GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — If you love curry or simply have an interest in Eastern medicine, you’ve likely heard of turmeric.
The Asian spice is part of the ginger family and commonly grown across India and East Asia. But over the last several years, it has also been touted for its healing properties, with many social media influencers promoting it as a supplement.
While the spice can allegedly provide health benefits, experts at the University of Michigan say it has to be used wisely.
U-M Health hepatologist Dr. Robert Fontana said too much turmeric can cause liver damage and put patients in the hospital.
“Run-of-the-mill turmeric that you buy at the health food store, Costco or what have you, it’s actually not very well absorbed,” Fontana said. “But the more recent formulations that are now being marketed have piperine in them. And the reason that they have piperine — or pepper — is it increases the absorption. … The issue that we are seeing is not the amount that you put on your food. It’s when you take, if you will, industrial strength doses of this as a supplement as a tablet that has a lot of the active ingredient called curcumin, which is the active ingredient of turmeric.”
Fontana explained that too much turmeric can trigger a form of hepatitis that can potentially be deadly.
“We’re not exactly sure why this happens in some people. We recently did a study to suggest that some people may be genetically predisposed to getting into trouble,” he said.
Supplements claim turmeric can help alleviate or prevent everything from arthritis and digestive disorders to allergies and depression. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, several studies have found positive health impacts from turmeric, but nothing has been confirmed by federal agencies.
“The difficulty with herbal supplements and botanicals in the United States is that they’re basically regulated like food by the (Food & Drug Administration),” Fontana said. “The FDA does not require the manufacturers to do human safety testing. There isn’t necessarily batch testing to see reproducibility of the ingredients. And this leads to, if you will, a little bit of a Wild West of the consumers taking products and some of them getting into trouble, liver injury, kidney injury, skin reactions and so on.”
Overall, turmeric is considered safe, but cancer patients in particular should be careful when dealing with herbal supplements. The American Institute for Cancer Research specifically calls out turmeric for people undergoing radiation or chemotherapy: Turmeric and other herbal products can “hinder adequate nutrition or cause significant discomfort or damage to your body.”