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3 Ways Turmeric Can Affect Your Medication, According to Dietitians

Spoiler alert: Turmeric supplementation is not for everyone.

By Kaly JohnesPublished 2 months ago 5 min read
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When you walk around your local grocery store or a health-food store, you may come across turmeric as a yellow-colored spice in the spice aisle or as a supplement in the form of powder, extract or tincture in the supplement section. With so much buzz about turmeric's potential health benefits, such as relieving pain and depression symptoms and possessing anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic and anti-cancer properties, you may wonder if it is worthwhile to eat turmeric as a spice, take the supplement alone, or have a bit of both.

Before putting a package or two of the spice or a bottle of turmeric supplement into your shopping cart, here is what you need to know about turmeric: it is not for everyone. We reached out to doctors and registered dietitians for their input, and here is what they have to say about turmeric.

Why Turmeric Gets So Much Attention

Turmeric has been under the spotlight among health enthusiasts and the scientific community because of its use in traditional medicine in Southeast Asia for thousands of years, per the National Center For Complementary and Alternative Health. The active compound in turmeric, curcumin, has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Additionally, research shows that it can benefit your heart, gut and brain and improve insulin sensitivity.

With evidence suggesting that turmeric could help relieve ailments and improve symptoms of health conditions, turmeric supplementation, which consists of high concentrations of curcumin, may seem to be a logical way to improve health.

Can Turmeric Interact with Your Medications?

While turmeric supplements may have some promising potential effects, their interaction with medications could potentially bring more risks than benefits. Here, we have a list of how turmeric could interact with certain medications:

Anticoagulants/Antiplatelet Drugs

According to a 2020 review in Frontiers in Pharmacology, curcumin has mild anticoagulant properties that mirror the effects of blood thinners, potentially reducing the body's clotting ability. Combining turmeric supplements with blood thinners, such as aspirin, warfarin (Coumadin, Jantoven) and clopidogrel, may also heighten the chance of bleeding or bruising. "This [supplement and drug] combination could potentially result in severe and life-threatening situations," adds Michelle Routhenstein, M.S., RD, CD, CDN, a cardiology dietitian and owner of Entirely Nourished.

Gastrointestinal Medications

Turmeric supplementation could increase stomach acid levels, interfering with antacid medications, such as cimetidine, famotidine (Pepcid) and omeprazole (Prilosec), per the 2020 review. Routhenstein says these antacid medications are meant to work oppositely to turmeric's effect. Taking turmeric supplements could diminish the effectiveness of these medications in managing acid reflux or ulcers, and could cause discomfort.

Blood-Sugar-Lowering Medications

Turmeric may possess effects similar to diabetic medications to lower blood sugar levels, says Laura Purdy, M.D., M.B.A., a board-certified family physician at AFD.health. While low doses and short periods of use of curcumin may not lead to adverse outcomes, as noted in the 2021 study in Frontiers in Endocrinology, curcumin may amplify the effectiveness of diabetic medications. Purdy advises that taking turmeric supplements with diabetic medications could increase the risk of hypoglycemia and recommends speaking with a physician before use.

Who Should Avoid Turmeric Supplements?

While turmeric as a food ingredient and flavoring agent is generally safe for consumption, turmeric supplementation is not meant for everyone. Based on the interactions mentioned above, people with certain health conditions should avoid taking turmeric supplementation, including:

People with Blood Disorders: Turmeric may impact blood clotting ability.

People Preparing for Surgeries: Because turmeric could act like a blood thinner, you will need to stop taking turmeric supplements before your scheduled surgery to avoid complications. Talk to your doctor about when to stop taking the supplement.

People with Diabetes or Hypoglycemia: Since curcumin may lower your blood sugar levels, speak to your doctor if you take specific medications to lower blood sugar levels or to treat hypoglycemia before taking any turmeric supplements.

People with Iron Deficiency: While research is limited, according to a 2019 case published in Cureus, turmeric could bind to iron in the gut, impacting iron absorption.

People with Gallbladder Issues: If you have gallbladder issues, taking turmeric could further complicate the problem. Turmeric contains oxalate, which could stimulate gallbladder contractions and increase gallstone development.

People with a History of Kidney Stones: Oxalate in turmeric could also bind to calcium, which increases the chance of kidney stone formation, per a 2019 review in the American Journal of Physiology.

Pregnant and Lactating People: Those who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not take turmeric supplements during pregnancy or lactation since there isn’t enough research to indicate it’s safe.

People Allergic to Turmeric, Ginger and Cardamom: These three spices belong to the same family, Zingiberaceae (ginger family). So, people sensitive to and/or allergic to any of these should avoid eating foods with turmeric and consuming turmeric supplements to prevent the risk of allergic reactions.

Side Effects of Turmeric Supplements

When turmeric is taken in high doses and over the long term, it may cause unpleasant symptoms, such as abdominal pain, nausea and diarrhea. People sensitive or allergic to turmeric may also experience rashes and hives.

How Much Turmeric Is Safe per Day?

In 2002, the World Health Organization stated that 0-3 milligrams per kilogram of body weight of curcumin may be safe for humans, based on animal studies. A 2021 review published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine found that taking a daily dose of around 1,000 mg of curcumin may not lead to adverse effects. Despite these recommendations and findings, the exact safe quantity of turmeric consumption still needs to be universally established.

According to the NCCIH, curcumin has an unstable structure that could transform into other substances under different conditions. The compound is also not highly bioavailable, meaning that curcumin consumed by mouth is not all absorbed into the blood.

Many research studies have also used rats rather than human participants to show the effectiveness of curcumin. With varying subject matter and conflicting research results, the long-term safety of taking high turmeric doses remains questionable.

Moreover, the concentration of curcumin in products differs, and some may also contain more than just curcumin. To complicate the matter further, we recognize that the human body is also complex, and people may react differently to curcumin despite taking the same dosage. Altogether, these factors pose more challenges to understanding curcumin and its impact on health.

Is Turmeric in Food Safe to Eat?

The Food and Drug Administration notes that curcumin in turmeric, when used as a spice and a flavoring agent for foods, is a "generally recognized as safe" compound without any toxic effects.

"Consuming turmeric in foods like curry or turmeric-spiced dishes usually doesn't lead to notable interactions with medications due to the smaller quantities involved, unlike concentrated turmeric supplements," says Routhenstein. It is still important to be mindful of your overall intake, particularly if you take specific medications that could potentially interact with turmeric. Routhenstein notes that including 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of turmeric in your daily diet as a spice is generally considered safe.

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Kaly Johnes

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