Turmeric, the orange-colored, natural spice is commonly used by cooks for seasoning rice or bean dishes, soups, stews, sauces and even making cakes.
It has been claimed to improve health in a variety of ways including managing metabolic syndrome, inflammatory conditions, joint pain, arthritis, high levels of bad fats in the blood, and other disorders due to its bioactive compound curcumin.
Now, researchers in Thailand say it can be as effective as omeprazole – a drug used to reduce excess stomach acid – for treating indigestion symptoms.
They have just published the first study of its kind in the journal BMJ Evidence-Based Medicine under the title “Curcumin and proton pump inhibitors for functional dyspepsia: A randomized, double-blind controlled trial.”
Dyspepsia is a common disorder, for which patients usually try behavioral and diet modifications and over-the-counter drugs before seeing a physician, who will probably prescribe omeprazole. This drug is a proton pump inhibitor (PPI) used to treat functional dyspepsia, the symptoms of which include feeling excessively full after food (postprandial fullness), feeling full after only a little food (early satiety), and pain and/or burning sensation in the stomach and/or food pipe (epigastric pain).
Turmeric as medicine
However long-term use of PPIs has been linked to an increased risk of bone fractures, inadequate micronutrients, and a heightened risk of infections.
Seventeen Thai researchers participated, but Prof. Krit Pongpirul at the Center of Excellence in Preventive and Integrative Medicine and at Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Medicine was the corresponding author.
Turmeric is derived from the root of the Curcuma longa plant. It hasn’t been clear how well it compares with conventional drugs for indigestion, largely because there have been no head-to-head studies.
The researchers randomly assigned 206 patients aged 18 to 70 with recurrent upset stomach (functional dyspepsia) of unknown cause, recruited from hospitals in Thailand between 2019 and 2021, to one of three treatment groups for a period of 28 days. These were: turmeric (two large 250 mg. capsules of curcumin four times a day) and one small placebo capsule (69 patients); omeprazole (one small, 20 mg. capsule daily, and two large placebo capsules four times a day (68 patients); and turmeric plus omeprazole (69 patients). Patients in all three groups had similar clinical characteristics and indigestion scores and were reassessed after 28 days and then again after 56 days.
Their scores indicated significant reductions in the severity of symptoms by the 28th day for pain and other symptoms for those in the combined curcumin-alone, and omeprazole-alone groups. These improvements were even stronger after 56 days for pain and other symptoms. No serious side effects were reported, although liver function tests indicated some level of deterioration among curcumin users who were overweight. Although larger, long-term studies are needed, the researchers concluded that their multicenter, randomized, controlled trial provides highly reliable evidence for the treatment of functional dyspepsia, adding that “the new findings from our study may justify considering curcumin in clinical practice.