Over the last several years, there has been increasing interest in turmeric
and its medicinal properties. This is partially evidenced by the large numbers
of scientific studies published on this topic. Turmeric (Curcuma longa),
a flowering plant in the ginger family, is widely used as a food coloring and is
one of the principal ingredients in curry powder. Turmeric has long been used in
both Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine as an anti-inflammatory, to treat digestive
disorders and liver problems, and for the treatment of skin diseases and wound
healing. The active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin, which has been the
subject of numerous animal studies—but as of yet, very
few studies on people—demonstrating various medicinal
properties. Curcumin has been shown, for example, to stimulate the production of
bile and to facilitate the emptying of the gallbladder. It has also demonstrated
in animals a protective effect on the liver, anti-tumor action, and ability to
reduce inflammation and fight certain infections.
A relative of ginger, turmeric is a perennial plant that grows 3 to 5 feet
high in the tropical regions of Southern Asia, with trumpet-shaped, dull yellow
flowers. Turmeric is fragrant and has a bitter, somewhat sharp taste.
The aboveground and underground roots, or rhizomes, are used in medicinal and
food preparations. These are generally boiled and then dried, turning into the
familiar yellow powder. Curcumin from turmeric, as well as other substances in
this herb, have antioxidant properties, which some claim may be as strong as
vitamins C and E.
Medicinal Uses and Indications
While turmeric has a long history of use by herbalists, most studies to date
have been conducted in the laboratory or in animals and it is not clear that
these results apply to people. Nevertheless, research suggests that turmeric may
be helpful for the following conditions.
Digestive Disorders (stomach upset, gas, abdominal cramps):
The German Commission E (an authoritative body that determined which herbs could
be safely prescribed in that country and for which purpose[s]) approved turmeric
for a variety of digestive disorders. Curcumin, for example, one of the active
ingredients in turmeric, induces the flow of bile, which helps break down fats.
In an animal study, extracts of turmeric root reduced secretion of acid from the
stomach and protected against injuries such as inflammation along the stomach
(gastritis) or intestinal walls and ulcers from certain medications, stress, or
alcohol. Further studies are needed to know to what extent these protective
effects apply to people as well.
Osteoarthritis Because of its ability to reduce inflammation,
turmeric may help relieve the symptoms of osteoarthritis. A study of people
using an Ayurvedic formula of herbs and minerals containing turmeric as well as
Withinia somnifera (winter cherry), Boswellia serrata (Boswellia),
and zinc significantly reduced pain and disability. While encouraging for the
value of this Ayurvedic combination therapy to help with osteoarthritis, it is
difficult to know how much of this success is from turmeric alone, one of the
other individual herbs, or the combination of herbs working in tandem.
Atherosclerosis Early studies suggest that turmeric may prove
helpful in preventing the build up of atherosclerosis (blockage of arteries that
can eventually cause a heart attack or stroke) in one of two ways. First, in
animal studies an extract of turmeric lowered cholesterol levels and inhibited
the oxidation of LDL ("bad") cholesterol. Oxidized LDL deposits in the walls of
blood vessels and contributes to the formation of atherosclerotic plaque.
Turmeric may also prevent platelet build up along the walls of an injured blood
vessel. Platelets collecting at the site of a damaged blood vessel cause blood
clots to form and blockage of the artery as well. Studies of the use of turmeric
to prevent or treat heart disease in people would be interesting in terms of
determining if these mechanisms discovered in animals apply to people at risk
for this condition.
Cancer There has been a substantial amount of research on
turmeric's anti-cancer potential. Evidence from laboratory and animal studies
suggests that curcumin has potential in the treatment of various forms of
cancer, including prostate, breast, skin, and colon. Human studies will be
necessary before it is known to what extent these results may apply to
Roundworms and Intestinal worms Laboratory studies suggest
that curcuminoids, the active components of turmeric, may reduce the destructive
activity of parasites or roundworms.
Liver Disease Animal studies provide evidence that turmeric
can protect the liver from a number of damaging substances such as carbon
tetrachloride and acetominophen (also called paracetamol, this medication, used
commonly for headache and pain, can cause liver damage if taken in large
quantities or in someone who drinks alcohol regularly.) Turmeric accomplishes
this, in part, by helping to clear such toxins from the body and by protecting
the liver from damage.
Bacterial Infection Turmeric's volatile oil functions as an
external antibiotic, preventing bacterial infection in wounds.
Wounds In animal studies, turmeric applied to wounds hastens
the healing process.
Mosquito Repellent A mixture of the volatile oils of turmeric,
citronella, and hairy basil, with the addition of vanillin (an extract of
vanilla bean that is generally used for flavoring or perfumes), may be an
alternative to D.E.E.T., one of the most common chemical repellents commercially
Eye Disorder One study of 32 people with uveitis (inflammation
of the uvea, the middle layer of the eye between the sclera [white outer coat of
the eye] and the retina [the back of the eye]) suggests that curcumin may prove
to be as effective as corticosteroids, the type of medication generally
prescribed for this eye disorder. The uvea contains many of the blood vessels
that nourish the eye. Inflammation of this area, therefore, can affect the
cornea, the retina, the sclera, and other important parts of the eye. More
research is needed to best understand whether curcumin may help treat this eye
Turmeric is commercially available in the following forms:
Capsules containing powder
Bromelain enhances the absorption and anti-inflammatory effects of curcumin,
the best studied active ingredient of turmeric; therefore, bromelain is often
formulated with turmeric products.
How to Take It
While turmeric may be helpful for the treatment of inflammatory conditions in
children, appropriate doses have not yet been established. Until more
information is available, consider adjusting the recommended adult dose to
account for the child's weight. Most herbal dosages for adults are calculated on
the basis of a 150 lb (70 kg) adult. Therefore, if the child weighs 50 lb (20 to
25 kg), the appropriate dose of turmeric for this child would be 1/3 of the
The following are doses recommended for adults:
Cut root: 1,500 to 3,000 mg per day
Dried, powdered root: 1,000 to 3,000 mg per day
Standardized powder (curcumin): 400 to 600 mg, 3 times per day
Fluid extract (1:1) 30 to 90 drops a day
Tincture (1:2): 15 to 30 drops, 4 times per day
The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and
treating disease. Herbs, however, contain active substances that can trigger
side effects and interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For
these reasons, herbs should be taken with care, under the supervision of a
practitioner knowledgeable in the field of botanical medicine.
Turmeric and curcumin are considered safe when taken at the recommended
doses. However, extended or excessive use of curcumin may produce stomach upset
and, in extreme cases, ulcers. (Note: normal therapeutic doses of turmeric
protect from ulcers - see earlier discussion
- but, at very high doses, it may induce ulcers. This
is why it is very important to stick with the recommended dose of this herbal
remedy.) Turmeric should not be taken by those who have been diagnosed with
gallstones or obstruction of the bile passages without explicit direction from a
While pregnant women needn't avoid foods containing turmeric, its use as a
medicinal herb is not recommended during pregnancy because the effects are not
fully known. Studies in pregnant rats, mice, guinea pigs, and monkeys suggest
that it is safe for those animals, but safety in pregnant women has not been
If you are currently being treated with any of the following medications, you
should not use turmeric or curcumin in medicinal forms without first talking to
your healthcare provider.
Blood-Thinning Medications Although no scientific reports have
documented a bleed or other adverse interaction, turmeric, taken in medicinal
doses may theoretically increase the blood thinning effects and, therefore the
risk of bleeding from, drugs such as warfarin and aspirin.
Non-Steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) Turmeric has
shown protection in animals from the development of ulcers due to this class of
medications. NSAIDs include indomethacin, ibuprofen, and many other drugs that
are often prescribed for pain and inflammation, such as that of arthritis.
Reserpine Turmeric protected animals from increased gastric
secretions (secretions in the stomach that can lead to damage along the walls of
this organ) from reserpine used for high blood pressure.
Arbiser JL, Klauber N, Rohan R, et al. Curcumin is an in vivo inhibitor of
angiogenesis. Mol Med. 1998;4(6):376-383.
Asai A, Miyazawa T. Dietary curcuminoids prevent high-fat diet-induced lipid
accumulation in rat liver and epididymal adipose tissue. J Nutr.
Blumenthal M, Goldberg A, Brinckmann J. Herbal Medicine: Expanded
Commission E Monographs. Newton, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications;
Curcuma longa (turmeric). Monograph. Altern Med Rev. 2001;6
Dorai T, Cao YC, Dorai B, Buttyan R, Katz AE. Therapeutic potential of
curcumin in human prostate cancer. III. Curcumin inhibits proliferation, induces
apoptosis, and inhibits angiogenesis of LNCaP prostate cancer cells in vivo.
Dorai T, Gehani N, Katz A. Therapeutic potential of curcumin in human
prostate cancer. II. Curcumin inhibits tyrosine kinase activity of epidermal
growth factor receptor and depletes the protein. Mol Urol.
Gescher A J, Sharma R A, Steward W P. Cancer chemoprevention by dietary
constituents: a tale of failure and promise. Lancet Oncol.
Heck AM, DeWitt BA, Lukes AL. Potential interactions between alternative
therapies and warfarin. Am J Health Syst Pharm.
Kawamori T, Lubet R, Steele VE, et al. Chemopreventive effect of curcumin, a
naturally occurring anti-inflammatory agent, during the promotion/progression
stages of colon cancer.
Cancer Res. 1999;59:597-601.
Kim MS, Kang HJ, Moon A. Inhibition of invasion and induction of apoptosis by
curcumin in H-ras-transformed MCF10A human breast epithelial cells. Arch
Pharm Res. 2001;24(4):349-354.
Kiuchi F, Goto Y, Sugimoto N, Akao N, Kondo K, Tsuda Y. Nematocidal activity
of turmeric: synergistic action of curcuminoids. Chem Pharm Bull.
Kulkarni RR, Patki PS, Jog VP, Gandage SG, Patwardhan B. Treatment of
osteoarthritis with a herbomineral formulation: a double-blind,
placebo-controlled, cross-over study. J Ethnopharmacol.
Lal B, Kapoor AK, Asthana OP, et al. Efficacy of curcumin in the management
of chronic anterior uveitis. Phytother Res. 1999;13(4):318-322.
Luper S. A review of plants used in the treatment of liver disease: part two.
Altern Med Rev. 1999;4(3):178-188; 692.
Mehta K, Pantazis P, McQueen T, Aggarwal BB. Antiproliferative effect of
curcumin (diferuloylmethane) against human breast tumor cell lines.
Anticancer Drugs. 1997;8(5):470-481.
Nagabhushan M, Bhide SV. Curcumin as an inhibitor of cancer. J Am Coll
Phan TT, See P, Lee ST, Chan SY. Protective effects of curcumin against
oxidative damage on skin cells in vitro: its implication for wound healing. J
Pizzorno JE, Murray MT. Textbook of Natural Medicine. New York, NY:
Churchill Livingstone; 1999:689-692.
Ramirez-Tortosa MC, Mesa MD, Aguilera MC, et al. Oral administration of a
turmeric extract inhibits LDL oxidation and has hypocholesterolemic effects in
rabbits with experimental atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis.
Rao CV, Rivenson A, Simi B, Reddy BS. Chemoprevention of colon carcinogenesis
by dietary curcumin naturally occurring plant phenolic compound. Cancer Res.
Robbers JE, Tyler V. Herbs of Choice: The Therapeutic Use of
Phytomedicinals. New York, NY: The Haworth Herbal Press; 1999:73-74.
Sharma RA, Ireson CR, Verschoyle RD. Effects of dietary curcumin on
glutathione S-Transferase and Malondialdehyde-DNA adducts in rat liver
and colon mucosa: relationship with drug levels. Clin Cancer Res.
Stoner GD, Mukhtar H. Polyphenols as cancer chemopreventive agents. J Cell
Biochem Suppl. 1995;22:169-180.
Tawatsin A, Wratten SD, Scott RR, Thavara U, Techadamrongsin Y. Repellency of
volatile oils from plants against three mosquito vectors. J Vector Ecol.
Verma SP, Salamone E, Goldin B. Curcumin and genistein, plant natural
products, show synergistic inhibitory effects on the growth of human breast
cancer MCF-7 cells induced by estrogenic pesticides. Biochem Biophys Res
Commun. 1997; 233(3): 692-696.
White L, Mavor S. Kids, Herbs, Health. Loveland, Colo: Interweave
Review Date: April 2002
Reviewed By: Participants in the review process include: Jacqueline A. Hart, MD,
Department of Internal Medicine, Newton-Wellesley Hospital, Harvard University
and Senior Medical Editor Integrative Medicine, Boston, MA; Gary Kracoff, RPh
(Pediatric Dosing section February 2001), Johnson Drugs, Natick, MA; Steven
Ottariono, RPh (Pediatric Dosing section February 2001), Veteran's
Administrative Hospital, Londonderry, NH; R. Lynn Shumake, PD, Director,
Alternative Medicine Apothecary, Blue Mountain Apothecary & Healing Arts,
University of Maryland Medical Center, Glenwood, MD; David Winston, Herbalist
(January 2000), Herbalist and Alchemist, Inc., Washington, NJ. All interaction
sections have also been reviewed by a team of experts including Joseph Lamb, MD
(July 2000), The Integrative Medicine Works, Alexandria, VA;Enrico Liva, ND, RPh
(August 2000), Vital Nutrients, Middletown, CT; Brian T Sanderoff, PD, BS in
Pharmacy (March 2000), Clinical Assistant Professor, University of Maryland
School of Pharmacy; President, Your Prescription for Health, Owings Mills, MD;
Ira Zunin, MD, MPH, MBA (July 2000), President and Chairman, Hawaii State
Consortium for Integrative Medicine, Honolulu,
The publisher does not accept any responsibility for the accuracy of
the information or the consequences arising from the application, use, or misuse
of any of the information contained herein, including any injury and/or damage
to any person or property as a matter of product liability, negligence, or
otherwise. No warranty, expressed or implied, is made in regard to the contents
of this material. No claims or endorsements are made for any drugs or compounds
currently marketed or in investigative use. This material is not intended as a
guide to self-medication. The reader is advised to discuss the information
provided here with a doctor, pharmacist, nurse, or other authorized healthcare
practitioner and to check product information (including package inserts)
regarding dosage, precautions, warnings, interactions, and contraindications
before administering any drug, herb, or supplement discussed