Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Turmeric - good for what ails you?

I first started reading about turmeric when I started studying nutrition in greater depth last year.  However, I am never one to jump on any drug or supplement band wagon without a great deal of research.  I want to know what it is, what it does, how it works, IF it works and how safe it is.

I've also never bought into the notion that "natural" means safe and effective.  Cyanide, arsenic and getting hit on the head by a dead tree are all natural, but I wouldn't recommend them.  On the other hand I don't disregard natural remedies either.  Too much of our "modern medicine" ignores anything that hasn't been spoon fed by drug companies.  Having suffered through more than my fair share of severe adverse drug reactions, I put no blind trust there either.  In fact, at this point, I am much more inclined to opt for an herbal alternative over prescription drugs.  I've generally found them to be safer and more effective.

Turmeric has been used in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for hundreds of years.  The active ingredients, curcumins, are being extensively researched for myriad ailments from cancer to Alzheimer's.  There are numerous studies showing that it is an effective treatment for osteoarthritis and, at a low dose, is useful in treating stomach and liver issues.  High doses can cause GI issues and may cause liver problems.

One caveat that everyone seems to agree on: Turmeric should not be used by people who have gall bladder obstructions, are on blood thinners or immuno-suppressant drugs.

I would say that you should talk with your vet or doctor about it, but I have yet to find either a vet or a doctor who will take any of this seriously despite all the evidence or is willing to try it.  The one exception there is a vet I took Tanner to over the winter.  She has specialized in herbal medicine, which she combines with modern treatment practices.  We had a number of discussions on the topic and she has had great success with these methods.   Talk to your doctor about it anyways, maybe you'll have better results than I had.

As for research....For a good, brief, easy overview from WebMd click here.

If you want to delve into the research in more depth, PupMed is a good resource.  Just be warned, this is not light reading.  Here are just a tiny fraction of the articles available:  - osteoarthritis study - Curcumin in inflammatory diseases  - Therapeutic Roles of Curcumin: Lessons Learned from Clinical Trials


The quickest, most practical and most reliable source of no-nonsense, unbiased, factual and useful information I have found for using herbal medicines, including turmeric has been here:

I bought a copy on eBay for much less money and have found it to be an excellent resource.


The toughest part of using herbal remedies is finding trustworthy sources of herbs and figuring out dosage.  Beware of internet claims that turmeric (or anything else) is a cure-all and safe for everyone at all doses.  It isn't. 

Typical Internet gobbledygook - sounds good, but not very useful.

I have seen some groups who advocate feeding a dog Tanner's size up to 4 tablespoons of turmeric per day and small horse as much as a cup a day.  While some of the research studies have shown that humans can ingest as much as 8 grams of pure curcumin with no toxicity (that does NOT mean no side effects), I would be very wary of using this at such high doses.  The idea that "if a little is good, a lot must be better" does not apply.

Based on my own personal experience and observations, I have found that:

  • Fairly low doses of turmeric works very well for moderate arthritis or muscle pain.  
  • It does not work well for acute or severe pain. 
  • It generally either works, or it doesn't.  Jacking the dose way up is not useful.

Many people will say that as it is a food, it does not need to be treated like a drug.  I disagree.  When taken on a daily basis at medicinal doses, it should be treated with the care and caution of any drug.  Turmeric is a proven anti-inflammatory and a blood thinner.  I would consider it in the same class as any other NSAID and it should not be combined with other NSAID's.  The only difference is that it is generally much safer and does not have the toxic side effects that some other NSAID's have as long as it is used properly.


Figuring out dosage and sources:

According to Mosby's and most of the research articles I have read, the average human dose is 200-500 mg.  They don't always agree as to whether that is 500 mg of turmeric or 500 mg of pure curcumin.  The amount of curcumin in turmeric will vary depending quality of the root itself and you have to be careful to buy PURE turmeric that has not had the curcumin extracted from it.

I have seen claims of curcumin content of turmeric being anywhere from 2% to 30%.  This is where it can get a bit tricky if you want a precise number.  Since it can be tricky figuring out the right dose, I err on the side of caution.  My best advice on dosage:

  • Start with a very low dose, give it a week.  If it works, great.  Keep it up.  If it causes problems, turmeric may not be for you.  If you notice nothing, try increasing the dose.  If it works, great.  Keep it up.  Repeat this 2 or three times and if it still doesn't work, then it probably isn't going to.  The only other things to try are getting turmeric from another source and trying again or combining it with fresh ground black pepper and coconut oil (keep reading for more about this).  If it still doesn't work, it probably never will

Speaking of sources...The best option is to look for organic turmeric powder.  Generally, the organic stuff has not been messed with and will contain it's full quota of curcumin.  I have had good results buying turmeric from, they are the same company as  They are a supplier of bulk herbs, their website is very plain as is their packaging as they are generally selling to people who will repackage it (and charge much more).  Their prices are very good and I have never had a problem with them.  They sell turmeric powder for $5.25/lb (which will last Ramsey at least 6 months).  To get it in capsule form, I have had good results from Swanson's.

I have seen excellent results feeding Ramsey one teaspoon of this pure, organic turmeric powder per day.  RB's other horses, who both have some arthritis, are doing very well on 4 teaspoons per day.  Tanner is doing remarkably well on 360 mg turmeric powder per day (half a capsule).


Other info:  There is some evidence that combining turmeric with black pepper and an omega 3 or omega neutral oil such as cold-pressed linseed oil or coconut oil will increase the effectiveness of the turmeric.  The pepper contains piperine, which is known to increase the effectiveness of many drugs.  You want to be careful with it if you take any other medications. 

I have not tried this myself yet, but I might at some point.  So far, I have found that the pure turmeric by itself has worked as well as I need it to. 


My own case studies:)

Tanner weighs 50 pounds, he is 11 years old and has arthritis in most of his joints and his spine.  When he was about 8 months old, he had surgery on his left shoulder for OCD, a developmental disorder that causes the cartilage to break down.  I was told then that arthritis was inevitable and not to expect much past 6-8 years.   He has been on combination joint supplements all of his life, he also gets fish oil to provide omega 3.  I do believe that joint supplements work, but only if started at a young age before arthritis develops.

Tanner is generally sound, but has had numerous episodes of sudden, intense lameness.  These are usually triggered by some small injury to one foot or leg which causes him to limp.  If he limps on one leg, he becomes lame everywhere else.  He also suffers from extreme muscle cramps in very cold weather that will also trigger these episodes.  I am very careful to not let him get too cold, not to let him play too hard and we now avoid hiking on steep hills.  I generally treat his pain episodes with rimadyl and/or tramadol.  He can only tolerate these drugs for a couple of days though before they make him ill.

Last year, he started having more trouble with overall body soreness and began having difficulty jumping into my car or onto the couch.  He has a very sensitive stomach so when I decided to try the turmeric for him, I started with a very low dose just once per day.  He gets HALF of one of these capsules once per day, which equates to 360 mg of turmeric powder....

He has not had a single episode of severe lameness since starting this last year.  He had NO muscle spasms this winter despite it being such a brutal winter.  He has no trouble jumping into my car or on the couch and generally moves much better.  If you were to meet him today, you would never know that he ever has a problem.

Just a couple of weeks ago, he did wrench his shoulder and come up lame.  I gave him 2 doses of Rimadyl and he was fine.  The lameness in his shoulder did NOT cause a body-wide pain episode.

The turmeric does not bother his stomach in any way. 

If his symptoms worsen as he ages, I will try increasing the dose to twice per day and may go as high as a full capsule two times per day IF he shows no GI upset. I may also try combining the low-dose turmeric with black pepper and coconut oil, but I will not do so until he needs it.


Scout belongs to Farm Buddy and is one of Tanner's litter-mates.  He also has arthritis and hip problems worse than Tanner's.  Last year, his hips had degraded to the point of severe muscle wasting and weakness, particularly on the left side.  He was put on a high dose of Previcox, which helped him tremendously.  The absence of pain allowed him to move more normally and regain most of the lost muscle.  However, he started showing signs that the Previcox was losing some of its effectiveness.  He was switched to turmeric and is doing well.  He has maintained the regained muscle condition and is able to move freely. 


Hawkeye is one of Riding Buddy's horses and one of the horses whose feet I am working on (I just realized that I have not written an update on him in eons...).  Hawkeye is a 16 year old Tennessee Walking Horse and is one of the horses who started me on my journey into farrier work.  He suffered from several years of chronic foot pain due to severe white line disease and a complete collapse of hoof capsule integrity.  His feet are doing very well now and look great, but he still suffers from body-wide muscle pain and arthritis in his knees.  He is now getting 4 teaspoons of turmeric per day, split into two feedings and his movement and overall demeanor have improved markedly.  He is moving out very freely and had no trouble on our Friday ride - 2 hours over very steep hills and rough terrain.


Izolde is Riding Buddy's other horse, I don't think I have written about her before.  She is a 27 year old Arab mare...
She is retired except for the very rare walk in the woods.  She is in good health, but has some arthritis in her knees - what you'd expect at 27.  I think she is getting 3 teaspoons of turmeric per day and showed no sign of lameness when we went for a ride a few weeks ago.


Then there is Ramsey, who started it all.  For anyone not familiar with Ramsey's life or death trip to Cornell, surgery, recovery, etc., just go to November of 2012 in the archive on the right to find out about that saga.

As a result of all of the above, Ramsey developed arthritis in his fetlock before he was a year old.  The vets prescribed Previcox for him, which did help.  However, having to rely on those kinds of drugs, with all of their associated side effects and toxicity, at such a young age really bothered me.  Not only will long term use of such drugs at such an early age cause problems later on and most likely shorten his life span, but they leave no place to go, medicinally, if the condition worsens.  He is why I decided to try the turmeric and I am glad I did.  He gets one teaspoon per day and shows no sign of lameness.

I believe that Ramsey has a good chance of halting, and maybe even reversing, this arthritis as long as his biomechanics are good.  Even in adults, bone regenerates itself approximately every 5 years.  It happens much faster when young.  The key to healthy bone growth is a balanced diet and healthy movement.  If he limps, his bones won't grow properly, which is just one reason for making sure he stays as pain free as possible.  I also just don't want him to be in pain.  The turmeric has helped without any of the negatives of prescription drugs.


No one has shown any signs of GI upset and, so far, they all love the taste.


One other aspect of turmeric that I have seen in several scientific papers that I find very intriguing is the possibility that it can help to remove excess iron form the liver.  Iron overload is a big problem for horses, it can lead to insulin resistance.
Horses can not excrete iron.  If they ingest too much of it, and nearly all of them do because it is extremely overabundant in ALL their food, it gets stored in the liver.  Over time, it builds up and can reach toxic levels.  Signs of iron overload include poor hoof quality, anemia, faded coat, frequent abscesses, thrush that won't go away with treatment and insulin resistance.  

Ironically, we generally make this worse by feeding supplements.  If you feed a supplement to your horse, go read the label, chances are it has iron in it.  Why does it have iron in it if the horse doesn't need it?  Because we expect it to be there.  Humans often need more iron in their diets and few of us would buy a multi-vitamin if it did NOT have iron in it.  We wouldn't want anything less for our beloved horses right?  Supplement manufacturers are in the business to sell supplements.  They make what sells, which is not the same as making what the horse needs.  

An average size horse requires about 350 mg of iron per day, give or take a bit depending on how much work they get.  My pasture alone provides nearly 2500 mg of iron per day and that is very common.  Iron levels on the west coast tend to be even higher, sometimes supplying as much as 10,000 mg a day.  
I'll be looking for more research on this topic.  If turmeric can help get rid of some of that excess iron, I'm all for it.  


  1. Very interesting! Thanks for being so thorough in sharing.

  2. You rock! Absolutely amazing post. I can't believe how much work must have gone into it. Thank you for sharing it with us. BESIDES the turmeric info, I learned two totally new and useful things. I had no idea bone regenerates (however slowly) in adults (um, yay!) and I also didn't know that too much iron has so many bad consequences for horses. We have iron in our water. The horses' troughs get an actual iron sludge in them if not cleaned out. Every one of them is a pony at risk of insulin resistance, hoof problems, etc.. I've got a lot to think about now. Thank you! And in return I'll offer you some cute cat pictures on my blog???? No? Yeah, well, just thanks then.

  3. Thanks for taking the time to share this wealth of information!! I can see why this high interest turmeric post took a while, it is very thorough & well put together. I am going to look into turmeric for our older dogs arthritis, who has some symptoms similar to Scouts.

  4. Very interesting post. I need to do some additional reading on the medicinal aspects.

    The only use I knew for tumeric was as a 'spice' that is used in pickles and mustard. I don't know the quality of the little spice bottles I purchase at the grocery store, but it does add some nice color to the refridgerator pickles I make during the summer.

    M in NC

  5. For equine warts, applying a mixture of desitin, mustard powder and tumeric does the trick.

  6. So very glad this is working for Tanner and if ever in need (I have all those old retired dogs you know) I found an herbal called Inflapotion from Glacier Peak Holistics and it has done wonders for my old stiff crew including Dot who has spondylosis (fusing of the spine). I totally agree though, just because it is herbal doesn't mean more is best, I always believe less is more and start with the smallest possible.

  7. Wow, a tremendous amount of information. You are a great researcher.

  8. One caveat for turmeric is that it is high sulphur and raises thiols so for people with sulphur issues, such as those with the CBS gene mutation, it is a no no. I had a quack put me on tonnes of the stuff and he just wouldn't believe me when I told him it made me get bad anxiety, like it was supposed to work for every single person. Nothing is perfect for everyone! Years later when I had the Yasko methylation panel done I found out why. CBS, plus other mutations that made the CBS effect even stronger.

  9. Good work on the research articles. I have helped my neighbor also harvest yarrow, St. John's Wort, and plantain.
    They all have fantastic properties that are useful in herbal medicine.
    I use tinctures that we've made of different herbs and I must say since I started, I didn't have a sniffle all last year while having them.
    Hubby alas cannot take them, his list of meds from the VA are astounding and we have no idea what will mess with what.

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