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Turmeric is a widely used tropical herb in the ginger family. Its stalk is used both in food and medicine, yielding the familiar yellow ingredient that colors and adds flavor to curry. In the traditional Indian system of herbal medicine known as Ayurveda, turmeric is believed to strengthen the overall energy of the body, relieve gas, dispel worms, improve digestion, regulate menstruation, dissolve gallstones, and relieve arthritis, among other uses.
Modern interest in turmeric began in 1971 when Indian researchers found evidence suggesting that turmeric may possess anti-inflammatory properties. Much of this observed activity appeared to be due to the presence of a constituent called curcumin. Curcumin is also an antioxidant. Many of the studies mentioned in this article used curcumin rather than turmeric.
Effect of Turmeric on Low Back Pain and Sciatica
As noted above, turmeric has been used to treat arthritis (sometimes the cause of low back pain and/or sciatica) in Ayurveda for centuries. Also, through research it has been found that turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties, making it useful for treating lower back and sciatica pain that results from inflammation. (This is how many pharmaceutical drugs for low back pain/sciatica work - through anti-inflammatory action.)
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Turmeric is on the FDA's GRAS (generally recognized as safe) list, and curcumin, too, is believed to be fairly nontoxic. 1 Reported side effects are uncommon and are generally limited to mild stomach distress.
However, there is some evidence to suggest that turmeric extracts can be toxic to the liver when taken in high doses or for a prolonged period of time. 2 For this reason, turmeric products should probably be avoided by individuals with liver disease and those who take medications that are hard on the liver.
In addition, due to curcumin's stimulating effects on the gallbladder, individuals with gallbladder disease should use curcumin only on the advice of a physician. However, safety in young children, pregnant or nursing women, and those with severe kidney disease have also not been established.
- Ammon HPT, Wahl MA. Pharmacology of Curcuma longa. Planta Med. 1991;57:1-7.
- Deshpande SS, Lalitha VS, Ingle AD, Raste AS, Gadre SG, Maru GB. Subchronic oral toxicity of turmeric and ethanolic turmeric extract in female mice and rats. Toxicol Lett. 95(3):183-93.
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