The People's Perspective on Medicine

Do Turmeric Supplements Have a Downside?

Many people take turmeric supplements for their anti-inflammatory benefits, but a recent case shows that such pills can also trigger autoimmune hepatitis.

The yellow spice turmeric is extremely popular both as a food ingredient and as a supplement. When it is used to flavor food like yellow mustard or curry, turmeric is considered safe. A case report demonstrates, however, that some people cannot tolerate turmeric supplements.

Pros and Cons of Turmeric Supplements:

Many people like to take turmeric supplements because they appear to have anti-inflammatory activity. Others find turmeric or its active ingredient curcumin can ease psoriasis. Curcumin has been shown to deter colorectal cancer. It also seems to act against certain types of breast cancer (Bioimpacts, online March 5, 2018). Studies show that turmeric and curcumin lower cholesterol (Nutrition Journal, Oct. 11, 2017). Occasionally people suffer side effects from this botanical medicine, however.

Elevated Liver Enzymes:

The doctor of a 71-year-old woman referred her to a specialist because a blood test showed her liver enzyme levels were too high (BMJ Case Reports, online Sep. 10, 2018). She felt well and had been taking turmeric capsules to reduce her chance of having a stroke. She was also taking 20 other medicines and supplements, though, so her doctors were not sure at first what was causing the liver problem. They diagnosed it as autoimmune hepatitis.

Once the liver enzyme problem came to light, the patient herself found studies online suggesting that the turmeric might be responsible. She threw the supplements out and within a month her lab values had begun to normalize. As a result, though, the scientists could not analyze the discarded supplement for contamination. The doctors suspect that an interaction between the turmeric supplements and her other pills might have been responsible for the serious reaction.

The authors of the case note that

“turmeric use was not documented in the patient’s medical records.”

They suggest that doctors specifically ask patients with elevated liver enzymes whether they are taking turmeric or curcumin.

Allergies and Interactions:

Despite its possible benefits, turmeric can trigger allergic reactions, especially rash. We also worry about its potential for interacting with anticoagulants such as warfarin. The combination could cause hemorrhage. In addition, turmeric supplements could increase urinary oxalate. As a result, people taking these pills may be more susceptible to painful kidney stones.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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Because of egregious and outrageous price gouging by pharmaceuticals, they do not want anyone to understand that food is your best medicine. When I say food, I mean: Vegetables, and fruits, whole grains, seeds, nuts, natural spices, and fruit. Do not forget water: Not soda or flavored, high fructose, sugared up drinks, but pure water.

Dairy, eggs, and the flesh of dead animals is not fit for human consumption. Do not make your stomach the graveyard for dead animals. I had varicose veins: When I stopped dairy and eggs the varicose veins became greatly diminished is size. I have not eaten meat for decades; however, I ate dairy and eggs until about two years ago and since I stopped eggs and dairy, my health and vitality have greatly improved. By the way I am 81 and I also exercise regularly. August 28, I had my blood taken and here are the numbers: BP 126/80; BS 122; Oxygen 95, and HR 65: I am on zero medication.

I will be very surprised if this comment is posted, as the medical, drug, dairy, and meat industries cannot benefit from people who practice “food is your best medicine” and are not sick and financially devastated by their outrageous costs.

I am loading up on nearly all of the aforementioned foods. My only complaint is that lately my urine has started smelling like ammonia. Should I get checked for kidney stones?

What is safe to take??

My personal experience with curcumin high dosage are
Def reduction in inflammation next blood test check homocystene levels mine is 6.1
I also believe it keeps u at pre diabetic stage

Not really sure, but quite possible that turmeric as consumed in yellow mustard and yellow Indian curries is a Meniere’s Disease trigger for me. Now I avoid it, sadly.

I’ve been taking two a day for ten years and have never had any of these problems. I am a senior citizen.

Turmeric made my eczema flair for months before I discovered that the supplements I was taking for inflammation were causing the flair. Once I stopped Tumeric and Curcumin my skin calmed down.

Started using turmeric for health benefits and also that I enjoy the taste that it gives food. I do bruise very easily and noticed that after a few weeks,the bruises were largely and more easily triggered. Based on nominees research, I cut turmeric out of my diet and the ease in bruising has improved

This is helpful information. I’ve been taking curcumin supplements for 3 years following a breast cancer diagnosis. My liver enzymes were elevated last spring for the first time ever. I will follow up with my PCP.

I recently read that turmeric could contribute to type II diabetes. What are your thoughts on this?

This seems unlikely, since turmeric (actually, curcumin) appears to lower post-prandial (after-eating) blood sugar and insulin. See

While turmeric is is high in oxylate, curcumin is not. I would be interested in any info you have regarding autoimmune effects for curcumin

Doctors just want to prescribe pharmaceutical drugs for heart problems. So this fits their agenda to say it was the spice’s fault. Haha! Not buying it.

I have been taking turmeric supplements for some time. I was prescribed them by an alternative doctor as supportive in lowering inflammation in the blood. I have many autoimmune problems going on and also afib which makes me a candidate for a stroke. I do take a blood thinner for this but have never been told that turmeric was a danger for its interaction with this. I will do more research on my own to clarify this danger and bring a print out of this to my doctor the next time I see him. I load him with information I locate on the internet and he appreciates this. I enjoy a doctor who doesn’t get defensive about such things and does his/her own research to follow up -as if they aren’t busy enough already, eh?

I have heard that turmeric/curcumin is one of the most frequently adulterated spices. One suggestion is to grind your own from the root when possible to prevent that. Ideally we could buy supplements with country of origin and have Good Manufacturing Practices and/or USP standards to help reduce this risk.

I am a 75 year old female and take no prescription drugs at all. I have been taking tumeric for several months and without problems, it seems. I also take vitamin b complex, vitamin D, and a calcium/potassium/magnesium tablet. Now I’m wondering whether to continue the tumeric or not. Do you know what a safe amount would be?

The article didn’t specify if the woman cited was taking curcurmin (extract) or powdered tumeric. It also didn’t state how much she was taking. It’s very important to me to consume supplements in moderate amounts, preferably from whole substances, rather than extracts. While unintended, the lack of detailed information and recommendations, makes the value of the warning dubious.
Please, don’t try to frighten me, give me information I can use productively.

Unfortunately, she threw her “cheap” turmeric supplements away, so the authors of the case report didn’t tell us much about them.

Completely agree and it adds fuel to the argument that these negative reports are used to keep people on pharma meds. Wish alternative Drs would get together and do their own research but I guess there are not enough of them to fund meaningful studies.

Turmeric also slows absorption of iron in the body. My wife and I both, after using for a year and a half, have mild anemia now!

Send to
Int J Mol Sci. 2018 Sep 13;19(9). pii: E2745. doi: 10.3390/ijms19092745.
Molecular Mechanisms Involved in Oxidative Stress-Associated Liver Injury Induced by Chinese Herbal Medicine: An Experimental Evidence-Based Literature Review and Network Pharmacology Study.
Zhang C1, Wang N2, Xu Y3, Tan HY4, Li S5, Feng Y6.
Author information
Oxidative stress, defined as a disequilibrium between pro-oxidants and antioxidants, can result in histopathological lesions with a broad spectrum, ranging from asymptomatic hepatitis to hepatocellular carcinoma in an orchestrated manner. Although cells are equipped with sophisticated strategies to maintain the redox biology under normal conditions, the abundance of redox-sensitive xenobiotics, such as medicinal ingredients originated from herbs or animals, can dramatically invoke oxidative stress. Growing evidence has documented that the hepatotoxicity can be triggered by traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) during treating various diseases. Meanwhile, TCM-dependent hepatic disorder represents a strong correlation with oxidative stress, especially the persistent accumulation of intracellular reactive oxygen species. Of note, since TCM-derived compounds with their modulated targets are greatly diversified among themselves, it is complicated to elaborate the potential pathological mechanism. In this regard, data mining approaches, including network pharmacology and bioinformatics enrichment analysis have been utilized to scientifically disclose the underlying pathogenesis. Herein, top 10 principal TCM-modulated targets for oxidative hepatotoxicity including superoxide dismutases (SOD), malondialdehyde (MDA), glutathione (GSH), reactive oxygen species (ROS), glutathione peroxidase (GPx), Bax, caspase-3, Bcl-2, nuclear factor (erythroid-derived 2)-like 2 (Nrf2), and nitric oxide (NO) have been identified. Furthermore, hepatic metabolic dysregulation may be the predominant pathological mechanism involved in TCM-induced hepatotoxic impairment.

hepatotoxicity; network pharmacology; oxidative stress; traditional Chinese medicine

PMID: 30217028 DOI: 10.3390/ijms19092745
Free full text

Regarding iron absorption — good to know! I was recently diagnosed with mild anemia!

I had been taking turmeric for probably at least 10 years. I was going to have knee surgery but my blood was too thin and surgery had to be postponed. Went to Hematologist, said my reading was like someone on Cumidin. Immediately took me off tumeric. Dr said that inherently it thins the blood. About a month later I was able to have surgery.

I began growing my own Turmeric 4 years ago, and this is the first (after having shared quite a bit) that I have enough year-round. I grate it and, along with black pepper, add it to dishes at least every other day. I would not know how much Curcumin I am taking in and how much would be a recommended dose in the raw, grated form. Can you help?—BTW: Turmeric has beautiful blossoms, and the very young leaves have a nice flavor–I add just a small one, shredded, to my salads at times.

Curcumin in curry or other dishes frequently is probably all a person should take. More is not always better.

Cook with turmeric, even make a dilute tea with it with ginger, but don’t overdo. And all that supplement stuff we take can be contaminated with anything. I grow turmeric root and know it is not contaminated.

Swantje (LA) and Jesse (TX) have nailed it. I am very, very wary of the various supplements….poor regulations and pie-in-the sky claims. I try to do a lot of research.

I buy the turmeric root from the farmers market or grow it if you can. I grate it, mix with fresh ginger and enjoy a wonderful cup of tea…and of course cook with it as well.

Well, I have been taking Tumeric and curcumin for over a year 3 times a day due to severe inflammation. To date September 2018 my inflammation has substantially decrease and very noticeabley in my gums and muscles. After many years I am thrilled not to have the discomfort I’ve had for over 20 years and to date nothing has showed up medically. My medical clinic the the Mayo Clinic. I will take into consideration the information you have related on your site.

Is it possible that the problem is the strength (concentration) of the substance. When we got our nutrients from foodstuffs it probably wasn’t an issue but now that we take so many concentrated supplements it’s no wonder we encounter problems. I know that turmeric capsules give me terrible heartburn. I no longer take them.

Sounds like article was written by Big Pharma and no research studies included! That’s very worrisome and certainly changes my perspective of this site! Very disappointed in site!!

I have been experiencing easy bruising. Could the combination of 81 mg aspirin with a tumeric supplement cause this bruising?

That is a possibility.

I eat a boiled egg most mornings with turmeric and black pepper sprinkled on top. Is that likely to have the impact of a supplement?

I know a physician that takes every opportunity to remind his patients to take turmeric supplements as a natural way to cure many common ailments. Your article was fascinating and quite an eye opener!

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