Turmeric - How Much do You Really Need for Health Benefits?
This morning on Saskatoon Global News Morning, I spoke about turmeric and the challenges faced when trying to reap the benefits from its active ingredient, curcumin. Here's a summary:
What is turmeric?
Turmeric is a spice derived from the root of the turmeric plant and it’s a member of the ginger family. Curcumin is a phytochemical and active component in turmeric, giving the spice its bold, yellow-orange colour.
What is inflammation and how can turmeric help?
Inflammation is the body’s immune system response to injury and infection. But if the inflammatory response goes on too long (ie. persistent, low grade inflammation), it can be problematic. Chronic inflammation has been linked to heart disease and autoimmune disorders (e.g. rheumatoid arthritis, irritable bowel disease, and Hashimotos thyroiditis).
Curcumin inhibits multiple inflammatory pathways based on numerous studies, albeit most of them are in vitro (or in test tube). However, studies do show that turmeric and various doses of curcumin (anywhere from 500mg to thousands of mg of curcuminoids) may be effective at reducing symptoms for hayfever (allergic rhinitis), osteoarthritis, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and ulcerative colitis. But the evidence regarding so many other disease states is limiting and the Natural Health Database suggests that curcumin is likely ineffective.
So although research shows a lot of therapeutic potential of curcumin, the human evidence is limited at this time (there are no double blind, placebo controlled trials to date).
How much does one need to consume for "potential" benefits?
In an attempt to answer this question, we run into two issues: 1) Currently there is no clear recommendation for curcumin dosage; 2) Curcumin has poor bioavailability – we struggle to get it into the bloodstream (it's easily ingested and subsequently eliminated by the body)!
On a positive note, evidence shows that when curcumin is combined with piperine (a compound found in black pepper), its bioavailability increases significantly (~8 fold). Curcumin is also fat soluble, meaning that consuming it with a source of fat may also support its absorption. So, those almond milk turmeric lattes you've been consuming? Basically useless.
So let's put this into real life perspective. Turmeric powder is ~3% curcumin, meaning that 1 teaspoon (2 g) of turmeric powder contains ~60mg of curcumin. While no set recommendations around curcumin exists, a general guideline for "healthy" individuals is to consume at least ½ to 1 tsp (1 to 2 g) turmeric powder daily with a pinch of pepper AND a source of fat (ie. with a meal). This additional anti-inflammtory to your diet may be beneficial.
But if you have a chronic inflammatory condition, a daily dose of turmeric powder is not likely going to be beneficial. This is where supplements come in, but not just any supplement will meet your needs. Look for one that contains 500mg to 1500mg of curcumin (NOT turmeric), that also contains 20mg piperine for every 500mg dose of curcumin, OR that is combined with a lipid source (such as those found in the brands BCM-95 and Meriva).
Is it Safe?
Human trials of curcmin in doses up to 2500mg have been shown safe. However, side effects of high intakes of turmeric may include nausea or GI upset. Note that curcumin can thin the blood so to be cautious if taking blood thinners. Curcumin supplements may also interact with medications so before taking any extracts or supplements, run it past your Pharmacist. While food forms are safe during pregnancy, supplements and extracts are not recommended.
Turmeric and curcumin offer a lot of anti-inflammatory potential and may be beneficial. However, it's not a cure-all panacea and remember there are so many other anti-inflammatory foods that may be easier to incorporate into your nutrition plan. If you need help with anti-inflammatory eating, book with one of our dietitians!