Much like other things stocked in the local grocery store that have recently been branded "super foods," turmeric has been moving on up in the world.
The spice has been around for thousands of years, and is one of the many flavorsome ingredients used to make curry so aromatic and tasty. It has also been used in many Eastern holistic remedies over the past few centuries. The main active ingredient of turmeric is curcumin, which, according to Shared, has been credited by medical professionals for the spice's health benefits.
But while experts have previously believed the spice can protect against heart disease, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, and even Alzheimer's disease, a new study actually links it to a serious health concern.
A 71-year-old woman who had been taking turmeric supplements in an effort to maintain her heart health instead developed autoimmune hepatitis. The condition is defined as "liver inflammation that occurs when your body's immune system turns against liver cells," and could result in cirrhosis and liver failure.
The woman started taking the supplements after reading a study that indicated the spice was lowering the risk of strokes in animals. Eight months in, however, blood tests revealed that she had elevated levels of liver enzymes.
When the woman admitted to her doctors that she had been taking turmeric supplements, they concluded that it was very likely the cause of her illness, and that there may even be actual evidence in her body that the spice had made her so sick.
"A substance that looked like turmeric was seen in areas of the liver injury, although we could not determine with certainty if it was turmeric," co-author of the report Janet Funk, MD, a professor at the University of Arizona, said.
Although the 71-year-old is the first to be diagnosed with such a serious illness that could be linked to her taking of turmeric supplements, Funk and her team's study reviewed around 35 other studies that showed approximately 5 percent of the participants of those studies had suffered from other liver problems that could be related to the consumption of the spice.
While this does show a tentative link, researchers concede that other major factors, including age, consumption of alcohol, a contaminated supplement, or reaction with other medicines, could also be causing the liver complaints as opposed to the turmeric.
Experts are warning that those who do take turmeric supplements should not be alarmed, as this particular study was based on a patient report, rather than an independent scientific study.
"Always let you health care providers know what you are taking, including over the counter supplements," advises Funk. "Natural is not synonymous with safe. Many popular medications are derived from plants. Both can be associated with side effects."