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A good treatment option for indigestion may already be in your spice rack, according to a new study.
The study, published Monday in the medical journal BMJ, compared how more than 150 people with dyspepsia, or indigestion, responded to either the drug omeprazole, turmeric — which contains the compound curcumin — or a combination of the two.
Omeprazole is a common medication used to treat certain heart and esophagus problems by reducing acid in the stomach, according to the Mayo Clinic.
At days 28 and 56 of treatment, the people in the study were evaluated for their symptoms — which can include stomach pain, bloating, nausea or an early feeling of fullness – using the Severity of Dyspepsia Assessment, a questionnaire that rates the severity of indigestion.
Researchers found no significant differences in the symptoms of the groups taking the drug, turmeric or the combination of the two, according to the study.
“In addition to anti-inflammatory and antioxidant purposes, curcumin/turmeric could be an option for treating dyspepsia with comparable efficacy to omeprazole,” said lead study author Dr. Krit Pongpirul, associate professor in the department of preventive and social medicine at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand.
Turmeric has been used by people in Southeast Asia to treat stomach discomfort and other inflammatory conditions, Pongpirul said. Its medicinal use dates back hundreds of years, according to a 2017 study.
In the United States, its primary medicinal use has been as an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant dietary supplement to relieve osteoarthritis and irritable bowel syndrome, he added.
But this is the first clinical trial that directly compares curcumin/turmeric to omeprazole in treating dyspepsia, Pongpirul said.
Questions about tumeric’s impact
It makes sense that research would investigate turmeric’s impact on indigestion, because its compound curcumin has been studied in a wide variety of inflammatory conditions, including inflammatory bowel disease and arthritis, said Dr. Yuying Luo, a gastroenterologist and assistant professor of gastroenterology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City.
Some studies have shown that curcumin was helpful in conjunction with other medications, she added.
But there were some questions Luo had about the new study.
The scale that the researchers used to measure symptoms is not the most common one used for assessing improvement of indigestion, she said.
Luo would also like to see what the results would be if symptoms were measured more frequently.
“I don’t think this one study alone is enough for me to say, ‘I recommend this,’” she said. “Proceed with caution.”
But because there’s a lot of ongoing research investigating the compound’s impact on different inflammatory conditions, more insights could be close at hand, Luo added.
“Curcumin is not going away,” she said.
Should you start taking tumeric?
Should you up the turmeric in your diet for better digestion? Talk to your doctor first, Luo said.
There have been a few case studies of curcumin and liver injury, and it is important to make sure turmeric doesn’t interact poorly with any of the other medications you are on, she added.
“Consumers should be aware of side effects of curcumin extracts such as allergy and bleeding risk, especially for those who take anticoagulant or antiplatelet medications,” Pongpirul said.
That said, curcumin and turmeric is “generally considered safe when consumed in the amounts typically found in food,” he added.
Typically, turmeric spices contain around 3% curcumin, according to a 2009 study.
The dose of 2 grams given in this study is relatively low compared to extracts commonly found in curcumin supplements, Pongpirul said.
It may not be necessary to take both turmeric and omeprazole together if just taking one or the other works similarly to reduce risk of side effects, he said.
Although she needs to see more studies before she starts recommending turmeric as a treatment, Luo did say that she thinks it makes sense to talk with your doctor about if you should try it in addition to your medications.
She does add a caveat, however: People trying these alternatives should give them each two to four weeks to see what the full impact is.
“If it is helpful, that’s wonderful,” Luo added. “If not, that’s the tough part of treating disorders … not all patients are the same and have the same response to medication.”
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Daisy Hips is a science communicator who brings the wonders of the natural world to readers. Her articles explore breakthroughs in various scientific disciplines, from space exploration to environmental conservation. Daisy is also an advocate for science education and enjoys stargazing in her spare time.