or switch to a good quality organic brand.
8. Increased headache
There is no reason as per science yet to ascertain why turmeric could initiate or worsen a headache; it should actually help relieve it.
Common Reader Query – My migraine or headache has worsened with turmeric, what should I do?
In case of increased headache reduce the dose of turmeric or discontinue its use.
Turmeric does not cause pimples. This could be a case of allergy to turmeric or possibility of other contaminants in it.
Common Reader Query – Turmeric is causing my skin to break out and I am getting pimples, what should I do?
Switch to a good brand of organic turmeric or discontinue usage of turmeric if you still observe pimples.
Here are a couple of precautions one should be aware of when using turmeric.
- Discontinue turmeric supplements 2 weeks prior to surgery to minimize bleeding risk.
- Avoid or limit intake of turmeric as a spice in kidney stones or disorders because it is high in oxalates and has potassium as well.
- Limit or avoid turmeric as a spice in gout because of its high oxalate content.
- Avoid turmeric supplements in gall bladder obstruction as curcumin at low doses causes gallbladder contraction. This may cause pain.
- Dietary turmeric is safe in Pregnancy, avoid turmeric supplements in this phase.
- If suffering from bleeding or clotting disorder, take turmeric with caution. Avoid turmeric supplements if taking blood thinners.
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 Centre 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 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.
Do health benefits of turmeric outweigh the side effects?
My answer to this question would be a BIG Yes! But this absolutely depends on what kind of side effect you are facing. Here is a quick gist of health benefits of turmeric:
- It is an anti-cancer agent and can prevent cancer.
- It has immunomodulatory properties that benefit in autoimmune conditions.
- It protects and preserves bone health from conditions like arthritis.
- It benefits the skin and protects from skin disorders.
- It is brain food as it helps combat mood related disorders and prevents conditions like Alzheimers.
- It benefits in metabolic health and aids in weight loss.
- It protects from side effects of drugs.
- It protects the heart from disorders.
- It is a natural anti-inflammatory agent and enhances wound healing.
- It has potent natural antioxidants.
Now if you are comparing these health benefits with side effects like gastric discomfort as frequent bowel movement, bloating etc. then you are the best judge to ascertain who wins the case. Such side effects are transient and can be minimized by reducing the dose.
However if it is something more serious like an allergic reaction, skin rash affecting the whole body, bleeding event then you should definitely steer clear of turmeric.
How to overcome side effects of turmeric/curcumin?
Minor adverse events as a result of taking turmeric can be overcome with the following steps. In case of major events please discontinue use of turmeric or consult a health practitioner.
- If taking turmeric supplements consult a doctor prior to taking it.
- If experiencing side effects on turmeric supplements switch to dietary turmeric.
- Reduce the dose of turmeric spice or supplement and observe if the adverse event is mitigated.
- Split the dose of turmeric and spread it over the day.
- Switch to a good quality brand of turmeric supplement and always opt for organic turmeric. Or make you own turmeric powder and supplement (Read Turmeric powder, Turmeric Capsules)
- Avoid taking turmeric on an empty stomach.
- Avoid taking turmeric as a spice or supplement close to the time of taking medicines. Maintain at least 4 hour gap.
- Always start with low dose of turmeric and give your body time to adjust it (2-3 days at least)
- If neither the powder or supplements suit you, opt for fresh turmeric roots in diet.
Refer the side effects and precautions list above for help with a particular symptom.
In case of serious side effect, immediately discontinue use of turmeric.
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 and experienced by our readers.
Our advice – give turmeric a try, It’s worth it.