Curcumin is often advertised as a natural “cure-cumin” with numerous and remarkably effective health applications.
But is this natural remedy completely safe?
Are there any potential side effects from taking curcumin?
In the 116 clinical trials of curcumin published in the mainstream medical literature, taking a “maintenance dose” of curcumin either for general good health or to avoid relapse of chronic illness did not cause any side effects at all, as long as the daily dose was under 3600 mg.
In clinical trials in which the participants taking curcumin received between 3600 and 8000 mg per day, about 10% experienced mild nausea or loose stools. In cancer treatment trials in which participants received more than 8000 mg, up to 12,000 mg of curcumin per day, diarrhea was slightly more frequent, up to 20% of participants. If you have cancer, of course, diarrhea can be caused by many other medications or the disease itself.
Essentially no one suffers side effects when taking curcumin in small doses for general good health. If you do, just reduce your dosage to less than 3600 mg per day and slowly bring it back as you have symptom-free days. If you suffer side effects from eating curry every day, take a curcumin supplement instead of eating curcumin-rich curries made with turmeric.
So is there any way you can go wrong with curcumin?
Actually, a few people have.
There is a rumor circulating on the Internet that heating up a curcumin pill will make it more easily absorbed into the bloodstream once it reaches the small intestine. Actually, there is absolutely no reason to heat a curcumin capsule before you take it, since its passage through your throat and stomach will do that for you. If you do heat the capsule, it can explode and the curcumin inside is approximately as irritating as getting curry powder on your skin or in your eyes. Cutting open a curcumin capsule and getting the curcumin powder it contains on your skin or in your eyes would have a similar effect.
Opening a drum of curcumin powder at the supplement factory without putting on protective gear is not a good idea, either. However, you wouldn’t want to break open a 50-pound/23-kilo bag of any kind of hot spice without protective clothing and goggles.
But nobody intentionally gets curry powder on their skin or in their eyes (or at least we hope nobody does). Used as directed, curcumin poses almost no risk of side effects unless it is used in very high doses, and even then the worst side effect is minor digestive upset.
Hsu CH, Cheng AL. Clinical studies with curcumin. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2007;595:471-80.