This fact sheet provides basic information about turmeric — common names, what the science says, potential side effects and cautions, and resources for more information.
- Common Names—turmeric, turmeric root, Indian saffron
- Latin Name—Curcuma longa
Turmeric, a shrub related to ginger, is grown throughout India, other parts of Asia, and Africa. Known for its warm, bitter taste and golden color, turmeric is commonly used in fabric dyes and foods such as curry powders, mustards, and cheeses. It should not be confused with Javanese turmeric.
In traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic medicine, turmeric has been used to aid digestion and liver function, relieve arthritis pain and regulate menstruation.
Historically, turmeric has also been applied directly to the skin for eczema and wound healing.
Today, traditional or folk uses of turmeric include heartburn, stomach ulcers, gallstones, inflammation, and cancer.
Turmeric’s finger-like underground stems (rhizomes) are dried and taken by mouth as a powder or in capsules, teas, or liquid extracts. Turmeric can also be made into a paste and used on the skin.
What the Science Says about Turmeric
- There is little reliable evidence to support the use of turmeric for any health condition because few clinical trials have been conducted.
- Preliminary findings from animal and other laboratory studies suggest that a chemical found in turmeric—called curcumin—may have anti-inflammatory, anticancer, and antioxidant properties, but these findings have not been confirmed in people.
- NCCAM-funded investigators have studied the active chemicals in turmeric and their effects—particularly anti-inflammatory effects—in human cells to better understand how turmeric might be used for health purposes. NCCAM is also funding basic research studies on the potential role of turmeric in preventing acute respiratory distress syndrome, liver cancer, and post-menopausal osteoporosis.
Turmeric Side Effects and Cautions
- Turmeric is considered safe for most adults.
- High doses or long-term use of turmeric may cause indigestion, nausea, or diarrhea.
- In animals, high doses of turmeric have caused liver problems. No cases of liver problems have been reported in people.
- People with gallbladder disease should avoid using turmeric as a dietary supplement, as it may worsen the condition.
- Tell all your health care providers about any complementary health practices you use. Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your health. This will help ensure coordinated and safe care.
Turmeric and Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms
More than 2 million Americans suffer from rheumatoid arthritis (RA), a condition in which the body’s immune system attacks the joints, causing pain, swelling, stiffness, and loss of function. The herb turmeric has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine (a whole medical system that originated in India) as a treatment for inflammatory disorders, including RA.
Janet Funk, M.D., and colleagues at the NCCAM-funded Center for Phytomedicine Research at the University of Arizona created symptoms in rats that mimic those of RA in humans. In a series of experiments, they treated the rats with different preparations and dosages of turmeric extracts. Some received treatment before developing the RA-like symptoms, others afterward.
The results (mainly measured in terms of joint swelling) suggested to the authors that an extract processed to contain only curcuminoids (a family of chemicals that is the major component of turmeric; curcumin is one curcuminoid) may be more effective for preventing RA symptoms than a more complex extract containing curcuminoids plus other turmeric compounds (this is similar to commercially available supplements). They also noted that the curcuminoids-only formulas appeared safer and more effective at lower doses. Also, the researchers found that the compounds had greater effectiveness when the rats were treated before instead of after the onset of inflammation.
The authors identified a need for well-designed preclinical and clinical studies to look further into turmeric for anti-inflammatory use.
Funk JL, Oyarzo JN, Frye JB, et al.. Turmeric extracts containing curcuminoids prevent experimental rheumatoid arthritis.. Journal of Natural Products, March 2006.
Turmeric. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database Web site. Accessed at naturaldatabase.com on July 22, 2009.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa Linn.) and curcumin. Natural Standard Database Web site. Accessed at naturalstandard.com on July 22, 2009.
Turmeric root. In: Blumenthal M, Goldberg A, Brinckman J, eds. Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs. Newton, MA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2000:379-384.