Household Spice May Be the Golden Elixir for Indigestion, Comparable to Drugs: Study

A remedy for indigestion may be cheap, delicious, and readily available.
Household Spice May Be the Golden Elixir for Indigestion, Comparable to Drugs: Study
A new study published in the BMJ suggests that turmeric, which contains a compound called curcumin, may potentially treat indigestion. (NADKI/Shutterstock)
Jessie Zhang

A remedy for indigestion may be cheap, delicious, and readily available.

New research reveals that turmeric, the sunny yellow spice that gives curry its vibrant color and zesty flavor, may be just as effective as medication in easing this common abdominal discomfort affecting about a quarter of Americans.

Turmeric Matches Standard Medication for Treating Indigestion

Turmeric is a spice from the rootstalks of the Curcuma longa plant, which belongs to the ginger family of herbs. Curcumin—the active ingredient in turmeric—has powerful anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal properties.
A recent clinical study found curcumin to be effective in the treatment of gastric ulcers and erosions, which are sores on the inner lining of the stomach. Ulcers and erosions were reduced or even eradicated after administration of curcumin (a total of 3,000 mg a day) for up to 12 weeks, while abdominal pain and discomfort were significantly reduced within four weeks. 
However, its effectiveness in treating indigestion has been uncertain. 
The new study, published in the peer-reviewed British Medical Journal (pdf), is the first to directly compare turmeric to omeprazole for treating indigestion.

Omeprazole is a proton pump inhibitor (PPI) used to treat indigestion by reducing stomach acid. Long-term PPI use has been linked to an increased risk of fractures, nutrient deficiencies, and infections.


Tips for Maximizing Curcumin Absorption

Turmeric has been traditionally used in Southeast Asia to treat stomach discomfort and inflammation. In the United States, it's commonly taken as an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant supplement for conditions like osteoarthritis and irritable bowel syndrome.
The benefits of curcumin, the phytonutrient that gives turmeric its color, are enhanced when consumed with black pepper and fat, according to Dr. Michael Greger, a physician and founder of Nutrition Facts.
Within an hour of eating turmeric, the liver tries to eliminate it as a foreign substance. “The body says ‘this doesn’t look natural,’ and tries to break it down thinking that it must be some sort of toxin, erring on the side of caution,” Dr. Greger told the Epoch Times. But black pepper inhibits this process, increasing curcumin's bioavailability, he added.
Moreover, consuming turmeric with fat allows curcumin to directly enter the bloodstream through the lymphatic system, partly bypassing the liver.
“The best way to do it is a whole food source of fats such as nuts, seeds, and avocado,” Dr. Greger said.
“Fat can increase the bioavailability of curcumin seven to eight fold, while black pepper is 19 fold,” he added.
Dr. Greger suggests adding turmeric with black pepper to your favorite soups and stews. They can also be blended with bananas and cashews to make a golden turmeric smoothie, he noted.
Studies suggesting the existence of toxic metals in black pepper haven't come across his radar, but he advised against the turmeric where traders use lead chromate to enhance the spice’s appearance.
  • Beware of turmeric contaminated with lead
Research has identified the presence of turmeric products with elevated levels of lead on sale in American supermarkets. Additionally, there have been reported incidents of childhood lead poisoning stemming from the consumption of turmeric tainted with contaminants in the U.S.
Several methods can help detect harmful substances like lead chromate and metanil yellow dye in turmeric.
One straightforward approach is the "palm test." Take a pinch of turmeric and rub it in your palm for 10 to 20 seconds. If it's pure, it will leave a yellow stain on your hand.
Another method, recommended by the Indian government, is the "water test." Add a small amount of turmeric to a glass of water without stirring. Pure turmeric will turn the water light yellow, with the turmeric settling at the bottom. In contrast, adulterated turmeric will turn the solution dark yellow.
For detecting metanil dye in turmeric, mix the spice with an acid like lemon juice. If metanil has been added, the acid will change its color to pink.

Study Limitations

While this study shows turmeric's potential for indigestion, some caution is warranted. The symptom scale used may not be the most common, and the measurement frequency raises questions.

For example, how might the results change with more frequent symptom assessments? What could be the cumulative effect on various inflammatory conditions?

The researchers recommend consulting a doctor before using turmeric, as it may interact with medications or cause side effects like allergies or bleeding, especially for those taking blood thinners.