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Turmeric Curcumin Put to the Test for Inflammatory Bowel Disease

My video Striking with the Root: Turmeric Curcumin and Ulcerative Colitis tells the story how this amazing discovery was made, and how curcumin stacks up against pharmacological interventions.

Despite evidence going back 40 years that the turmeric spice component curcumin possesses significant anti-inflammatory activity, it wasn’t until 2005 that it was first tested on inflammatory bowel disease. Why did it take so long? Well, who’s going to fund such a study? Big Curry? Even without corporate backing, individual physicians from New York decided to ask the next five patients with ulcerative colitis who walked through their office doors to start curcumin supplements.

“Ulcerative colitis (UC) is a debilitating, chronic, relapsing-remitting [i.e., it comes and goes] IBD [inflammatory bowel disease] that afflicts millions of individuals throughout the world and produces symptoms that impair quality of life and ability to function.” As with most diseases, we have a bunch of drugs to treat people, but sometimes these medications can add to disease complications, most commonly nausea, vomiting, headaches, rash, fever, and inflammation of the liver, pancreas, and kidneys, as well as potentially wiping out our immune system and causing infertility. Most ulcerative colitis patients need to be on drugs every day for the rest of their lives, so we need something safe to keep the disease under control.

So how did those five patients do on the spice extract? Overall, all five subjects improved by the end of the study, and four of the five were able to decrease or eliminate their medications. They had “more formed stools, less frequent bowel movements, and less abdominal pain and cramping. One subject reported decreased muscle soreness, commonly felt after his exercise routine.” This, however, was what’s called an open-label study, meaning the patients knew they were taking something so some of the improvement may have just been the placebo effect. In 2013, another small open-label pilot study found encouraging results in a pediatric population, but what was needed was a larger scale, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial.

And, researchers obliged. They took a bunch of people with quiescent ulcerative colitis and gave them either turmeric curcumin along with their typical anti-inflammatory drugs, or a placebo and their drugs. In the placebo group, 8 out of 39 patients relapsed, meaning their disease flared back up. In the curcumin group, however, only 2 out of 43 relapsed, significantly fewer. And, relapse or not, clinically, the placebo group got worse, while the curcumin group got better. Endoscopically, which is objectively visualizing the inside of their colons, doctors saw the same thing: trends towards worse or better.

The results were stunning: a 5 percent relapse rate in the curcumin group compared with a 20 percent relapse rate in the conventional care group. It was such a dramatic difference that the researchers wondered if it was some kind of fluke. Even though patients were randomized to each group, perhaps the curcumin group just ended up being much healthier through some chance coincidence, so maybe it was some freak occurrence rather than curcumin that accounted for the results? So, the researchers extended the study for another six months but put everyone on the placebo to ensure the initial findings were not some aberration. The curcumin was stopped to see if that group would then start relapsing, too—and that’s exactly what happened. Suddenly, they became just as bad as the original placebo group.

The researchers concluded: “Curcumin seems to be a promising and safe medication for maintaining remission in patients with quiescent ulcerative colitis.” Indeed, no side effects were reported at all. So, “Curry for the cure?” asked an accompanying editorial in the journal of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America. “Can curcumin be added to our list of options with respect to maintaining remission in ulcerative colitis? What is noteworthy about this trial is the fact that not only did the authors demonstrate a statistically significant decrease in relapse at 6 months, but a statistically significant improvement in the endoscopic index as well. Equally telling is the fact that upon withdrawal of curcumin the relapse rate quickly paralleled that of patients treated initially with placebo, implying that curcumin was, in fact, exerting some important biologic effect.”

Similarly, a Cochrane review concluded in 2013 that curcumin may be a safe and effective adjunct therapy. Cochrane reviews take all the best studies meeting strict quality criteria and compile all the best science together, which is normally a gargantuan undertaking. Not so in this case, however, as there is really just that one good study.


Turmeric is one of the most popular trending topics, and I encourage you to check out the most popular turmeric videos, including:

For more on ulcerative colitis and inflammatory bowel disease, see:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Discuss

Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.


49 responses to “Turmeric Curcumin Put to the Test for Inflammatory Bowel Disease

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  1. My coworker and one of our salesmen have colitis. My friend’s daughter has it, too. This is something tangible and simple to say to them. Easier to get them to add something than to try to get them all the way over to WFPB. Does it work for Crohn’s? I wonder.

  2. Thank you for sharing this study. I have Collagenous Colitis and have been on Entocort for several months. I would love to try turmeric to manage/heal my gut. Could you please share what the dosage was for the study or did I miss that?

    Many thanks,
    Jennifer

      1. It’s interesting that it can ameliorate Colitis but persons with GERD are cautioned against using it, as are persons on aspirin or other blood thinning meds.

  3. to build off Jennifer’s request, not only dosage is important but also WHAT SUPPLEMENT? there are many turmeric supplements out there, some effective some not

    it would be great to know exactly which one yielded benefits at what dosage

    thank you!

    1. Sharon,

      Dr. Greger has a video turmeric versus the supplements. He is in favor of using the food whenever possible.

      If you can’t stand turmeric, then, it would be to look for turmeric and black pepper on the label.

      After that, it is just preference. Some people prefer taking supplements.

      When I started this walk, I didn’t want to eat turmeric. Now, I eat it every day. That took a process. I started off hiding it in tomato paste and chili and lentils and now I am used to it. That took time, but I wanted the benefits and it was worth it. I cycle off now and then because many of these spices are powerful blood thinners, but it is so nice to be able to just pour it out of my spice shaker or grind it.

  4. So good to see this in print! I have had Crohn’s Disease for 50 years…ouch!
    For over a year, I have been taking Turmeric, and I can actually tell a difference in the way my body feels! I read about it’s “anti-inflammatory” properties and decided it could not hurt. I have the beginning stages of osteoarthritis, and can tell a difference in my joints!
    I receive Remicade infusions every 8 weeks. I have had several surgeries, the last one was 20 years ago…Feeling blessed at this time in my life! Thanks for sharing this article!

  5. Sheila, wish I had experienced your good fortune. I have osteoarthritis which can flare up to an incredible degree of pain. I have not yet found Curcumin to bring about the results you experienced. Wondering which form you use and at what strength?

  6. I’m with Sharon and Jennifer on the dosage and type of supplement that’s most effective. In the past there’s been discussion of the addition of black pepper to significantly increase bioavailability. Thanks!

  7. I have taken Turmeric for my severe arthritis pain and it is wonderful, however I have very thin blood ( not hemo) and I had to stop taking it. Small cuts and nose bleeds or scraps are awful for me if I thin my blood even more. Has anyone else had this problem? I hate that Turmeric makes my blood even thinner because I thought I had found the perfect pain helper.

      1. Thank you for responding. I was taking gaia Turmeric Supreme, the joint. I took 2 capsules twice a day for about 6 months, and it really did help with my hip and wrist pain. Then, I cut myself and bled more than usual. Also, during allergy season, my nose bled more than usual when I blew it.

  8. I tried tumeric and got bad nose bleeds. Then I read that if a person takes a low dose aspirin every day which I do because I had a heart bypass operation and my cardiologist prescribed it, anyway, I read that taking both tumeric and low dose aspirin, it can cause nose bleeds because the tumeric and aspirin have similar ingredients. I tried tumeric a couple more times and noticed a start of a nose bleed. So, I dare not try again.

    What do you think?

    The sad part is I needed a bypass in spite of being on a whole food plant based diet. It is hard to recommend this diet to others when I had this experience. I still do eat the plant based diet, no matter.

    1. Nancy, thanks for your warning.

      Yes, I have had a relative who had to be hospitalized for internal bleeding just from aspirin. I cycle on and off of everything.

      Blood thinning is a serious issue.

      Yes, the bummer with WFPB is that the studies weren’t 100% of the people spared.

      I watched Dr. Ornish speaking about a person who moved from needing a heart transplant to not needing one, but there aren’t guarantees.

      Plus, all of us eat different combinations even within this lifestyle. Some are vegan, some aren’t. Some eat a lot of starches, some don’t. Some eat a wide range of phytonutrients and some just eat potatoes, some with oil, some with nuts and some without either and the supplements – some take D3 and B-12 and others don’t take anything and others take multi-vitamins and some spend all their money at Vitamin Shoppe.

      I have probably done every variation. If I ever have heart surgery though, I would say that I would know that it was my past life catching up.

      1. Thanks Deb,

        The sad thing is that when I try to encourage the Plant based diet, some people respond…” Yes but look what happened to you! “

        I still think it is the best diet around, but we do have to be careful.

        I also have osteoporosis now, not terribly bad, but enough so that my teeth are affected with receding gums. So something is wrong there too. Maybe not enough calcium.

        I am never in really bad shape, just enough to be irritating.

        My doctor says I am doing great and could be a lot worse off if I ate the diet most people eat!

        I am 78.

        Best, Nancy

        1. Greetings Nancy. I am sorry to hear of your challenges despite doing all of the right things! Keep in mind that for roughly 10% of the population there may be a genetic component that is more powerful than what we can manage with just lifestyle and dietary compliance. This is a challenge. However, you are thriving despite facing some adversity.

          The good news is that for the other 90% of the population eating a healthy plant-based diet, daily physical movement and mindfulness can actually keep you very healthy and significantly reduce systemic health challenges.

          Nancy, keep doing what you are doing!

          In good health,

          Nancy :0)

      2. Deb, Nancy, As you may know, Dr G has some videos on aspirin for heart disease and cancer. The one that intrigues me is the one that states the following:

        “Aspirin was originally extracted from the bark of the willow tree, so researchers started to wonder if it might be found in other plants as well. And it turns out aspirin is widely distributed throughout the plant kingdom; plants use it to prevent disease, too.

        So, if it’s in plants, what about the blood levels of those eating plant-based diets? Vegetarians naturally have low levels of aspirin coursing through their systems, because they eat more plants—as much as some people who take aspirin as a drug. The problem with taking the drug, though, is that it increases our risk of bleeding—like hemorrhagic stroke. But some studies find vegetarians have a lower risk of bleeding into their brain. So, eating a plant-based diet, one might be able to get some of the benefits of taking aspirin, without some of the risks.”

        https://nutritionfacts.org/video/aspirin-levels-in-plant-foods/

        https://nutritionfacts.org/video/plants-with-aspirin-aspirations/

        1. Thank you so much for your help, Hal. I will definitely check out the articles you suggest.

          I refused to take statins, so my doctor thinks it is so important that I at least take low dose aspirin.

        2. hi Hal, yes you are right that many herbs and spices actually have ‘blood thinning’ capability, and maybe the greens in our diet might counteract that a bit with the vit K. Marilyn would know for sure. What I do know is that the doctors say aspirin, statins, and usually a beta blocker or something similar are protocol after bypasses. Aspirin is a uniformly produced substance (so dosage can be controlled etc) whereas herbs etc are not.
          Many herbs and spices do have increased risk of bleeding as a side effect, including ginger.

          1. I was trying to post a link for Dr Heather Shenkman, who is a wfpb cardiologist as well as an accomplished athlete. For some reason it won’t post. She has a website and a page at Forks over Knives. Very interesting lady! As it happens, she wrote to Dr Greger towards the end of the comment section of his video about aspirin saying she hoped he wasn’t suggesting that patients do without their meds. It’s worth reading.

            https://nutritionfacts.org/video/should-we-all-take-aspirin-to-prevent-heart-disease/

            1. Hi Barb, thanks for the info on Dr Shenkman. The way I view Dr Greger’s information on aspirin in plant foods is that one may be able to take a smaller dose of pill aspirin than the could if they were eating a SAD diet. Of course, the only way one would know if they were getting the right total amount would be a blood test, which is probably expensive! So yes, follow your doctor’s advice and watch for signs of bleeding.

    2. Nancy Nowak, I’m sorry you didn’t become WFPB sooner. I’m sure people are capable of understanding that your bypass surgery wasn’t the result of your WFP diet. I’m assuming it was from decades of the SAD. As another commenter (Dr. J) has pointed out multiple times, there are no guarantees.

      Glad you’re sticking with it. Hopefully it will drastically reduce the need for future bypass surgeries.

      1. Thank you so much for your comments! I ate pretty well all my life but certainly not WFPB! My parents farmed so I ate lots of veggies and fruits, but meat and cookies too!

        I am 78 and doing my best with diet, exercise and meditation. My husband is 79 and he is doing great too.

        I do spend a lot of time chopping veggies, but it is well worth it!

    3. Nancy

      ‘The sad part is I needed a bypass in spite of being on a whole food plant based diet.’

      That is interesting. Do you mind if I ask how long you had been on a WFPB diet?

      Heart disease normally takes decades to develop even on the SAD diet and can’t be reversed immediately. The American Heart Association’s scientific panel on dietary fats and cardiovascular disease noted, when discussing which trials should be regarded as most meaningful, that

      ‘The reason for the 2-year minimum duration is that changes in polyunsaturated fatty acids very slowly equilibrate with tissue fatty acid levels; it takes ≈2 years to achieve 60% to 70% of the full effect.20,30 Trials of serum cholesterol–lowering agents show that a reduction in coronary heart disease (CHD) incidence occurs with a lag of 1 to 2 years.31’
      https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/full/10.1161/CIR.0000000000000510

      Now that was trials replacing dietary saturated fats with PUFAs, and trials invlving people taking cholesterol lowering drugs, but I think that it would be reasonable to assume that the same two-year period would be required for a WFPB diet to have an effect on your cardiovascular health. Although as another poster has commented elsewhere, diets/drugs etc can reduce risk but not completely eliminate it.

      That said, the strict Esselstyn diet, rather than a general WFPB diet, would probably be optimal for people with eatablished heart disease.

    4. Hello Nancy,
      Thank you for your question. I see, below, that you’ve had quite a few intelligent replies. I agree with Barb’s comment, below, that “Many herbs and spices do have increased risk of bleeding as a side effect.” Because no one has actually directly answered your question about whether or not turmeric can cause nosebleeds, particularly in combination with aspirin, I will add my 2 cents by providing some actual citations about the anti-coagulant properties of turmeric.

      I am a family doctor with a private practice in lifestyle medicine, and also am a volunteer for this website. Here are links to a couple of articles about this issue:
      1) Full-text link to .pdf of article entitled “Anticoagulant activities of curcumin and its derivative”, which demonstrates that “curcumin … prolonged aPTT and PT significantly and inhibited thrombin and FXa activities” [Note: aPTT and PT are two blood tests used to measure clotting time; thrombin and FXa are coagulant factors]:
      https://documentcloud.adobe.com/link/track?uri=urn%3Aaaid%3Ascds%3AUS%3A99c4b70b-4122-459a-865e-af21ee639ac2
      2) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29052850 — this is an abstract of an article which discusses “molecular mechanisms associated with the antiplatelet and anticoagulant activities of curcumin and potential implications for the treatment of cardiovascular disease.”

      Also, “YR”, below, provides a link to a comment he made in another of Dr. G’s videos about turmeric, where he provides a link to a People’s Pharmacy article entitled “Did turmeric cause a frightening nosebleed?”:
      https://www.peoplespharmacy.com/2016/05/23/did-turmeric-cause-a-frightening-nosebleed/

      So, I would guess that turmeric did, indeed, contribute to your nosebleeds — along with your aspirin.

      However, this does not mean that everyone out there who takes some sort of anticoagulant (e.g. warfarin) or anti-platelet (e.g. aspirin) medication needs to stop eating any food that has either any pro-coagulant properties (e.g. green leafy veggies that contain vitamin K), or any anti-coagulant properties (e.g. turmeric). But you DO need to be aware of the possible interactions.

      By the way, the comment I just made in the last paragraph, goes against what most “Coumadin clinics” have usually told their patients. If any of you knows someone who has been on warfarin (Coumadin), you know they were probably told to avoid all green leafy vegetables, because that would affect their clotting time, and (heaven forbid) the doctors might then have to adjust the dose of warfarin.

      Of course, now that newer anticoagulants are available which are not as dose-sensitive as warfarin, such as Eliquis and Xarelto, patients no longer have to be so careful about drug interactions.

      I hope this has helped, rather than confused you.
      Dr. Jon
      PhysicianAssistedWellness.com
      Health Support Volunteer for NutritionFacts.org

      1. “Also, “YR”, below, provides a link to a comment he made in another of Dr. G’s videos about turmeric, where he provides a link to a People’s Pharmacy article entitled “Did turmeric cause a frightening nosebleed?”:
        https://www.peoplespharmacy.com/2016/05/23/did-turmeric-cause-a-frightening-nosebleed/

        – – – – – –

        Thanks for the mention, Dr. Jon, but YR is a she, not a he. True, you can’t really tell by reading some of YR’s comments. :-)

  9. I love Dr. Gregor’s site and have been reading it for years but these studies never tell you a dosage amount used in the clinical trials. What if you find Curcumin is a potential thing you would want to take. How would you know the proper dosage to achieve results seen in the survey?

    We need more info!!

    1. Hello Jeff,

      While Dr. Greger doesn’t always include dosages in the videos, all the studies are linked within the articles and videos for anyone’s viewing. For this study in particular, the participants were taking 1g curcumin twice/day along with their conventional medications.

      I hope this helps,

      Matt, Health Support

  10. I am WFPB and began curcumin supplements, as per my physician, at the end of 2018. It reduced my debilitating menstrual cramps by 95% regarding the curcumin. I had to back off though, since it was causing diarrhea to take it 3x/day.

  11. This is a very interesting article a very interesting study. However, there is one thing I do not quite understand: When the researchers saw that the group that received turmeric instead of the placebo got so much better so that they thought it might be some crazy coincidence, why didn’t they put both groups on turmeric to see if also the second group would start feeling better? Instead they gave both groups the placebo to see if both groups get worse. Strange.

  12. Dr. Gregor,
    Have you ever done some work on Fibromyalgia? I’ve searched through some lists of your videos and did not find anything.
    My daughter suffers from it, and a natural deterrent/solution would be awesome. She also has athsma, and irritable bowel disease. I’ve sent her an article informing her about termeric for the above. I don’t see any article referencing fibromyalgia, however.
    I would also like to add that I took a little cumin along with a curcumin capsule (the active ingredient in termeric), which includes rhizome. And I run once a week for an hour, and although I am 66 and have arthritis, I’ve never had any pain in my hips other than the rare occasion when I’m on my legs too much during the 2 days after my run. And, even then the pain I is less than moderate. I only run once a week now rather than 3 x/week. But after having taken the supplements, I experienced, early in the run, some pain in my lower legs and knees. Then half way through my run I had severe pain in my hip. That is the first time in my life I’ve experienced that….and only after taking the active ingredients in Tumerick plus the cumin. So I came to the conclusion that unless you have problematic to severe inflammation, which I was had not been experiencing, it’s not wise to take this unless you do it in very small amounts. The curcumin capsules are pretty large. And the day before I ran I discovered that using pepper greatly inhances absorption; and I used some pepper in with my meal. Just like prescription medications, don’t take/use something daily if you do not have the symptoms!! If need be, take it if you have something severe enough to warrant it. My right hip after the pain I had on the trail hurt for 4 – 5 days, then my left hip started hurting, and lasted ~4 to 5 days.
    I learned and physiology at Georgia State University that inflammation is a defense mechanism, and is helpful… it brings extra blood to the area, providing greater nutrition to the area, plus some padding. It can become a problem when there’s an overreaction. This is about 3rd day I’ve no pain so I’m going to the trail today. I’m a little concerned that I probably should wait one more day….but it’ll be raining!
    Please let me know about the fibromyalgia

  13. Dr Greger consistently uses the term “turmeric curcumin”, yet, as I have pointed out in previous posts, virtually all the studies have used a curcumin extract, ie. a supplement. Dr. Greger has made his opinion of supplements abundantly clear, eg. “fancy pills”, yet that is exactly what has been found effective in the studies cited. I douse my dinner with curry powder virtually every night, but I also take a curcumin supplement,Curcuwin, with 46x greater bioavailability than turmeric, for insurance.

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