Because curcumin seems to have anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effects, many people wonder why curcumin supplements are not recommended more often. There are three primary reasons:
- Poor absorption. Curcumin tends to be rapidly metabolized and is not easily absorbed into the blood stream, which limits its anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties. Scientists are investigating potential supplement additives, such as pepper, that could improve curcumin absorption.
- More research is needed. Scientists are still learning about what turmeric and curcumin do and how to best harness their natural medicinal capabilities.
- Supplements are unregulated. The US Food and Drug Administration does not regulate supplements, so supplement potency may vary from brand to brand and even batch to batch in the manufacturing process. A supplement labeled as containing 95% curcuminoids may actually contain more or less than the label states. Not surprisingly, some health care providers and arthritis patients are uncomfortable with this variability in reliability.
Some manufacturers hire independent laboratories to verify their products’ purity. Manufacturers that list Good Manufacturing Practice or GMP on their labels attest that the products are pure and that they have made efforts to minimize or eliminate contamination and errors.
People interested in taking a supplement to treat arthritis pain are advised to consult their health care provider about specific brands and doses.
Potential Risks and Interactions Curcumin Supplements
Turmeric and curcumin are considered safe for most people. There are few if any reports of people experiencing negative reactions to typical amounts of turmeric in food, and curcumin supplements are generally well tolerated.
Taking curcumin supplements may suppress iron absorption. Curcumin supplements are not recommended for:
- Pregnant or breastfeeding women
- People who have iron deficiencies
A small percentage of people experience stomach upset, gastroesophageal reflux disease, nausea, dizziness, or diarrhea from taking curcumin supplements, particularly if taken regularly at too-high doses.
A few doctors have expressed concern over excessive dosing as well as long-term safety.1 Research in these areas is ongoing, and people—particularly people with medical conditions and people who take medications—are advised to talk to their doctors about how curcumin supplements might affect their overall health.
Turmeric and curcumin can interact with certain medications. Below is a list of common possible interactions.
Sulfasalazine. This medication is sometimes prescribed to people who have rheumatoid arthritis. Turmeric may increase the drug’s effects and side effects.
Blood thinners. People who are on blood-thinning medication, such as warfarin (Coumadin), clopidogrel (Plavix), and aspirin are typically advised against taking a curcumin or turmeric supplement, because the supplements can enhance the drugs’ blood-thinning effects, perhaps to dangerous levels.
Antacids. Turmeric may increase the production of stomach acid when taken with antacids such as Omeprazole (Prilosec), famotidine (Pepcid), and ranitidine (Zantac).2
Diabetes medications. Turmeric can strengthen the effects of medications used to control type 2 diabetes, which in turn can increase the risk of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).
In addition to potentially decreasing arthritis-related inflammation, curcumin may treat other conditions, such as diabetes, cancer, and inflammatory bowel disease.3