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Turmeric Supplements Linked To Serious Liver Disease, Reveals New Report

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Like coconut oil and matcha, turmeric has been having a major moment in the wellness world.

The spice, a key ingredient in curry powder, has been around for thousands of years and has been a component of many Eastern holistic remedies .

Turmeric, which comes from a plant of the same name, boasts curcumin as its main active ingredient, which is why experts have touted its health benefits.

Apparently, curcumin's ability to block the enzymes that cause inflammation also helps in relieving pain. It is also believed to have the ability to protect against heart disease, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and even Alzheimer's disease. Some experts even argue that turmeric helps detox the liver and keep it healthy, alleviate colds, and certain skin conditions.

However, a new startling report has just revealed a bitter truth about turmeric, and it turns out, the spice may cause some irreparable damage to your health.

According to a case detailed in BMJ Case Reports this past September, the spice may be to blame for the severe liver damage one elderly woman has suffered.

The 71-year-old was reportedly taking turmeric supplements to maintain a healthy heart after reading a study in animals that showed that turmeric may prevent strokes, but she ended up developing autoimmune hepatitis.

The Mayo Clinic defines the condition as "liver inflammation that occurs when your body's immune system turns against liver cells." This form of hepatitis could eventually cause cirrhosis and liver failure.

Eight months into taking the supplements, a blood test revealed that the woman has elevated levels of liver enzymes and she was diagnosed with the condition.

Despite her serious diagnosis and online search that revealed a link between turmeric supplements and liver problems, the woman did not immediately reveal to her doctors that she was taking turmeric supplements.

When she finally came clean, the doctors concluded that the turmeric played a role in the patient's illness, especially since there may have been physical evidence.

"A substance that looked like turmeric was seen in areas of the liver injury, although we could not determine with certainty if it was turmeric,” co-author of the report Janet Funk, MD, a professor at the University of Arizona, told Prevention.

Dr. Janet Funk
Dr. Janet Funk conducts research on spices like ginger and turmeric.University of Arizona News

While this woman's case is the first reported instance of autoimmune hepatitis linked to turmeric use, a review of 35 previous studies by Funk and her team showed that about five percent of the participants suffered liver problems linked to the spice.

The researchers believe other factors, such as age, consumption of alcohol, a contaminated supplement, or reaction with other medicines, could explain why some people develop liver conditions after taking turmeric pills.

Other experts are advising people to not be alarmed just yet as this new development was based on a patient's report, not a medical study with a large enough sample size.

However, what this study highlights is the importance of consulting with a doctor before you start a new supplement. They may seem natural and harmless, but like medication, you may need to be monitored for any side effects.

Turmeric
There is very little evidence about the health benefits of turmeric. Dr. Funk advises patients to consult with their doctors before starting a new supplement routine.Mamta Popat/Arizona Daily Star/Tucson.com

“Always let you health care providers know what you are taking, including over the counter supplements,” advises Funk. “Natural is not synonymous with safe. Many popular medications are derived from plants. Both can be associated with side effects.”

As far as incorporating the spice into your cooking, you can keep doing it. Curcumin only makes up around 3% of the spice, so it should pose no threat to your health at all when added to your favorite dishes.

Do you take turmeric supplements?

Awa has been writing for Shared for 3 years. She is a serial snacker who unapologetically loves celebrity gossip. Drop her a line at awa@shared.com.