Anti-Inflammatory Curcumin Supplements: Can They Be Toxic?

Turmeric is known for its bright orange color and is often used in Asian cuisine. In addition to adding color and flavor to dishes, it has been shown to provide health benefits ranging from anti-inflammatory properties to reducing the risk and improving symptoms of certain diseases. Curcumin is the primary active component found in turmeric, and curcumin supplements have gained popularity over the years. This article explores the benefits of curcumin supplementation and its safety profile, such as supplement toxicity.

Key takeaways:

Health benefits of curcumin

Curcumin is a polyphenol, which is a micronutrient that occurs naturally in plants. Polyphenols are known to protect against oxidative stress in the body. The main health benefits of curcumin include:

  • Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Oxidative stress is a main contributing factor in many diseases, such as cancer. A powerful antioxidant, such as curcumin, can help reduce the risk or help alleviate symptoms and reduce some markers of inflammation.
  • Joint health. There is some research showing a positive effect of curcumin supplementation on alleviating the symptoms and pain of osteoarthritis. Supplementation may also be beneficial in athletes and other active individuals in high-impact sports or those engaging in heavy lifting.
  • Gastrointestinal health. Curcumin supplementation may be beneficial for overall gut health, in particular for those who suffer from inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
  • Mental health. Some research suggests some improvement in depression when taking curcumin supplementation. There is also a chance it plays a role in the prevention or reversal of Alzheimer’s disease, although more research is warranted.
  • Cardiovascular health. Possible improvements in blood pressure and blood lipids have been correlated in studies, although further research is still necessary in this area.

Safety and dosing

Curcumin is very poorly absorbed and is excreted through the body quickly. Curcumin is able to be extracted from turmeric to produce supplements with a higher potency. However, even with curcumin supplementation alone, it is still poorly absorbed. Studies have shown pairing it with piperline (black pepper) or with lipids helps to increase absorption and its bioavailability in the body. Currently, curcumin supplementation is not strictly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Some individuals may experience adverse drug reactions when taking curcumin in addition to piperline and/or lipids. The adverse reactions may not be due to the curcumin itself, but rather the additional properties that particular supplement contains. There are some studies showing curcumin supplementation can increase the risk of bleeding in people taking anticoagulant medications.

There have been some reported adverse side effects from taking curcumin supplements such as diarrhea, nausea, headache, yellow stool, or gastritis. To help reduce side effects, it may be beneficial to take with food.

One study showed curcumin supplementation of up to 8 g/day for 3 months was shown to be well tolerated in patients with precancerous conditions. However, another study using the same dose of 8 g/day in patients with advanced pancreatic cancer reported severe abdominal pain in seven out of the 17 patients. Most supplements recommend less than 8 g/day.

The question of toxicity

Toxicity describes any substance that is deemed poisonous and could potentially cause harm when consumed. Abusing supplement recommendations (i.e. overdosing) or purchasing supplements from an unreliable source may cause harm. Curcumin supplementation has not been shown to cause toxic effects when taken at recommended doses.

Due to curcumin’s low bioavailability in the body, it is generally difficult to reach toxic levels through supplementation. There have been reported adverse effects of curcumin supplementation, but studies show this is when consumed at very high doses.

Final thoughts

Curcumin supplementation is generally found to be safe and non-toxic. Curcumin is shown to have many health benefits and may be helpful in a variety of populations. To ensure the quality of the product, always purchase from a reputable company that third-party tests their product. Consider other ingredients in the supplement such as lipids or black pepper, which may cause adverse side effects or an interaction with current supplements or drugs. It is always important to consult with a healthcare professional before beginning a new supplement regimen.

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