Turmeric side effects

INTRODUCTION

On the outside, turmeric looks like ginger root; however, it has a characteristic bright yellow color on the inside. This color comes from a component of turmeric known as curcumin. Interestingly, curcumin also happens to be the constituent of turmeric credited for nearly all its magnificent health benefits. 

TURMERIC POWDER AND THE RISK OF LEAD POISONING

Peeling raw turmeric root can be messy, resulting in yellow-stained fingers and fingernails. Fortunately, the much more convenient option–powdered turmeric–is widely available. However, powdered turmeric has a drawback–possible lead contamination.

“…a growing body of evidence indicating that turmeric containing excessive concentrations of lead is available for purchase in US grocery stores.”

  • Cowell W, Ireland T, Vorhees D, Heiger-Bernays W. Ground Turmeric as a Source of Lead Exposure in the United States. Public Health Rep. 2017;132(3):289-293.

Why are high levels of lead detected in powdered turmeric? Some producers have been adding lead chromate to enhance the brightness of the turmeric powder to make the powder more visually appealing to the consumer. It’s a very dangerous practice that puts many people’s health at risk. For this reason, it is critical to vet the quality and source of the product whenever purchasing turmeric powder.

SIDE EFFECT #1: GASTROINTESTINAL UPSET

The most common side effects of turmeric are diarrhea, nausea, and an increase in the frequency of bowel movements that typically resolves on its own within one to three days.

SIDE EFFECT #2: KIDNEY STONES

Turmeric contains a high concentration of oxalate. Meanwhile, calcium oxalate is the main culprit in around 75% of all kidney stones. Consequently, relatively large doses of turmeric can lead to kidney stone formation, particularly in those with a history of kidney stones.

SIDE EFFECT #3: SEVERE ABDOMINAL PAIN IN THOSE WITH GALLSTONES

Curcumin, a component of turmeric, has been proven to induce gallbladder contraction. In people without gallstones, this could be beneficial, as the gallbladder would expel its contents upon contracting, thereby reducing the risk of gallstone formation. However, in those with gallstones, the triggering of gallbladder contractions could lead to severe abdominal pain.

SIDE EFFECT #4: TOPICAL SKIN REACTIONS

Contact urticaria (hives) and allergic contact dermatitis have been reported with turmeric, but only a handful of cases have been documented. This being the case, it is safe to assume these types of reactions are extremely rare.

IS TURMURIC/CURCUMIN SAFE?

Since turmeric has been consumed, particularly in India, for thousands of years, we can assume it is probably safe, at least when used as a spice. However, as turmeric and curcumin have become popular health supplements, “ultra-high absorption” and other high-bioavailability turmeric/curcumin supplements have skyrocketed in both availability and popularity. So, I think the question should be: are absorption-/bioavailability-enhanced turmeric/curcumin formulations safe?

Research published by Cao et al. has demonstrated that curcumin may produce a DNA-protective antioxidant effect at low doses but potentially carcinogenic pro-oxidative effects at high doses. Further studies are needed to reveal whether the DNA damage witnessed with high doses of curcumin in vitro (in a test tube) also occurs in vivo (in the body). In the meantime, the authors of this research have recommended against consuming high doses of curcumin.

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REFERENCES

Cowell W, Ireland T, Vorhees D, Heiger-Bernays W. Ground Turmeric as a Source of Lead Exposure in the United States. Public Health Rep. 2017;132(3):289-293. doi:10.1177/0033354917700109

Forsyth JE, Nurunnahar S, Islam SS, et al. Turmeric means “yellow” in Bengali: Lead chromate pigments added to turmeric threaten public health across Bangladesh. Environ Res. 2019;179(Pt A):108722. doi:10.1016/j.envres.2019.108722

Asher GN, Spelman K. Clinical utility of curcumin extract. Altern Ther Health Med. 2013;19(2):20-22.

Minghua Tang and others, Effect of cinnamon and turmeric on urinary oxalate excretion, plasma lipids, and plasma glucose in healthy subjects, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 87, Issue 5, May 2008, Pages 1262–1267.

Rasyid A, Lelo A. The effect of curcumin and placebo on human gallbladder function: an ultrasound study. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 1999;13(2):245-249. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2036.1999.00464.x

Liddle M, Hull C, Liu C, Powell D. Contact urticaria from curcumin. Dermatitis. 2006;17(4):196-197. doi:10.2310/6620.2006.06004

Chainani-Wu N. Safety and anti-inflammatory activity of curcumin: a component of tumeric (Curcuma longa). J Altern Complement Med. 2003;9(1):161-168. doi:10.1089/107555303321223035

Cao J, Jia L, Zhou HM, Liu Y, Zhong LF. Mitochondrial and nuclear DNA damage induced by curcumin in human hepatoma G2 cells. Toxicol Sci. 2006;91(2):476-483. doi:10.1093/toxsci/kfj153

Prasad S, Tyagi AK, Aggarwal BB. Recent developments in delivery, bioavailability, absorption and metabolism of curcumin: the golden pigment from golden spice. Cancer Res Treat. 2014;46(1):2-18.

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