Why turmeric may be better than medicine at treating indigestion

Long-term use of the most common drug has been linked to increased risk of fractures and infections

Turmeric is derived from the root of the Curcuma longa plant. Getty Images
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A natural compound found in the culinary spice turmeric may be as effective as omeprazole – a drug used to curb excess stomach acid – for treating indigestion symptoms, leaders of a study have suggested.

Turmeric is derived from the root of the Curcuma longa plant.

It contains a naturally active compound called curcumin thought to have anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, and has long been used as a medicinal remedy, including for the treatment of indigestion, in South-East Asia.

Until now, there has been a lack of research into how it compares with conventional medicine in the treatment of indigestion.

For the latest research, 206 patients aged 18-70 with recurrent upset stomach (functional dyspepsia) of unknown cause, were recruited randomly from hospitals in Thailand from 2019 to 2021.

Each person was assigned to one of three treatment groups for 28 days.

These were: turmeric – two large 250mg capsules of curcumin four times a day and one small dummy capsule (69 patients); omeprazole – one small 20mg capsule daily and two large dummy capsules four times a day (68 patients); and turmeric plus omeprazole (69 patients).

Omeprazole is a proton pump inhibitor, or PPI.

PPIs are used to treat functional dyspepsia, the symptoms of which include feeling excessively full after food (postprandial fullness), feeling full up after only a little food (early satiety), and pain and/or burning sensation in the stomach and/or food pipe (epigastric pain).

But long-term use of PPIs has been linked to increased fracture risk, micronutrient deficiencies and a heightened risk of infection, note the researchers.

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Of the 206 patients enrolled, 151 completed the study, with 20 in the curcumin group, 19 in the omeprazole group and 16 in the combined treatment group dropping out.

Patients in all three groups had similar clinical characteristics and indigestion scores at the start of the trial.

They were reassessed after 28 days and again after 56 days.

By day 28, the severity of symptoms was significantly reduced 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 carrying excess weight, the researchers said.

They acknowledged the small sample size of the study, as well as several other limitations, including the short intervention period and lack of long-term monitoring data.

Further larger, long-term studies are needed, they say.

“This multicentre randomised controlled trial provides highly reliable evidence for the treatment of functional dyspepsia,” the researchers concluded, adding that “the new findings from our study may justify considering curcumin in clinical practice”.

Updated: September 11, 2023, 10:30 PM