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The long list of turmeric supplement benefits is quite impressive and appealing (read more in Part 1). But while most of us would benefit from turmeric’s disease fighting qualities, taking a turmeric supplement isn’t that simple. Turmeric supplement side effects are minimal, but it can be hard to absorb enough to make a difference.
Do Turmeric Supplements Cause Side Effects?
Curcumin has been approved by the FDA and the World Health Organization and is generally safe to use. While most people using appropriate doses don’t experience any adverse effects, occasional side effects have been reported. In most cases, curcumin side effects are minor, consisting of gastrointestinal upset like nausea or diarrhea, as well as occasional rash and headache.[1-3] Doses of around 200 to 400 mg daily for prolonged periods of time seem to be safe, and even extremely high doses don’t appear to be toxic. Turmeric can have significant adverse effects when interacting with drugs like coumadin. You may want to avoid turmeric if you are using blood thinners or if you have a surgery scheduled, as it may have anti-platelet activity. Talk with your doctor about the side effects of curcumin before using to avoid any these possible issues.
Major Issue with Turmeric Supplements: Low Bioavailability
The main challenge associated with turmeric use is that curcumin has poor bioavailability, meaning it is not easily used by the body when ingested. This is due to its poor absorption, rapid metabolism, water insolubility, and rapid elimination from the body.[5,6]
Studies have shown that it is very difficult for curcumin to reach blood levels known to affect disease and improve clinical outcomes, even at doses as high as 12,000 mg per day. So how can you be sure that your body is actually able to use the turmeric you are taking?
Methods to Improve Absorption
Choosing your supplement carefully can help you get a formulation designed for optimal absorption.
- First, make sure that you are getting the root (or rhizome) of Curcuma longa, standardized to 95 percent curcuminoids. This ensures a highly concentrated and potent formulation.
- Second, choose a supplement that has enhanced bioavailability. One option is choosing a formulation that contains piperine, a component of black pepper. Piperine has been shown to significantly increase the availability of curcumin when administered alongside it.[1,7,8] Look for piperine on the label.
- Other easily absorbed options to look for include Meriva, BCM-95, Longvida, and Theracurmin, which all use various strategies to increase bioavailability.[2,6] Researchers are continually developing new delivery methods for curcumin, including liposomes, nanoparticles, micelles, solid lipids, and more.
- You can also mix your supplement with fats, which help increase absorption. In fact, in both culinary and Ayurvedic practices in South Asia, turmeric is often mixed with ghee (clarified butter), milk, or coconut milk for this reason. When cooking with turmeric, be sure to use a healthy fat like coconut or olive oil to aid in absorption.
- The recommended dosage for general health is 200 to 400 mg per day. If you have a chronic inflammatory condition, you may want to take more, up to about 1,800 mg per day.
- Be sure to let your physician know that you are taking turmeric (or any other supplements.)
Follow the guidelines above to make the most of your turmeric supplement and to gain its many health benefits. Remember to choose the right form, the right formulation, and mix it with a fat. You’ll soon see why it’s called the miracle spice.
Share Your Experience with Turmeric
Have you ever experienced any side effects of turmeric capsules? What is your favorite form of turmeric to take? Share your tips in the comments section below.
Originally published in 2015, this post has been updated.