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This fact sheet provides basic information about turmeric—common names, what the science says, potential side effects and cautions, and resources for more information.
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
- 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.
- NCCIH-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. NCCIH is also funding basic research studies on the potential role of turmeric in preventing acute respiratory distress syndrome, liver cancer, and post-menopausal osteoporosis.
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 approaches you use. Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your health. This will help ensure coordinated and safe care. For tips about talking with your health care providers about complementary health approaches, see NCCIH's Time to Talk campaign at nccih.nih.gov/timetotalk/.
For More Information
The NCCIH Clearinghouse provides information on NCCIH and complementary health approaches, including publications and searches of Federal databases of scientific and medical literature. The Clearinghouse does not provide medical advice, treatment recommendations, or referrals to practitioners.
A service of the National Library of Medicine (NLM), PubMed® contains publication information and (in most cases) brief summaries of articles from scientific and medical journals.
Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS), National Institutes of Health (NIH)
ODS seeks to strengthen knowledge and understanding of dietary supplements by evaluating scientific information, supporting research, sharing research results, and educating the public. Its resources include publications (such as Dietary Supplements: What You Need to Know), fact sheets on a variety of specific supplement ingredients and products (such as vitamin D and multivitamin/mineral supplements), and the PubMed Dietary Supplement Subset.
PubMed Dietary Supplement Subset: ods.od.nih.gov/Research/PubMed_Dietary_Supplement_Subset.aspx
NIH National Library of Medicine's MedlinePlus
- Turmeric. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database Web site. Accessed at www.naturaldatabase.com on July 22, 2009.
- Turmeric (Curcuma longa Linn.) and curcumin. Natural Standard Database Web site. Accessed at www.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.
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