Can Turmeric Help In Anemia?

Anaemia is the most common blood disorder which is characterised by reduced production of red blood cells. Red blood cells or Erythrocytes are a type of cells that are present in the blood and contribute to health by transporting oxygen to all parts of the body.

Haemoglobin is the protein present in these cells that bind to oxygen and helps in delivering oxygen to all parts of the body. Anaemia occurs when there are not enough red blood cells or if they do not function properly.

Symptoms include weakness, shortness of breath, dizziness, fast or irregular heartbeat, cold feet and hands etc.

There are several types of anaemia but they are mainly classified as:

  • Anaemia caused by blood loss- This involves blood loss due to trauma, intestinal bleeding, childbirth and surgery. The most common form of anaemia-iron deficiency anaemia comes under this category. It involves a shortage of iron caused by blood loss.
  • Anaemia caused by reduced blood cells- Bone marrow is a spongy tissue present in the bones that is responsible for the production of red blood cells. Any disease affecting the bone marrow can hamper production of red blood cells.
  • Anaemia caused by the destruction of red blood cells- Excessive or abnormal destruction of red blood cells can cause anaemia.

Dietary changes, iron supplementation, antibiotics, blood transfusion are few of the treatment modules for anaemia.

Moderate iron deficiency affects around 8.8% of the world population.

Can turmeric help in anaemia?

Since anaemia is a disorder of red blood cells whose prime function is to transport oxygen it is highly like that the antioxidant defence of the body is impaired. Anaemia is marked by oxidative stress or imbalance of pro-oxidant and antioxidant agents in the body.

Dietary turmeric is not found to interfere with dietary iron absorption. Curcumin, on the other hand, is a proven iron chelator.

Antioxidants like curcumin theoretically help in anaemia

Lipid peroxidation is a part of oxidative stress which damages cells and tissue. A clinical trial demonstrated that supplementation with antioxidants like vitamin E and C lowered lipid peroxidation and improved antioxidant status.

Turmeric is a very potent natural antioxidant. Curcumin and other curcuminoids are strong antioxidants with activity comparable to Vitamin C and E. Hence turmeric should be beneficial for anaemia. Also, turmeric is a rich source of iron.

Hemolytic anaemia is anaemia in which there is the abnormal destruction of red blood cells. In an experimental model of hemolysis (destruction of red blood cells and release of haemoglobin) curcumin by virtue of its antioxidant property is found to protect red blood cells and improve antioxidant status.

In an animal model of diabetes, curcumin is found to increase haemoglobin, antioxidants attached to red blood cells as well as increase activities of other enzymes attached to red blood cells.

What does this mean?
So by virtue of its antioxidant property, curcumin or rather turmeric should benefit in anaemia.

can-turmeric-help-in-anemia

Curcumin has iron chelating or binding property

But the catch here is the iron chelating property of curcumin. Iron deficiency is the leading cause of anaemia and curcumin chelates iron. It binds to iron and forms a complex that is excreted from the body.

Jiao et. al have studied the mechanism involved in curcumin’s iron chelating activity. Transferrin receptor 1 and iron regulatory proteins are proteins whose concentrations increase in response to iron deficiency. In presence of curcumin, both these proteins were found to increase in concentration thereby indicating iron depletion.

Ferritin is a protein that stores iron in cells for later use and iron chelators prevent the production of this protein. Interestingly curcumin also acts in the same manner.

Most of the animal studies that have been published haven’t reported that curcumin could have adverse effects on spleen or iron status. But interestingly a subsequent study by the same researchers shows that curcumin supplementation for 6 months in animals caused a decrease in iron stores but not zinc and copper stores.

Based on these findings researchers feel that curcumin supplementation may aggravate risk of iron deficiency in the Western diet.

However, this iron chelating activity of curcumin is beneficial in the treatment of diseases like thalassemia, cancer, cardiac diseases and brain related diseases.

Robert .T.Means in his article Ironing Out Complementary Medicine discusses these studies as well as their limitations.

However based on these findings he poses a number of clinically relevant questions:
• Can high doses of curcumin help as a clinical chelator in heavy metal toxicity?
• Would curcumin’s iron chelating activity limit its use as chemotherapeutic agent in patients with fewer iron stores?
• Would women suffering from excessive blood loss due to menstruation or gestation have to use curcumin with caution?
• Could curcumin exacerbate anaemia?

Quite a number of studies prove that curcumin has good chelating properties that could be useful in treatment of heavy metal toxicity.

There have been no reported cases of curcumin causing iron deficiency in cancer patients practically but it is true that iron chelation is one of its mechanisms of anti-cancer activity.

Turmeric in the diet is permissible in gestation but curcumin supplements are not recommended. Women with heavy menstruation have reported regular and reduced bleeding on taking curcumin or turmeric.

Coming to whether curcumin could exacerbate anaemia, well that is something that requires clinical trials. However, curcumin is found to be beneficial in a different blood disorder, thalassemia.

What does this mean?
Animal studies show that curcumin has iron chelating property which may supposedly increase the risk of iron deficiency.

Dietary turmeric powder does not interfere with dietary iron absorption

But how far does this iron chelation activity of turmeric come into action in real life? A study published in The Journal of Nutrition, 2006 examined the effect of chilli and turmeric on dietary iron absorption.

Both chilli and turmeric contain phenolic compounds and their structure is such that they bind to iron. Thereby they should interfere with intestinal absorption of iron.

30 healthy young women were given a rice based meal with vegetables and iron fortified fish sauce. The three experiments had following conditions: the presence of chilli powder, the absence of chilli powder and presence of turmeric powder.

4.2g of chilli powder with 25 mg of phenolic compounds reduced iron absorption by 38%. On the other hand, 0.5g of turmeric powder with 50mg of phenolic compounds did not inhibit iron absorption.

Iron bioavailability was 5.4% in presence of chilli but 6.4% in presence of chilli. Researchers concluded that despite higher phenolic content of turmeric in comparison to chilli, turmeric did not affect iron absorption. It is quite possible that both quality and quantity of phenolic compounds determine the effect of iron chelation.

What does this mean?
A study shows that turmeric powder despite of its phenolic compounds does not affect iron absorption from diet. So turmeric as a herb or in diet would not cause iron deficiency by inhibiting dietary iron absorption.

Dosage

Turmeric in the diet is absolutely safe. You can reap benefits of turmeric as an antioxidant in anaemia by taking The Golden Paste. Turmeric powder contains 3-4% curcumin. The blend of turmeric with black pepper and fats increase its absorption in the body.

1-2 teaspoons of Golden Paste a day should help. Here are some easy ways to use The Golden Paste.

If you need help identifying good suppliers of organic turmeric please check this link.

Precaution

Based on current research we would definitely not recommend curcumin supplements for anaemia. A few conditions in which curcumin supplements should be taken with caution are:
• Pregnancy and lactation
• If suffering from gallbladder issues
• Prior to surgery
• If taking blood thinning medications, blood sugar lowering drugs, stomach acid reducing medications and certain antidepressants.

Initially, turmeric may cause slight gastric discomfort if you are taking it for the first time, but it should disappear gradually. Excess intake of turmeric can cause gastric symptoms.

Conclusion

Dietary turmeric is not found to interfere with dietary iron absorption. Curcumin, on the other hand, is a proven iron chelator.

Speaking of real life evidence, there have been no reported cases of iron deficiency with turmeric or curcumin supplementation. So those who have a good store of iron should not worry.

However, those with marginal reserves of iron as in anemia should refrain from taking curcumin supplements; but it is safe to take turmeric. These conclusions are based on current status of research on this topic. Also, we cannot forget that turmeric is a good source of iron.

We definitely need clinical trials investigating the role of curcumin supplementation on iron status in anaemia. Turmeric in the diet is safe.

About the Author

TurmericForHealthTeam

Turmeric for Health's writer team consists of passionate writers from the fields of biotechnology, pharmacy, nutrition, Ayurveda & microbiology.Our writers are highly qualified with many having Ph.D., M.Tech & MSc degrees while others having B.Tech, BSc, B.Pharm. Our differentiation lies in researching and presenting ONLY FACTUAL SCIENTIFIC information. We spend 10s of hours to write a single article. Info of our articles is sourced from reliable scientific sources which are also provided as a link alongside for readers to refer if they want. You can read more about our team in the " About us" section.

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3 Comments

  1. I love taking my Longvida Curcumin supplement as it is helpful for my mood and memory.

    While I don’t have anemia, I do have signs of it. Such as racey heart, anxiety, and cold hands and feet. My iron levels appear to be okay though according to my blood work, but worry still the curcumin supplement is keeping it on the lower end.

    How about adding an iron supplement to my regimen? Or, as someone had said, taking it two hours before or after eating to prevent reduction from iron absorbtion? Thoughts, please?

    1. Hi. You can add iron rich foods to your diet rather than supplements since there is no deficiency as per blood reports. If you plan on supplementing with iron avoid taking curcumin close to the time of taking it; preferably take the iron supplement in the morning and curcumin supplement in the evening or vice versa. Please confirm with your health practitioner as well.