Q. I’ve been hearing a lot about the health benefits of turmeric, but also about potential side effects. What does the science say?
A. Turmeric is a flowering perennial whose rhizomes are commonly ground into a powder for use in curries and other dishes. It gets its deep orange-yellow color from the polyphenolic compound curcumin. In addition to being sold in the spice aisle, turmeric is available as a dietary supplement. Alice H. Lichtenstein, DSc, senior scientist at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging and executive editor of Tufts Health & Nutrition Letter, answers: “While laboratory and preliminary studies suggest turmeric or curcumin may be helpful for everything from stomach upset and high cholesterol to diabetes, cognitive decline, and depression, there are no conclusive human studies. High doses and long-term use can cause nausea and diarrhea, and might pose a risk of ulcers. On the other hand, enjoying turmeric in curries is a safe and delicious way to perk up foods. But remember, at this time claims about the health benefits of turmeric are far from proven.”