Why and How I Starting Taking a Turmeric Supplement

I'm not one of those trainers who pushes supplements. Whenever possible, I try to get my vitamins and nutrients from real food. I do take a handful of supplements that have been recommended to me by knowledgable doctors I (a multi vitamin, prostate support, DHEA and a few others) as well as creatine and branch chain amino acids. I have noticed that as I inch closer to 40 my body is changing. My joints get more sore, recovery from tough workouts can take longer and sometimes my brain feels foggy. All normal stuff that smart people I trust have told me turmeric can help with. So I did what any logical person these days would do. I crowd sourced it to social media and cross referenced it with scholarly research and got a bevy of solid advice I'm going to share with you. Please note, I'm not a doctor or nutritionist. I'm just a smart trainer with a certification in exercise nutrition. Do your own research and talk to your doctor before starting any supplements you read about on the Internet. Even on my blog. 

Background 

Below are the highlights of a fascinating dialogue that happened on my Facebook page earlier this month where holistic nutritionists, hobbyists, trainers, yoga/pilates instructors and medical professionals all chimed in. Click below to read the 60+ comments and recommendations or keep reading for the quick and dirty version of what I took away. Don't trust Facebook? Good point. Here is a great summary from the National Institutes of Health on lessons learned from extensive clinical trials. 

How Does Turmeric Help?

This is a great summary of 10 of the top benefits of turmeric. In a nutshell, here are the highlights I think are most important in today's world.

  1. Anti-inflammatory: today's diet is heavy on foods that cause inflammation which is known to lead to loads of health problems. Many of us need to restore balance by eating (and perhaps supplementing with) anti-inflammatory foods (like turmeric). Anti-inflammatories can help with joint pain and avoid or reduce the symptoms of Arthritis. 
  2. Brain Function: the research is convincing that turmeric can improve brain functioning and help stave off the onset and impact of Alzheimer's. 
  3. Gut, Heart and Immune System: studies have indicated benefits to all these vital systems as well as cancer fighting potential. 

How to Use Turmeric: Good, Better, Best

Here's where it always gets tricky. Research doesn't live in a vacuum and we're constantly learning and tweaking the "ideal" way to supplement. Science and nutrition change as we learn. There are different approaches or "ideals" for turmeric supplementation. We do know that in order to aid with absorption we need to pair turmeric with black pepper. Most high quality supplements (including Solgar and Gaia) include black pepper now. And it's pretty clear that absorption improves when paired with a base like coconut oil or ginger. But some of us might not be down for that based on our dietary needs (if we're watching our caloric/fat intake). So we have some choices depending on our needs.

  • Good: Start with a high quality capsule supplement that includes black pepper. Solgar and Gaia appear to be the best. I take Gaia. This is enough for me. 
  • Better: Add ginger to the above (either through a high quality ginger chew or by adding real/fresh ginger to your morning smoothie or meal). 
  • "Best": Skip the capsules/supplements and eat real turmeric through your diet either from a powdered spice or grated fresh. This is out of reach for some of us for practical reasons. Lots of folks like to make a smoothie-like concoction with coconut milk, turmeric, black pepper and other ingredients and drink it daily (though they warn you have to brush your teeth right after). Ain't nobody got time for that in my house. But more power to you if that's your jam. 
  • Other: There are other ways besides capsules, powdered and fresh turmeric. There are teas. There are extracts. This piece from LiveStrong.com talks about some of them. 

Are There Dangers/Side Effects?

There are always dangers/side effects. Some folks experience nausea, diarrhea, liver issues and other negative effects. As I stated before, talk to your doctor before starting any supplement regime and listen to your body.