What are the dangers and precautions of using turmeric?

Turmeric is a herbaceous plant cultivated and used in cooking and traditional medicine in Asia. This spice is known for its therapeutic virtues, in particular thanks to its content in curcuminoids. The most active molecule is curcumin, which is responsible for the yellow-orange color of turmeric. The latter has been the subject of several studies, whether for its anti-inflammatory or antioxidant properties. Today, turmeric is a victim of its success. Indeed, many articles critical of turmeric have tarnished its image by claiming undesirable or even neurotoxic effects for the body, which has led consumers to stop using it or even buying it. This article will then help to discern what are the real risks of turmeric and in what form it can really be dangerous for the health of consumers.

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Is turmeric dangerous for the liver?

Dangers in case of overdose

One set of studies has suggested that curcumin is not found specifically in a preferential organ. It is metabolized in the liver, that is, it is transformed for uptake and use by various organs, and then eliminated through the urine. However it is a molecule that is hydrophobic, i.e. insoluble in water, and takes time to be absorbed by the body. From then on, several food supplements food have been put on the market containing "optimized" curcumin, i.e., whose bioavailability has been improved for better assimilation. These are:

  • Phytosomal complex: a complex between curcumin + phospholipids to improve absorption.
  • Micellar form: formulation that wraps curcumin in tiny lipid molecules (called micelles) to improve absorption up to 185 times better than a natural turmeric extract.
  • Colloidal nanoparticles: formulation where curcumin particles are reduced to greatly increase its solubility and bioavailability.
  • encapsulation by cyclodextrins: a formulation that protects fragile molecules (in this case, curcumin) to then ensure its slow release, and thus, better absorption into the body.

However, these new formulations have been developed without producers necessarily providing details of the bioavailability data for their products, or even rarely stating whether it is a conventional or novel formulation. The curcuma has then been in the spotlight for several months. Indeed, the nutrivigilance system of the French National Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health Safety (ANSES) recently recorded more than 100 adverse reactions related to the consumption of food supplements containing turmeric or curcumin. ANSES has consequently published the pharmacokinetic data of subjects who used these supplements, and has identified 15 hepatitis with severity levels ranging from 1 to 3, including one with a life-threatening condition. For 12 cases, consumers had medical history, including liver-related in three cases. For eight cases, the dietary supplements consumed had bioavailability enhanced for curcumin. Because of this, one will need to be careful about the ingested dosages of optimized dietary supplements.

Hepatoprotective effect of turmeric

That said, let's not demonize this spice. It should be noted that curcumin has long been proven to have therapeutic properties. Studies are being conducted today on mice that show that, when administered at a reasonable dose, curcumin would have a hepatoprotective effect in a model of liver cirrhosis induced by thioacetamide, a compound known to cause liver damage. Curcumin would therefore improve certain biochemical parameters through its antioxidant effect. Although these experiments were performed on mice, it should be noted that the metabolism of mice is similar to that of humans, which suggests the effectiveness of curcumin on hepatoprotective activity.

As a result, for a health-safe consumption of curcumin, especially for the liver, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has set an acceptable daily intake (ADI) at 180 mg/d of curcumin, for a adult of 60 kg. ANSES, on the other hand, has determined that the dose provided by optimized curcumin dietary supplements should not exceed 153 mg/d of curcumin, for a adult of 60 kg. Note that 1 g of turcuma is equivalent to 30 to 50 mg of curcumin; 1 spoon of coffee is equivalent to about 5 g of turmeric.

Is turmeric carcinogenic?

The Expert Panel on Food Additives and Nutrient Sources has re-evaluated the safety of curcumin (E100) after the Joint FAO/WHO (Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization) Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA). As a result, the expert panel agreed with JECFA that curcumin was not carcinogenic. They also concluded that it was not genotoxic.

However, curcumin would have negative effects on cancer treatments. Indeed, the combination of curcumin with certain chemotherapies is not a good match. It would seem that the latter, due to its antioxidant effects, could slow down the action of certain anti-cancer treatments, namely

  • Cyclophosphamides
  • Epipodophyllotoxins
  • Camptothecins

It is also recommended not to use turmeric in combination with hormone therapy for breast cancer. Furthermore, in some cases, curcumin may not interact with certain cancer treatments. Therefore, it would be preferable to have the advice of your doctor regarding the type of treatment you are using.

Furthermore, curcumin is known to be a strong antioxidant as it contains polyphenols and vitamin E. Thus, it is considered to have an anti-cancer effect. Indeed, several studies have shown that curcumin inhibits tumor growth as well as the ability of transformed cells to induce tumor formation. In addition, it acts on the uncomfortable effects that cancer treatments can induce, including skin reactions.

Are there any drug interactions with turmeric?

The virtues of turmeric are no longer a secret for researchers. Indeed, this golden spice has established a solid reputation in the scientific world thanks to its many virtues. It has been the subject of several scientific studies that have highlighted very interesting therapeutic properties, namely: anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-cancer effects, and is considered a gastric protector. However, curcumin, present in the rhizome, can interact with certain drugs, and as a result, increase the action of the active ingredients and cause adverse effects.

Thus, as with the cancer treatments listed above, it is strongly discouraged to consume turmeric or curcumin with :

  • from anticoagulant antiplatelet drugs: Indeed, curcumin has been described as having an antiplatelet effect with a strong interaction intensity with anticoagulant drugs, it can destabilize the coagulation level, thus potentially causing hemorrhage in individuals taking these drugs.
  • from drugs anti-inflammatory: Given its anti-inflammatory virtues on the body, it is not recommended to interact curcumin with anti-inflammatory drugs so as not to increase the effect of the active ingredients and cause undesirable effects, or even overdose.
  • ofanti-diabetic drugs : Curcumin has virtues against diabetes, nevertheless, it is recommended not to consume at the same time anti-diabetic drugs not to increase their actions and thus risk hypoglycemia.
  • from drugs choleretic and hepatotropic: curcumin has choleretic properties, i.e., it stimulates bile secretion, and thus can have a strong interaction with choleretic and hepatotropic drugs. Also, it is not recommended for people suffering from gallstones.

It is recommended that you seek advice from your doctor.

Can turmeric be used by pregnant and nursing women?

During pregnancy and breastfeeding, turmeric can be used in cooking to add a pleasant taste and beautiful color to dishes. Recommended doses are between one to two teaspoons maximum per day. Used therefore in a reasonable dose, turmeric does not pose any risks to healthy pregnant or lactating women. However, regarding those with particular pathologies, namely gestational diabetes, a pathology related to a blood clotting concern, etc ..., it is preferable to seek advice from his doctor. Given that turmeric has virtues against diabetes, anti-platelet effects, strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant power, it is possible that there is a risk of interaction with certain drugs. In addition, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) recommends that food supplements made with turmeric should not be taken during pregnancy or while breastfeeding.

Can turmeric cause an allergy?

Everyone can be affected by plant allergies. INSERM estimates that 25 to 30% of the population is concerned by an allergic disease. According to EFSA, it is quite rare to develop an allergic reaction to turmeric or curcumin. However, it is not impossible. In fact, the prevalence of allergies to food dyes, in this case curcumin (E100), is low, between 0.03% and 0.15%. In the atopic child, it could be as high as 2%. Individuals with allergic terrain should definitely avoid consuming turmeric in any form, namely: fresh or dried turmeric roots, turmeric powder, turmeric essential oil, and turmeric/curcumin supplements.

Some industrial products may also contain turmeric or curcumin. Most commonly, they are listed as (E100) or curcumin. They are found in:

  • Spices containing turmeric (e.g. curry: a mixture of several spices containing turmeric)
  • Industrialized ready meals and breaded/smoked fish
  • Sauces, seasonings and broths for vegetables/poultry/beef/fish
  • Mustards (regular, grainy, curry, sweet)
  • Appetizer cookies/chips
  • Industrial cheeses, flavored yogurts, butters and margarines
  • Industrial soups and purées
  • Ice cream, jams and confectionery (e.g. candy and chewing gum)
  • Drinks (sodas, smoothies, juices...)

They can also be found in pharmaceutical pharmaceutical or beauty products, indexed as CI 75,300, including some shampoos, soaps, shower gels, moisturizers, bath balls, cleansing foams, mouthwashes, and oils (for hair/massage/face). Note that these lists are not exhaustive. It will be enough to read the ingredients of the products to locate them.

The symptoms of turmeric allergy can manifest in different forms. The main ones are skin lesions such as hives or eczema, or respiratory forms, particularly rhinitis or asthma, or even, in rarer cases, anaphylactic shock. Sometimes, they can manifest at the gastrointestinal level, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea... In case of allergy to turmeric or curcumin or the onset of symptoms, it is advisable to consult a allergist in order to perform a skin test and/or a blood test to detect immunoglobulin E (IgE) (antibodies involved in the immune reaction). Also, it will be very important to consult with a dietary specialist in order to have a balanced exclusion diet with alternative foods, and a list of foods at risk for containing them.

Beware of the origin of turmeric

ANSES warns turmeric consumers to falsifications of Curcuma Longa. Indeed, several publications have mentioned the presence of cheaper substitutes, namely: turmeric Zedoaria or turmeric aromatica Salisb. after conducting a genetic analysis (DNA) of Turmeric Longa powder. In 2018, the General Directorate for Competition, Consumption and Fraud Control (DGCCRF) also reported adulteration with Curcuma xanthorrhiza Roxb. These substitutions have no safety implications at the doses used in food or dietary supplements. However, by studying the samples by chromatography, a method that allows the separation of the different substances present in a mixture, it was observed that the substitutes had the power to dilute the curcumin, and thus, not to have the expected effects. In more dangerous cases, it was found that turmeric powder was susceptible to mixing with cheaper products, such as talc and cassava flour.

Analyses were conducted on samples of bulk turmeric, chili or curry from Indian markets. Results noted the presence of synthetic colorants unauthorized that may be harmful to consumer health, namely: metanil yellow (1.5 to 4.6 mg/g), Sudan red I (4.8 to 12.1 mg/g), and Sudan red IV (0.9 to 2 mg/g). Studies have been conducted in rats and have shown that long-term consumption of metanil yellow would cause neurotoxicity, liver carcinomas, lymphoid leukemias, and deleterious effects on gastric mucin. In addition, this food coloring has never been approved by the FAO/WHO committee of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Because of this, note that it is very important to find out about the origin of the dietary supplements or turmeric powders purchased. It is equally important to have an idea about the microbiological criteria and whether the presences of heavy metals and pesticides are controlled and are in compliance.

Organic turmeric (powder)

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