Curcumin, the most active compound in turmeric, has been used as a complementary or alternative treatment for many chronic inflammatory conditions like osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel diseases, Alzheimer’s, cancer, and diabetes. Other medicinal properties of curcumin include its blood clotting properties, ability to lower LDL and triglycerides, and even neurodegenerative protective effects.1
Curcumin is one of the most researched compounds with over 30,000 references in the National Institute of Heath’s (NIH) PMC database and many of these studies used a turmeric extract supplement which contains a high concentration of curcumin. We know about the numerous, research-based benefits of curcumin, but what are potential side effects of taking a high potency turmeric supplement?
What is a high potency turmeric supplement?
In recent years, independent studies have discovered powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits when taking 500-2000 mgs of curcumin/turmeric extract daily. This therapeutic dose is much higher than what you would get by eating turmeric powder which is used as a spice for cooking since turmeric powder only contains a small fraction of curcumin in comparison to turmeric extract. Turmeric powder contains 3-5% curcuminoids compared to turmeric extract which contains 95% curcuminoids. There are three main curcuminoids including curcumin, demethoxycurcumin, and bisdemethoxycurcumin with curcumin being the most researched one.
In order to get 500-2000 mgs of turmeric extract daily, you will need to take a turmeric supplement with at least 500 mgs of turmeric extract per capsule if you want to get a therapeutic benefit. Many turmeric supplement companies fill their capsules with turmeric powder since powder is far less expensive than extract. If a turmeric supplement contains over 500 mgs of turmeric extract per capsule then it would be considered “high potency.”
You can learn more about picking the best turmeric supplement by reading this article:
3 TIPS TO CHOOSE THE BEST TURMERIC SUPPLEMENT
What are the main side effects of turmeric?
As with other dietary supplements, turmeric may have side effects. The 2011 book Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects, found that while no toxic dose of turmeric or curcumin supplements has been set, there are consistent side effects in high doses, such as lowered blood pressure, increased digestive motility due to decreased transit time, flushing and rash, and possible migraine triggered by increased dilation of the blood vessels.1
One of the side effects of turmeric is associated with digestion. Curcumin has regulatory effects on gastric motility which could lead diarrhea, bloating, and change in stool patterns. If you experience nausea, upset stomach, or diarrhea then consider taking a lower dose turmeric or stop taking it.
A 2017 meta-analysis review on curcumin and its effects on human health found that subjects receiving 500–12,000 mgs experienced diarrhea, headache, rash, and yellow stool for around 72 hours after first introducing the supplement. This same review found that in another study patients receiving 450-3600 mgs per day of curcumin for one to four months reported nausea and diarrhea.2
Ironically, curcumin is shown to help alleviate the symptoms of inflammatory digestive conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
You can learn more about the benefits of turmeric supplements for digestive disorders by reading this article:
Unusual bruising or bleeding
Curcumin has blood-thinning properties that could lead to excessive bleeding in people who have bleeding disorders or take blood thinner medications. If you notice any unusual bruising or bleeding after taking turmeric supplements then you should stop. If you bruise easily, then you should use turmeric with caution.
Who should be cautious or not take Turmeric Extract?
While turmeric has been used without many issues, there are some populations that should exercise a higher level of caution. Pregnant women need to be more aware of what they consume and how they do it. A 2018 study on turmeric, as a nontoxic and safe substance, found that doses of 500 mg two times in a day for 30 days were safe, but not without side effects. Particularly, expecting women found turmeric to be upsetting in their digestion, often causing more nausea and vomiting, as well as some diarrhea.1 There are not enough studies to make any conclusions statements about the safety or effectiveness of turmeric for women who are pregnant.
Another population at risk for side effects when using turmeric is children. Because curcumin has the ability relax blood vessels, if your child has blood-clotting problem, turmeric may exacerbate this issue and it could be dangerous. Also to take into account, adults have reported nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, all symptoms that a child could be more prone to due to lower weight and lower fat mass. The dosage for children could vary, and a pediatrician should always approve it first.
Due to the blood thinning properties of curcumin, it is not safe for people with blood disorders, like hemophilia, or who are on blood thinners, such as aspirin or Warfarin, to consume it.
A 2012 study on the anticoagulant activities of curcumin found that it was a potent anticoagulant and antithrombotic, so a daily consumption could reduce the risk of blood clots in heart disease.2 However, blood-thinning effects can be difficult to manage and turmeric can increase the problem. It is also important to consider that when a person is about to undergo surgery, blood clotting is essential, so the use of curcumin should be discontinued several weeks before surgery. You should let your surgeon or doctor know if you are currently taking a turmeric supplement or if you want to take a turmeric supplement.
Gallstones and Gallbladder Disorders
While curcumin has been proven to lower cholesterol levels, particularly LDL and triglycerides, it can also reduce the incidence of gallstones in the body. Gallstones are hard deposits that form in the gallbladder, the primary site of bile production. These painful stones contain cholesterol, bile, and calcium. Though it is true that consumption of curcumin is a good preventive treatment, it could potentially be harmful for those already experiencing gallbladder blockages.
The results are not conclusive, but some studies suggest that curcumin could promote contraction of the gallbladder, which is extremely painful for those prone to gallstones. Up to 50% contraction has been reported with just 40mg of curcumin,3 which should be noted for patients with gallbladder issues.
An article published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that raw turmeric powder contains high levels of oxalates which can lead to the formation of kidney stones. However, another study found levels of oxalates in turmeric extract to be much lower and considered safe. If you have a history of kidney stones, you may want to think twice about cooking with too much raw turmeric powder and consult with your doctor before taking a turmeric supplement just to be safe.
For those that are diabetic, turmeric could be an interesting natural way to manage blood sugar. While studies have shown the ability of curcumin to lower blood sugar levels, there are mixed results in the research. A 2013 meta-analysis review found curcumin to have preventive abilities in the development of diabetes complications, like neuropathy, heart disease, and high blood pressure, but this same review also showed that curcumin could increase the risk for certain diabetes side effects, such as nausea and vomiting.4
There are some cases in which hormone sensitivity could increase the risks associated with turmeric use. Conditions that cause hormone sensitivity include breast cancer, uterine cancer, endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome, ovarian cancer, and uterine fibroids. The active curcumin in turmeric can reduce the effects of estrogen in certain cancer cells, making it beneficial in cancer treatment. The same effect, however, can become dangerous in hormone replacement therapy and may exacerbate conditions that are vulnerable to hormone level fluctuations.
Immunotherapy for cancer
Anti-cancer activity is one of the greatest benefits of taking a turmeric extract supplement, but there is a time and place for it. While curcumin has been shown to slow the growth and spread of cancer, those who are currently participating in chemotherapy or radiation should not take a turmeric supplement because curcumin can interfere with medications. Cancer treatments vary and your oncologist may have special precautions for you based on your specific treatment plan. Be sure to consult with your oncologist about the risks and benefits of taking a turmeric supplement.
You can learn more about the cancer-fighting and immune strengthening benefits of curcumin by reading this comprehensive article about turmeric and cancer here:
Who should talk to their doctor before taking turmeric supplements?
Like all dietary supplements, everyone should consult a doctor before taking them. As mentioned earlier there is always a risk with taking supplements, particularly when there are underlying conditions. People at higher risk for side effects include those with diabetes, cancer, gallbladder problems, and bleeding disorders. When in doubt, consult with your physician and mention some of the things that could put you at risk.
Can you take too much turmeric?
Dosage varies depending on what the user is looking for, but many studies have focused on what amount of curcumin is right for health benefits. One clinical trial in 2008 for advanced pancreatic cancer and the use of curcumin provided an 8g (8000 mgs) a day dosage, which was concluded to be safe and tolerable.1 This dose was shown to help patients undergoing pancreatic cancer treatment manage their symptoms and disease progression. Another 2012 meta-analysis review found that many clinical studies were right in using at least 8g of curcumin a day, and that this dosage was safe and tolerable.1
The studies reveal that there is really no toxicity known for curcumin and that higher doses can work well in aiding the treatment of a variety of disorders. It’s also noteworthy to mention that both of the studies above used an extremely high dose of curcumin per day without toxicity; however, further research should be done to investigate the long-term effects of taking high dose curcumin.
You can learn more about the optimal daily dosage of turmeric by reading this article:
What is the Optimal Turmeric Dosage for Inflammation?
What are the side effects of prescription anti-inflammatories?
If you have suffered from inflammation and pain at some point in your life, then you may have been prescribed some specific anti-inflammatories such as celecoxib, piroxicam, indomethacin, meloxicam, diclofenac, and flurbiprofen among some.
All of these though have some side effects to take into account:
- Dry mouth
Other rare, but dangerous side effects include:
- Allergic reaction, including difficulty breathing, hives, swelling of the lips, tongue, or face
- Rapid weight gain
- Blood in urine or vomit
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ear)
What are the side effects of over-the-counter anti-inflammatories?
Most people rely on over-the-counter (OTC) anti-inflammatory medications for pain, swelling, muscular tension, and headaches, among others. Some of these OTC medications include high dose aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen. All of these are examples of a class of drugs called NSAIDS (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs).
Common side effects of NSAIDs:
- Upset stomach
Other rare, but dangerous side effects include:
- Severe abdominal pain
- Black stool
- Blood in stool
- Allergic reaction, including hives and rashes
- Rapid heart rate
What are the side effects of opioids?
Opioids have gained infamy lately because they are highly addictive, as they are narcotics. However, they have been used for many years to treat certain conditions that cause severe pain, whether acute or chronic. Different types of opioids include codeine, fentanyl, hydrocodone, oxycodone, oxymorphone, and morphine.Common side effects of opioids include:
- Slowed heart rate
- Shallow breathing
- Loss of consciousness
And the most dangerous side effect is addiction, which can result in an overdose, causing a coma or death.
How do Turmeric supplement side effects compare to pharmaceutical drug side effects?
Ibuprofen has been a common medication for treating conditions that cause inflammation and pain. This medication works because it is a cyclooxygenase (COX) inhibitor that inhibits prostaglandin and thromboxane synthesis, resulting in reduced inflammation. Side effects of ibuprofen include nausea, vomiting, headache, dizziness, diarrhea, and constipation. NSAIDs like ibuprofen can also increase the risk of gastric ulcers and cause a life-threatening condition. In addition, they have been linked to an increase risk of heart attack and stroke. Newer research also shows they also have a damaging effect on tendons, ligaments, and bone.
A 2016 meta-analysis review on the use of curcumin for inflammation found that high doses of curcumin (8-12g a day) show no toxicity or risk. However, curcumin has shown to alter iron metabolism through chelating iron and suppressing the protein hepcidin, which could result in anemia.10 Some individuals have also reported nausea and bloating.
The same efficacy and safety of curcumin as compared to ibuprofen was also proven in a 2014 multicenter study. This study found common side effects between the two, such as dyspepsia, abdominal pain/distension, nausea, loose stool, and pitting edema. Still, the number of events that occurred was significantly lower in the curcumin group than in the ibuprofen group. The events reported in the ibuprofen group were also heightened and lasted longer.11
Another common medication used in inflammation and pain is the prescription anti-inflammatory Diclofenac. As with other medications, the use of Diclofenac can cause severe side effects and thus should be used sparingly and not as a long-term treatment option. Using this medication can lead to skin rash, gas/bloating, nausea/vomiting, headache, drowsiness, high blood pressure, and swelling of arms and legs.
A 2019 randomized clinical study evaluated the effects of Diclofenac 50 mg as compared to a 500 mg dose of curcumin. 28 patients were studied for 14 days at which point the curcumin group showed signs of weight loss and anti-ulcer effect as compared to Diclofenac. There were significantly less adverse reactions in the curcumin group, which demonstrated better tolerance and showed its tolerability in pain management as compared to this common prescription drug.12
Is it true the turmeric can be contaminated by lead?
The short and surprising answer is yes. A 2019 environmental health study led by Stanford University found that various turmeric manufacturing plants in Bangladesh had traces of lead-laced chemicals in their turmeric. Due to the high demand of yellow colored curry, these suppliers decided to add lead chromate to increase the vibrancy of yellow color, which has been a common practice in the production of turmeric.
The practice of using lead chromate can be traced to the 1980s in Bangladesh when massive floods left producers with pale looking turmeric, thus needing to add the pigment in order to create a more appealing product. Yet, lead can be very dangerous, as it increases the risk for heart and brain disease, and can damage cognitive development in children.13
The good news is that turmeric extract is less likely to be contaminated by lead than turmeric powder. The intricate process to isolate curcumin and the active compounds for turmeric extract uses a water dispersion technology that allows for the separation of all compounds which can also eliminate unwanted substances.
How to pick the best turmeric supplement
Many turmeric supplements do not contain enough turmeric extract to provide a therapeutic benefit. For example, the top-selling turmeric supplement on Amazon contains 50 mgs of turmeric extract per capsule. In several studies, the recommended dose of turmeric was 1500 mgs of turmeric extract per day. You would have to take 30 capsules from this top-selling turmeric supplement on Amazon to get 1500 mgs of turmeric extract per day.
Check for the amount of turmeric extract
On the label, look for the amount of turmeric extract per capsule and try not to confuse the amount of extract with powder. Remember, turmeric powder only contains 3-5% of curcuminoids compared to turmeric extract which contains 95% curcuminoids. Your turmeric should have at least 500 mgs of turmeric extract per capsule unless you want to take a handful of pills each day to get the recommended dose.
Active Atoms Turmeric Extract contains 750 mgs of turmeric extract in one capsule making it 15x stronger than many other brands. You only have to take 1-2 capsules per day to get the optimal dose of turmeric for inflammation.
Check for lead testing
Not all labs take into account all details when manufacturing turmeric supplements, which could have adverse health consequences. Instead of risking your health and consuming unknown chemicals, you should be able to trust the brand of supplements you choose.
Each batch of Active Atoms Turmeric Extract is tested by our manufacturer in an FDA-inspected and USA-based manufacturer. As an extra layer of safety and quality control, Active Atoms Turmeric Extract is regularly sent to an independent lab to test for lead and other heavy metals. You most likely won’t find the lab results from other turmeric companies, but we fully disclose our lab results by providing our lead testing report on the home page of our website.
Check for BioPerine®
Turmeric supplements and turmeric powder are poorly absorbed by the body without an bioenhancer like black pepper extract. BioPerine®, a clinically-proven potent form of black pepper extract is shown to increase the bioavailability and absorption of turmeric by 2000%. Active Atoms contains 5 mgs of BioPerine® in each capsule to magnify the therapeutic effects of curcumin.
What is the takeaway?
High dose turmeric extract has been shown to reduce pain, inflammation, blood pressure, and oxidation with minimal side effects compared to prescription anti-inflammatories, over-the-counter anti-inflammatories, and opioids. While pharmaceuticals may be beneficial for some, they come with a lot of extra baggage and may end up causing other health issues.
Regardless, never stop taking medications without consulting your doctor as this can have life-threatening consequences. If you have underlying medical conditions or take medications, then consult with your doctor prior to taking a turmeric supplement.
Another important factor to consider is that for turmeric supplements to be beneficial, as well as any other health supplements, you should make lifestyle changes that include a balanced diet, an active lifestyle, better sleep, and overall more awareness of your body’s needs.
If you have weighed all the pros and cons of turmeric and decided that it’s the right choice for you, then choose the best turmeric supplement available as measured by the amount of turmeric extract per capsule, lead testing, and absorption. Try Active Atoms Turmeric Extractdaily to nourish your joints, strength your immune system, mobilize your digestive system, and boost your cognition at the cellular level.