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Capsules | SUPPLEMENTS

Turmeric may be more than a spice

August 18, 2003

Turmeric, the spice responsible for curry's yellow hue, has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic, or traditional Indian, medicine to treat a variety of ailments. Its active ingredient is curcumin, which is found in the plant's underground stem and is reputed to have antioxidant properties. Several studies are investigating the spice's anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer potential.

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Uses: It's used to stimulate appetite, lower cholesterol, and treat arthritis, muscle pain, indigestion, liver disease, cancer and HIV infection, among other conditions.

Dose: Recommendations vary but range from 300 to 600 milligrams of curcumin three times a day, taken with meals. (Supplements often contain a few hundred grams of curcumin per capsule.) Turmeric is also available as a powdered spice and a liquid extract.

Precautions: Turmeric can thin the blood, so it should be avoided by people on anticoagulant drugs. It can also cause stomach irritation -- especially in large doses -- so it should be avoided by people with ulcers.

Research: Laboratory experiments have suggested that curcumin may have anti-HIV properties, but human testing has failed to produce similar results. In animal and lab studies, curcumin slowed or stopped the progression of several types of cancer, including leukemia and colon cancer, but evidence from clinical trials is needed to confirm its effectiveness. Scientific evidence supporting turmeric's other uses is sparse.

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Dietary supplement makers are not required by the U.S. government to demonstrate that their products are safe or effective. Ask your health-care provider for advice on selecting a brand.

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-- Elena Conis

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