Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, rivals over-the-counter omeprazole (Prilosec) as an indigestion remedy, according to a recent study.
Turmeric has a long history in Asia as a remedy for all kinds of health issues, including digestive problems. Now a recent study suggests the bright-yellow spice and its active ingredient, curcumin, may be just as good at fighting indigestion as the over-the-counter medicine omeprazole (Prilosec).
For the study, published in BMJ Evidence-Based Medicine, scientists randomly assigned one of three regimens to 151 adults with indigestion. Participants took two 250-milligram (mg) capsules of curcumin, four times daily; one 20-mg omeprazole pill daily; or both treatments combined. Researchers questioned participants about the severity of indigestion symptoms like bloating, nausea, and stomach pain at the start of the study, and again after 28 and 56 days.
According to study results, participants experienced similar declines in symptom severity in all three treatment groups.
Curcumin Worked as Well Alone as in Combination With Omeprazole
The effectiveness of curcumin was expected because it’s long been used by traditional medicine doctors in Thailand to treat indigestion, says lead study author Krit Pongpirul, MD, PhD, of the Center of Excellence in Preventive and Integrative Medicine at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok in Thailand.
But researchers were surprised to see there wasn’t any additional benefit from combining curcumin and omeprazole, Dr. Pongpirul says. “The comparable efficacies between curcumin/turmeric and omeprazole were as anticipated,” Pongpirul says. “However, taking only one of them would be sufficient and safer than taking both because there was no synergistic effect.”
Is It Safe to Take Curcumin Supplements for Indigestion?
Even though the study didn’t identify any serious side effects with curcumin or omeprazole, lab tests showed some people with overweight who took curcumin had markers for liver function deterioration.
Beyond this, the quality and amount of curcumin in supplements can vary and it’s possible that people might not see the same benefits from taking versions of this compound that differ substantially from what was used in the study, Pongpirul notes.
“Turmeric itself has been linked to cases of liver injury mostly when mixed with other substances such as black pepper, which increases the level of curcumin in blood,” says Yuying Luo, MD, a gastroenterologist and assistant professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, who wasn’t involved in the new study.
In the study, people took a total of 2 g daily of curcumin and didn’t experience side effects; this compound has not been associated with liver problems with doses up to 6 g daily, Dr. Luo says. But it’s important to read the label of any supplements carefully to make sure you know how much curcumin you’re taking, Luo stresses.
Talk to Your Doctor Before Trying Any Supplement
Results of the new study aren’t definitive enough for Luo to recommend that people try curcumin as an initial treatment for indigestion. But if people do want to give it a shot, it’s best to try it for two to four weeks to see if it helps, and stop taking it if there are side effects or indigestion persists, Luo advises.
Before taking any supplement, people should consult with their doctor, Luo says. “I recommend bringing in the formulation of curcumin you are interested in to talk with your doctor,” Luo says. “I recommend discussing with your doctor all the supplements you are taking to ensure there are no adverse interactions with other medications.”
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