use turmeric, wasting your money

If you have ever shopped for supplements online, you may have wondered if you are wasting your money. Ever since 1994, when Congress passed the Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act (DSHEA), FDA has had limited power to regulate dietary supplements. The agency has appeared somewhat reluctant even to use the little power it has. As a result, the supplements market is a lot like the Wild West. With increasing interest in natural products from other places, consumers may well wonder whether the benefits being touted are real.

What Is the Story on Curcumin?

Q. You occasionally receive letters about the alleged benefits of turmeric and its active ingredient, curcumin. There is a lot of nonsense out there about turmeric, and lots of money is being made selling it to gullible people.

Attached is a link to a paper in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry. It is an exhaustive review of curcumin studies that, in summary, finds no benefit at all to curcumin use. I suggest you read it and broadcast these findings in your column.
The supplement industry is a mess and you do some good by relying on data. This makes you a rarity.

The Research on Curcumin:

A. We found the article you sent fascinating (Nelson et al, Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, Jan. 11, 2017).  The authors conclude that curcumin is not a promising compound to be developed into a drug. That is partly because it is chemically unstable and poorly absorbed. They contrast these properties to those of drugs developed from other natural products, such as the cancer drug paclitaxel (Taxol) from the Pacific yew or the malaria drug artemisinin from sweet wormwood, Artemisia annua.

Are You Wasting Your Money on Turmeric Pills?

The problem of poor absorption is well known and may be difficult to get around. When we learn about a product that has been designed for better absorption, we often recommend that people try that form if they want to experiment with using the supplement. One form that has been shown to be better absorbed is called BCM-95. This trademarked compound is found in a number of different brand-name supplements.

Are Curcumin and Turmeric a Complete Bust?

The suggestion that scientists are wasting their time on curcumin or turmeric might be premature, however. Turmeric is a plant that contains a wide range of active compounds in addition to curcumin.

Some animal studies appear promising, such as one demonstrating that turmeric oils added to curcumin ease the inflammation of experimentally-induced colitis (Toden et al, Scientific Reports, Apr. 11, 2017).  A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials in people with ulcerative colitis concluded cautiously that curcumin might be able to help maintain remission (Simadibrata et al, Acta Medica Indonesiana, Oct. 2017). For such conditions, a compound that stays in the digestive tract rather than being absorbed into the blood stream would not be inappropriate.

Farther afield, a recent placebo-controlled trial suggests that curcumin slows bone loss in people with spinal cord injury (Hatefi et al, World Neurosurgery, March 19, 2018). Of course, with further research these possible benefits may not hold up. On the other hand, they just might. It is important to keep tabs on the research that is happening to be sure you are not wasting your money.

Turmeric as a Spice:

Trying to turn turmeric into a drug might be challenging. Perhaps people should try adding it to their food instead, as people in India have been doing for thousands of years. You can learn more about how to do that in our book, Spice Up Your Health.

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  1. Ted

    Several years ago I wrote a thesis paper that discussed the belief that the modality of healing isn’t as important as the believe to the people educating themselves and going on that. If you believe in Allopathic medicine where mere symptoms are treated and you give some one a pill, if they believe that will heal them the chances are good for that.

    Some even believe prayer will heal them. People often times read something and it supports there already wanting as I call it and they respond to support there ego if you will.

    I have been an Herbalist for sixty years with four masters degrees.

  2. Corina

    I have Rheumatoid Arthritis and was not able to iron or vacuum as my hands were hurting too much. My doctor gave me some pain pills for it which I took only when pain was too much, I try to find other natural or home remedies as I don’t like taking too many chemicals. A friend of mine recommended taking Turmeric.
    I was so impressed at the effect that Turmeric had on my hands that not only did my pain went away but the deformation on my fingers stopped.
    I am able to iron and vacuum but I cant stop taking Turmeric or the pain will come back.
    Hope this note helps someone else that is in pain.

  3. David
    Asheveille, NC

    I have osteoarthritis in my shoulders and other joints, however the pain is mostly in my shoulder joints. I was taking over the counter pain relievers (Advil) four and five times a day to control this pain. A guest in our bed and breakfast one suggested that I try turmeric, indicating that most joint pain is from inflammation and that turmeric is one of nature’s best anti-inflammatory “drugs”. I tried it because I don’t particularly like the idea of taking any kind of drugs for pain (many lead to addiction). I’ve been ingesting 1000 milligrams daily for the last ten years which has resulted in complete pain free full motion and am back playing golf on a regular basis. I’m not suggesting that turmeric is a panacea for everyone because all drugs whether natural or synthetic react differently with each person.

  4. Teresa
    West Virginia

    I put ground turmeric in my yogurt every day. I started it to try to address headaches then to reduce joint pain. I haven’t noticed a difference, but it’s a great, easy way to add it to your diet. I use plain yogurt and add maple syrup, turmeric and granola for an afternoon snack.

  5. Opal

    I have had exceptional results from curcumin. Over a year ago my finger joints, particularly the joints in my thumbs, became so stiff and swollen that it was painful to use my hands. After a RN family friend suggested that I research curcumin, I decided to order a bottle of the supplement and try it. Anyone deciding to do this should aware that the supplement’s absorption level is very low particularly when not combined with a pepperine, so it would be best to do your research and choose a very reputable company. (I purchase all my supplements from the following companies: Thorne, Pure Encapsulations, and Innovox Labs). Anyway, after three months I noticed a remarkable improvement and now have no hand pain whatsoever. I am not sure if anyone could talk me into giving up this supplement. I might note, however, I have not noticed any improvement in my arthritic knees.

  6. Linda

    I’ve been using Turmeric as a spice for several years, and I mix it half & half with cinnamon. Recently I was advised to add pepper & fat when using it.

    While I can’t say if it is helping, it makes a heck of a delicious chicken dish! I even put it into my oatmeal in the morning. Yummy! A dash of pepper with a pat of butter meets the requirements, and it all tastes wonderful.

  7. Paul C

    I’ve had doctors tell me that my shoulder tendonitis was just something I must live with. I would have a terrible stabbing pain that would last up to 1 minute when I would reach for something behind me. I also had sciatic nerve pain along a line from my back to my hip and down my leg.

    I read about turmeric and curcumin on the Peoples Pharmacy. I started taking 1 name-brand (from a big box store) pill every other day, hoping but not really expecting much. Lo and behold, within a few weeks, I started having a vast difference in my shoulder and relief in my hip also. It has been nearly miraculous.

    I don’t have proof of cause and effect, but the results are definite. My shoulder pain that had been ongoing for more than a few years is virtually gone, and my sciatic pain only bothers me occasionally now, instead of regularly. It’s been a wonderful relief!

  8. Jerry
    La Habra, CA

    About poor absorption curcumin: This is correct, but piperine (black pepper) reportedly improves the absorption.

  9. Rubina

    Comments requested about using Tart Cherry Juice for the ‘gout’. Or anything else for the ‘gout’

  10. Melinda

    I forgot to mention in my previous post that my doctor instructed me to avoid any heat when ingesting the turmeric/curcumin, because heat destroys the healing properties.

  11. Melinda
    Dallas, TX

    One of my doctors, who was born/raised in Iran and favors “natural” treatments vs. prescriptions, suggested that I take turmeric/curcumin for my back, and other, pains. She claims that it reduces inflamation, “the root of most pain”. She also suggested apple cider vinegar (taken with purified water and honey or stevia) to accompany it. Well, I’m 70, and they certainly work for me!

  12. Joe

    I’m not a person who uses a large variety of suppliments. I do use several, and Turmeric is one that I use daily. I do so because it works. I can’t say the same about many of the supplements that I have tried.

  13. Linda
    Spokane, WA

    It may just the power of suggestion, but a doctor whose practice is not related to arthritis mentioned that he and his wife both used turcumin to help with their “trigger finger” malady, after I had mentioned mine to him. He said they take a curcumin tablet twice a day, and I might want to try it. I did, and it works with no known side effects. If I skip a couple of days my finger joint begins to stick.

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