• Dr. Ashley Stapleton ND

The Truth About Turmeric

Turmeric is a spice that is indigenous to parts of southern and eastern Asia, but has long since made its way around the world. It is a common ingredient in many Indian dishes, but more recently has been used as an additive to everything from shampoo to lattes (as a side note, I can think of NO therapeutic benefit to including it in shampoo). Traditionally, it has been used as both a spice and a medicine. In India, it has a long history of use treating liver and digestive complaints, and topically treating wounds, bruises, sprains, ulcers, or inflamed joints.

Turmeric is now studied widely in Western medicine and many benefits have been observed. To name a few, it is:

  • Anti-inflammatory - reducing inflammation often helps reduce pain and limit chronic disease

  • Antioxidant - Protect your cells against free radicals, which can cause heart disease and cancer

  • Choleretic - promotes the flow of bile that aids in the breakdown of fats in digestion

  • Anti-platelet aggregating - reduces the creation of blood clots, which have the potential to lead to heart attack and stroke

  • Anti-cancer - suppress the replication of certain cancer cells

  • Hypolipidemic - decrease total cholesterol, decrease LDL cholesterol as well as increasing HDL cholesterol

Studies have also shown it may help treat depression, but it can take up to 2-3 months to get the full effect, Alzheimer's disease, Diabetes, cardiovascular, autoimmune, and neurological disease.

Much of the benefits of turmeric come from one constituent - Curcumin (although benefits of the other constituents are being discovered all the time). Curcumin is the powerhouse in turmeric, but it only makes up a small percentage of the actual herb. The only catch is, it's difficult to absorb and metabolizes quickly to other, less useful compounds once it's in the bloodstream. The good news is, absorption can be increased substantially by the addition of oil or other fats, and black pepper increases the bioavailability by inhibiting the metabolic breakdown of curcumin.

Absorption the movement of a substance across the gastrointestinal tract into circulation
Bioavailability the availability of the drug/substance/herb to the general circulation or site it is needed

If you are looking to achieve the therapeutic value turmeric has to offer I always suggest to look at the diet first, before going out and buying a supplement. In this case, however, it depends how much you need on a daily basis and what kind of accomodations you are willing to make to your diet.

Therapeutic amounts of the turmeric rhizome are 1.5-3 g daily or 750-1500 mg per day of curcumin extract. To make that more clear, one teaspoon of dried turmeric has the equivalence of about 200 mg curcumin, so you would need approximately 4 tsp/day to achieve therapeutic benefit. However, 1/2 to 1 tsp of turmeric powder with food may show digestive and cognitive benefits add 1/4 tsp black pepper to that to make a good ratio for maximum bioavailability. Considering many recipes call for 1 tsp turmeric in the entire meal, those levels may be difficult to get in diet alone, but since the health benefits of turmeric have become more well known, many recipes have been cropping up that call for a high dose of turmeric alongside the components needed for max absorption and bioavailability.

I love this recipe for Golden Milk by the Minimalist Baker as a way to add some turmeric to your diet in a delicious way.


  • 1 1/2 cups light coconut milk

  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened plain almond milk

  • 1 1/2 tsp ground turmeric

  • 1-2 Tbsp fresh grated ginger

  • 1 whole cinnamon stick

  • 1 Tbsp coconut oil

  • 1 pinch ground black pepper

  • Sweetener of choice (i.e. maple syrup, coconut sugar, or stevia to taste)


  • To a small saucepan, add coconut milk, almond milk, ground turmeric, ground ginger, cinnamon stick, coconut oil, black pepper, and sweetener of choice (I usually add 1 Tbsp (15 ml) maple syrup // amount as original recipe is written // adjust if altering batch size).

  • Whisk to combine and warm over medium heat. Heat until hot to the touch but not boiling - about 4 minutes - whisking frequently.

  • Turn off heat and taste to adjust flavor. Add more sweetener to taste or more turmeric or ginger for intense spice + flavor.

  • Serve immediately, dividing between two glasses and leaving the cinnamon stick behind. Best when fresh, though leftovers can be stored covered in the refrigerator for 2-3 days.

If adding it to your diet is not a palatable option, there are many, many supplements out there to choose from, but beware, not all supplements are created equal. The prices range dramatically and they will often reflect the potency, quality, and accuracy of dose listed on the bottle. It is important to read the label when determining what to purchase. Some supplements are just turmeric powder in a capsule, while others isolate the curcumin to ensure therapeutic levels are achieved. In any case, if there isn't any additive or treatment of the curcumin in some way, then it is important to take these supplements alongside food that contains fat and some black pepper (about 1/4 tsp per dose). If you want to be able to take the capsules away from food or want a dependable, consistent dose of curcumin then it is important to ensure the supplement has been adapted in some way.

Many nutraceutical companies have been able to increase the absorption and bioavailability of curcumin through a variety of techniques. The following is a list of curcumin supplements in order of the best absorbed to the least:

(The number next to each supplement is showing the absorption compared to a standard extract of curcumin)

  • Novasol 185x - Transforms fat-soluble ingredients with poor bioavailability into fat and water-loving ingredients that have already been dissolved in solution with high bioavailability.

  • Curcuwin 136x - Cellulose (plant based) derivatives combined with a hydrophobic (water-hating) carrier and natural antioxidants made to stay in the bloodstream longer

  • Longvida 100x - Uses Solid Lipid Curcumin Particle Technology, protects free curcumin from initial breakdown in the stomach, allowing curcumin to be delivered to the target tissues intact.

  • Meriva 48x - proprietary lecithin formulation of the curcumin (attaches curcumin to fat, so it is best absorbed)

  • BCM-95 27x - Composed of all the elements of turmeric, not just the curcumin. Uses built-in essential oils to boost absorption and keeps it in the blood longer.

  • Curcumin C3 complex + Bioperine 20x - Contains 3 forms of curcumin: curcumin, bisdemethoxy curcumin and demethoxy curcumin. Bioperine is an extract of Black Pepper fruit that contains 95-98% piperine, as a natural bioenhancer.

  • Theracumin 16x - Nanoparticle suspension of curcumin using ghatti gum and glycerin.

The point of this list is to demonstrate there are many ways to increase the absorption and bioavailability of turmeric. Another factor to consider when choosing what supplement is right for you is that curcumin is quickly metabolized in the body and excreted, so it is more beneficial to take a lower dose more frequently than to take one large dose.

Taking high dose turmeric is not innocuous though. It can have wonderful therapeutic benefits, but there are potential side effects that could indicate the dose is too high or you need to discontinue use. Side effects could include: headache, nausea, diarrhea, yellow stool, stomach complaints, and allergic skin reactions. And because it causes increased contractility of the gallbladder, use with extreme caution in gallbladder disease, such as gallstones. Use curcumin with caution if you are currently taking medication to lower blood sugar, as it has shown some evidence it may lower blood sugar levels. Curcumin can affect liver metabolism and, therefore, affects the metabolism of certain drugs. Always consult your healthcare provider if you are currently taking medications, especially blood thinners, as it has anti-platelet activity. It is important to always start with the lowest dose to avoid any of these side effects.

What to take away:

  • Turmeric has many health benefits

  • Look at the dose listed on the bottle

  • If the supplement does not say "enhanced" or is adapted in some way, take with food

  • Turmeric is best absorbed when consumed with fat

  • Turmeric is more bioavailable when consumed with black pepper

  • Consult your doctor if you are currently taking prescription medication and you want to start taking high dose turmeric

The information given in this article is not meant to replace medical care, but only to inform. Please consult a healthcare professional if you have a pre-existing condition and wish to try high-dose turmeric.

As always, you may book through through Aspire Naturopathic Health Centre. If you have any questions, please drop me an email or give a call to the clinic. Wishing you and your family good health!

If you would like more reading on turmeric a very good, but not exhaustive list can be found here:

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