Turmeric is an ancient herbal medicine, used over several centuries in many countries. This medicinal plant is known to have multiple variants and sub-species. For example – Thailand and India each have more than 35 unique species of this plant. The powder made from turmeric roots is endowed with phytochemicals. This powder is widely used to make curries, especially those cooked in Asia. It owes its bright color to a substance called curcumin – which has the approval and recognition of reputed bodies such as the food and drug administration (FDA), world health organization (WHO) – to name a few. The plant also has many oils in it as well as carbohydrates, proteins and fiber. Intake of turmeric – especially in larger quantities – may trigger a few adverse side effects. It helps to know about the side effects turmeric can cause.
Turmeric is a staple item in many Indian dishes. Its root is commonly used for its medicinal properties. It owes its bright color to a substance called curcumin. Turmeric is administered for the treatment of a few autoimmune conditions which show up as internal swelling, pain, etc. People also believe that this herb contains a few essential chemicals to treat high levels of blood cholesterol, skin conditions like itchiness as well as conditions like arthritis. As an extended use, turmeric is administered to people living with depression, bowel disorders, cognitive problems, GERD (or commonly referred as acid reflux or heartburns), etc.
Turmeric is known for its medicinal value due to the presence of curcumin-based substances. These substances yield a strong yellow colour and also medical properties to this herb. Turmeric is widely believed to reduce the level of triglycerides / lipids in blood. It is also considered to treat liver damage or hepatic injury due to accumulation of excessive fats. But, turmeric can also trigger a few adverse side effects.
Side effects of turmeric
A limited use of turmeric is unlikely to trigger major side effects. It is generally considered as safe to use if taken for a shorter duration of time. It is also important to know that not all products based on turmeric possess the same levels of curcumin in them. Turmeric powder or similar products with less than 7 grams (gms) of curcumin are safe only if taken for less than 8 weeks. On the other hand, turmeric-based products with 2 to 2.5 gms of curcumin are not known to cause harmful reactions – if taken for less than 12 weeks. However, a few people have reported some adverse side effects; most common among such side effects are abdominal problems including diarrhea, indigestion and nausea. These abdominal problems may arise because of turmeric’s ability to increase gastric juices / acids in your stomach. In fact, a few people who took turmeric for treating autoimmune conditions had to discontinue it because of indigestion and frequent spells of nausea. Some people have also complained of dizziness or feeling excessive levels of drowsiness.
Turmeric is also used for the purpose of enema; hence, application of turmeric paste onto the rectal areas is widely taken as a safe practice. The chemicals present in turmeric can be good for your skin. In some instances, people apply it inside their mouth as a cleanser; this is also widely considered as a safe practice. Topical application of turmeric is generally safe, and is unlikely to cause major side effects.
Side effects of turmeric on pregnant women
It is a safe item to consume – in minimal quantities – as part of foods you cook. But, if turmeric is consumed for its medicinal properties as a separate measure, it can turn harmful to pregnant women. It is likely to boost menstrual periods or can excite your uterine region. All these actions can put your pregnancy to added risks. It is hence a good practice to avoid taking turmeric if you are pregnant. Safety of turmeric on women who are nursing a baby is not fully evidenced. Hence, it is not recommended to take turmeric while you are breastfeeding or nursing a baby.
It is important to consult your doctor or pharmacist if you have a few medical conditions. For instance, if you are experiencing problems in your gallbladder, intake of turmeric may aggravate the condition. Your doctor may advise not to take this herb if you have stones in gallbladder. It is also not recommended if you have internal blockages or obstruction, especially in your biliary ducts. Studies indicate that intake of supplements of turmeric – in doses of 30 milligrams – can worsen gallbladder related problems. Also, oxylate-based substances in turmeric can lead to formation of kidney stones. But how does this happen? These oxylate-based substances get attracted to calcium. The outcome is a chemical called calcium oxalate, which soon cascades down to turn as stones in kidneys. Hence, those living with kidney stones are advised not to take turmeric.
Blood clotting problems
Those who have blood clotting problems may need to be careful while taking turmeric. This is because turmeric has the capability to slow down the time taken for blood to clot. People living with internal bleeding or those who are likely to get bruised (such as action sports or working with sharp objects) are advised not to take turmeric. For the same reason, if you are planning to undergo a surgical or dental procedure, you need to stop taking turmeric at least 15 days prior to the date of the surgical / dental intervention. If you are continuing to take it, you may run the risk of excessive loss of blood during surgical procedures.
Movement of sperm cells and infertility
Men who have fertility related problems must stay clear of turmeric; this is because of this herb’s properties to reduce the motility of sperm cells. Not stopping with a reduced movement of sperm, turmeric may also bring down your testosterone levels. Hence, men who already have fertility-linked problems must use this herb as sparsely as possible. Talk to your treating doctor if you need more clarity on the use of turmeric – if men are trying to overcome infertility.
Poor absorption of iron as well as supplements of iron
People with anemia may find it difficult to make iron available if they take turmeric. This occurs because of the reduction in the absorption rates of iron supplements if co-administered with this yellow-herb. If you are living with a reduced count of red cells in your blood, talk to your doctor about how safe it is for you to take turmeric.
Impact on a few hormones as well as functioning of liver
You may need to be aware that curcumin can reduce the effect of some hormones (such as estrogen) – especially in cancerous cells which are sensitive to hormones. Though turmeric may offer some benefits to conditions related to hormonal levels, no scientific evidences are available as yet. So, your doctor may advise needful caution to be taken while using turmeric. Also, there are some broad-based clinical studies linking the intake of excessive amounts of turmeric to a possible injury of liver. It is generally recommended not to consume turmeric when you are living with liver conditions – such as cirrhosis of the liver or inflammation (referred as hepatitis).
Likely side effects of turmeric when co-administered with other drugs
In general, you are advised to let your medical team know about all the drugs you are currently taking. It is a good practice to make a comprehensive list of all such drugs. As you are compiling this list, ensure to add over the counter (OTC) meds, prescription drugs, dietary aids as well as herbal medicines. More importantly, after sharing this list with your medical team never stop or change the dosage plans of the medicines in your list.
As mentioned, turmeric has properties to slowdown the clotting rate of blood. So, if you are already taking drugs to reduce the clotting time, you run a high level of risk of internal bleeding as well as bruises. Such drugs are known as antiplatelet medications or anticoagulants. Drugs categorized under this family of medications are heparin, warfarin, etc. In general people who regularly take warfarin need to stay away from consuming sizeable amounts of turmeric. Apart from blood thinners, you need to stay conscious of other drugs which may also work on the blood clotting time – these are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as naproxen, ibuprofen, etc.
Safer intake of turmeric
Intake of turmeric within safer limits is necessary to avoid major side effects. The safe levels of intake are calibrated for several medical conditions. Those living with high level of blood cholesterol as well as pronounced levels of triglycerides in blood are advised to take not more than 1.3 grams. This daily dose needs to be divided into two or three sub-doses. However, the duration of treatment must not exceed more than 90 days. In this light, stay watchful of an excessive drop of blood pressure levels; this is because of turmeric’s properties that can lead to hypotension. Those who are taking drugs to lower blood pressure levels are advised to stay away from turmeric.
Also, those who are taking diabetic medications as well as drugs used in the treatment of reducing gastric acids also need to refrain from turmeric. Acid-reducing drugs include ranitidine, omeprazole, cimetidine, etc. Talk to your doctor if you are living with conditions such as stomach ulcers as well as internal bleeding. Apart from the aforesaid drugs, turmeric can also work adversely with herbal products made with ginger, pepper and other such sharp, acidic substances. It is necessary to talk to your dietitian and treating doctor before taking any of these herb-based foods.
The benefits of turmeric are many. But, it can also cause a few side effects. Most commonly experienced discomforts of turmeric are indigestion, nausea and a few other abdominal problems. In some people, turmeric has led to dizziness and drowsiness. Turmeric can thin-down your blood; those who take blood thinners run high levels of risks of bleeding. The herb may also control the absorption of iron and its supplements. Those living with anemia may see their condition turning worse due to their inability to make adequate number of red blood cells. Before starting to take turmeric, you are advised to talk to your treating doctor. Your doctor needs to know about all prior and current medical conditions (including stones in gallbladder or in kidneys). If you develop any other side effects (apart from those listed above), you are advised to inform your doctor or pharmacist quickly. If you are living in the US, you can contact 911 or get in touch with a local poison control center immediately.