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Herbal Supplement Safety- A Look At Turmeric

Photo by Matt Briney on Unsplash

It interesting how our lives are like a game of Legos that keep stacking up, one block at a time. Starting the journey to live a healthier life is a lot like stacking Legos. You might begin by perusing the health food aisle in your local grocery store. Then, as you delve further into your journey, you begin to receive information from the news, family, or even the internet that will send your head spinning. I have had this same experience. There might be a hundred sources indicating that something is healthy and that one internet tag line catches your eye and sends you in a completely different direction. This exact scenario happened to while researching my blog, "Top 10 Healthy Coffee Add-Ins."

During my journey to fight breast cancer, I can easily say I read several sources suggesting that Turmeric and Curcumin, the principal curcuminoid of Turmeric, should be consumed for its health benefits. I won't list them here as they are only a quick internet search away. However, that one thread coming across the internet caught my eye recently. It said something about Turmeric being bad for you. Scroll back up, what? Did it just say that Turmeric might be bad for you? I vowed I would go back and get to the bottom of this as soon as I could. If all the health talk was one big scam, well, I want to know about that, and I certainly wouldn't knowingly tell people otherwise. Are you curious too? Then keep reading.

The Consumer Health Organization, a non-profit in Canada, is devoted to studying and informing consumers about holistic healing. They conduct testing of herbal supplements to promote the product they deem the best quality. Their testing reviews each supplement's ingredients, labeling accuracy, customer reviews, and the product's return policy. In their study of Turmeric, they found that up to 46% of products mixed the spice with synthetic materials that contain traces of pesticide. Their suggestion, make sure you purchase organic Turmeric, not a brand with synthetic fillers. Also, they advise that looking for a certificate of analysis from the FDA is a must. A certificate of analysis is a document provided to the FDA showing the scientific test results of food or drug testing. Maybe that study is not enough to convince you; in the end, they are promoting a particular brand's purchase. So, digging in a little deeper and its easy to find corroborating information. A study conducted in 2018 found that 59% of curcuminoid composition likely contained synthetic curcumin and in 71% of products, class 1 or 2 solvent residues were present. [1]

In 1994 the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDC Act) was amended to include the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA). The act created a separate category for supplements due to the high variability of growth, manufacturing, complexity of chemical composition, harvesting, storage, and extraction processes. The legislation allows the FDA to request good manufacturing practices (cGMP) that require manufacturers to establish specifications for identity, purity, quality, strength, and composition. [2] [3]

This change allows the FDA to take action against supplement manufacturers where harmful ingredients, mislabeling, or misbranding has occurred. Even then, it wasn't until 2007 that dietary manufacturers had to report their product's safety and efficacy to the FDA. Further, in 2008, manufacturers were required to register their phone number and address on consumer labels.

What Can Consumers Do

MarketWatch.com reports that by 2025, the health supplement market size will likely reach a whopping $138400 million in sales. [4] With growing interest in these products, it is vital for consumers to do their research. This legislation was a step in the right direction, but some gaps should not go unnoted. Supplements before 1994 were grandfathered in and meaning their safety and efficacy is assumed to be reasonable. Additionally, the legislation requiring self-reporting of adverse events relies on reporting accuracy from the manufacture themselves.

The FDA's site provides information that consumers should use to ensure they are not purchasing from manufacturers with unsanitary processing procedures or mislabeling harmful ingredients. [5] You can also notify the FDA of a problem or report to their site if you or someone you know has had an adverse event from one of these supplements. The FDA suggests the following for safe supplement shopping:

  • Search noncommercial sites (e.g., NIH, FDA, USDA) rather than seller sites. Useful resources for research include the FDA, USDA, and NIH sites.

  • Safe and natural are not always the same thing.

  • You should always consult with your doctor to ensure your supplement does not cause an adverse event with any prescription medication you are taking.

  • Be watchful for claims that seem too grandiose. Examples the FDA provides to watch out for include "totally safe," "no side effects," or "works better than traditional medication."

Other sites like the Mayo Clinic offer guidelines to help users in searching for safe supplements. Those guidelines include consulting with your physician, reaching out to the manufacture with questions, and, most importantly, research the scientific findings. There are specific populations where taking supplements present a higher risk. You should know if you are in one of these populations. You can find a list of them by visiting: Mayo Clinic- Herbal Supplements. Additional suggestions include to follow the supplementation guidelines, check advisories, and always track what you have taken.

Final Thoughts on Turmeric

So what does this mean about Turmeric? Is it healthy like we believe, or could it cause us more harm than good? Well, both. While Turmeric itself has been in hundreds of clinical trials that exhibit its potential health benefits, it's wise to tread with caution into the world of supplements. Arm yourself with research and ensure that you buy supplements that are the highest possible quality. Even a herbal supplement like Turmeric can be dangerous depending on the manufacturing environment, added ingredients, dosage, and interactions with other medications, to name a few of the factors.

Moreover, hospitals worldwide treat thousands of cases a year for adverse drug events involving herbal supplements. While supplements can have many positive benefits, checking with your physician to ensure that they will not interfere with your current medications or that you are not a part of a high-risk category will help to keep you safe.

So, yes, Turmeric can be safe and even provide many health benefits.

However, you must first get to know it and yourself well before incorporating it into your diet to be sure it's right for you.


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