5 Things You Need To Know Before You Buy A Turmeric Supplement

There are still a lot of unknowns when it comes to this spice; here's what we do know.

January 11, 2017
turmeric powder
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Turmeric is a dusty-orange spice that people have long added to food to boost flavor and appeal. It’s especially common in Indian curry dishes. And thanks to its purported anti-inflammation and antioxidant powers, the spice’s popularity has skyrocketed in the U.S.

Inflammation contributes to diseases ranging from arthritis and heart disease to depression. And there’s a growing body of evidence to suggest turmeric—or, more specifically, a naturally occurring chemical within turmeric called curcumin—could offer relief. (It’s even one of these 7 foods that can help fight seasonal allergies.) But for all of its potential, there’s still a lot that experts aren’t sure of when it comes to turmeric supplements.

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“Right now there’s a lot of hype and a lot of fanfare, and also a lot of embellishment,” says Mark Moyad, MD, director of complementary and alternative medicine at the University of Michigan Medical Center. There are also some seldom-discussed risks associated with the spice.

Here’s what you need to know before you buy your first bottle.

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The Benefits Are Still A Little Shaky

At least a dozen studies have linked turmeric supplementation to inflammation-related health perks, from reducing pain to safeguarding the brain against stroke or degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. The most consistent evidence has linked turmeric to improvements in symptoms of arthritis. But so far, a lot of that research has come from lab or animal experiments—not from people.

There’s definitely reason for optimism, Moyad says. But for those who think taking loads of turmeric will cure all that ails them, he warns that the evidence is preliminary.

Proper Dosage Isn’t Clear

Studies on the benefits of curcumin are all over the map in terms of dosage. While some conclude 200 mg per day of curcumin is enough, others range all the way up to 5,000 mg—taken via multiple doses spread throughout the day.

“I’d recommend starting low, and going slow,” Moyad cautions. He says 500 to 1,000 mg of curcumin a day—taken with food—is a safe and effective dose.

 

Related: 5 Tasty Ways To Cook With Turmeric

There Are Some Risks

Some of the best research on turmeric has linked turmeric supplements to an increased risk for kidney stones, Moyad says.  Also, as with any supplement, you run the risk of contamination or inaccurate labeling. Moyad says supplements are only lightly regulated. And an analysis from ConsumerLab, a company that tests supplements for label accuracy and purity, found that more than 20% of turmeric supplements fell short of their listed amounts of curcumin—and that one was contaminated with lead.

If you’re intent on taking turmeric as a supplement, ConsumerLab’s review approved products from Jarrow Formulas and NutriGold as contaminant-free and properly labeled.

Related: Is Your Supplement A Fake?

You Need To Take It With Food

Your body struggles to absorb curcumin when you swallow the chemical on its own. But taking your supplement with fat-rich foods—nuts, yogurt, olive oil—or adding ground turmeric to fatty dishes can help your body absorb more curcumin, says Tod Cooperman, MD, president of ConsumerLab. Mixing turmeric with black pepper also seems to boost your gut’s ability to take it in, he says.

The Bottom Line

You may be best off trying to incorporate turmeric spice into more of your meals—sprinkling it into sauces, say, or adding a dash to your yogurt—instead of swallowing it in pill form, says Moyad. And if you don’t feel any different and you’re intent on taking a turmeric supplement, consider the two mentioned above. 

Tags: spices