By Dr. Atli Arnarson
Turmeric is a popular yellow spice originating from southern Asia. It's an essential ingredient in many Indian dishes.
It's also consumed for its health benefits. Supplements of turmeric or curcumin—its main active ingredient—are becoming increasingly common.
However, some people are concerned about the possible side effects of high-dose turmeric and curcumin supplements. This review looks into the evidence.
What Is Turmeric?
Turmeric, also known by the scientific name Curcuma longa, is an ancient Indian spice, medicinal herb and food dye in the ginger family.
Its root stalks, called rhizomes, are bright yellow or orange. They're usually dried and ground into powder, and are rich in curcuminoids, plant compounds that are responsible for turmeric's characteristic color.
Turmeric is an essential ingredient in Indian curries, with its taste described as bitter and peppery. Nearly all of the world's turmeric is grown and consumed in India.
It mainly consists of carbs, mostly starch and fiber. However, like all spices, turmeric contains numerous plant compounds and nutrients.
The main active compounds in turmeric are the curcuminoids. They are responsible for turmeric's orange-yellow color and most of its health benefits.
The most widely studied curcuminoid is curcumin, which may constitute around 3 percent of turmeric (1).
Additionally, commercial turmeric or curcumin powders usually contain additives. These include silicon dioxide, an anti-caking agent that prevents clumping.
Some cheap turmeric powders may also contain illegal additives that are not listed on the labels. Turmeric adulteration is discussed in more detail below.
Summary: Turmeric is a popular, yellow-orange spice. It is also used as a food dye and dietary supplement. The compound curcumin is thought to be responsible for most of its health benefits.
Why Do People Eat Turmeric?
Turmeric is used as a spice and food dye, adding both flavor and color to food.
But it has also been consumed for its health benefits, all of which have been attributed to curcumin, its main active ingredient.
Curcumin supplements have the following benefits, to name a few:
• Improved antioxidant status: Curcumin and other curcuminoids are powerful antioxidants that may improve your antioxidant status (3).
• Reduced heart attack risk: They may also lower the risk of heart attacks, possibly through their anti-inflammatory effects (6).
This article contains more info about the health benefits of turmeric.
Summary: In addition to using turmeric as a spice and food dye, people eat it for its health benefits.
Adverse Effects of Turmeric and Curcumin
Yet, some people may experience side effects when they take them in large doses as supplements.
Additionally, not all commercial turmeric powders are pure. Some are adulterated with cheaper and potentially toxic ingredients not listed on the label.
Eating turmeric that contains wheat, barley or rye flour will cause adverse symptoms in people with gluten intolerance or celiac disease.
Some turmeric powders may also contain questionable food colorants, which are added to improve color when turmeric powders are diluted with flour.
One food colorant frequently used in India is metanil yellow, also called acid yellow 36. Animal studies show that metanil yellow may cause cancer and neurological damage when consumed in high amounts (11, 12, 13).
While the toxic effects of metanil yellow have not been investigated in humans, it's illegal to use in the United States and Europe.
Summary: Pure turmeric is considered safe for most people. However, turmeric powders may sometimes be adulterated with cheap fillers, such as wheat starch and questionable food colorants. They may even contain lead.
Curcumin supplements are considered safe and no adverse side effects have been reported at low doses.
One study in 10 adults found that taking 490 mg of curcumin daily for a week caused no side effects (16).
Yet, a small proportion of people may experience some mild side effects at higher doses. These may include:
• Skin rash: People have reported a skin rash after taking a dose of 8,000 mg of curcumin or more, but this seems to be very rare (20).
Extremely high doses of 1,170 mg per pound (2,600 mg/kg) of body weight daily for 13 weeks, or up to two years, may cause some serious side effects in rats.
These included an increase in liver size, stained fur, stomach ulcers, inflammation and an increased risk of intestinal or liver cancer (22).
However, the dose makes the poison. There is currently no evidence that lower amounts of curcumin cause serious side effects in humans when taken over short periods, though human studies on the long-term effects are lacking.
Summary: High doses of curcumin may cause mild side effects in some people, but they are generally considered safe. The long-term effects of taking curcumin in humans are unknown.
How Much Is Too Much?
There are no official recommendations for the intake of turmeric, and the maximum tolerable intake level has not been identified.
However, as a general rule, you should not exceed the dosage recommendations you find on supplement labels.
On the other hand, there are some official guidelines for the intake of curcumin.
The Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives set the acceptable dietary intake as 1.4 mg per pound (3 mg/kg) of body weight per day (23).
For a 178-pound (81-kg) man, this would translate into 239 mg per day.
Summary: There are no official guidelines for the intake of turmeric, but the acceptable intake level for curcumin is 1.4 mg per pound (3 mg/kg) of body weight.
How to Ensure Turmeric Quality
Some turmeric powders contain cheap fillers not mentioned on the labels.
These adulterated powders are difficult to identify without a chemical analysis. Your best bet is to choose turmeric that has been certified by a reputable agency.
For instance, you could look for turmeric that has been certified organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
If you are taking turmeric or curcumin supplements, select supplements that have a quality certification by a third party. Several companies provide quality certifications for supplement manufacturers.
These include NSF International, Informed Choice and the US Pharmacopeial Convention. Look for their seal on the packaging of products, or go to their websites to see what supplements they've certified.
Summary: Buy your turmeric and curcumin supplements from trustworthy suppliers and choose products that are certified by a reputable third party.
The Bottom Line
Turmeric and curcumin supplements do not seem to have any serious side effects.
However, some people may be prone to mild discomfort, such as headaches or diarrhea, at high doses.
Keep in mind that low-quality turmeric may be adulterated with cheap fillers, such as wheat starch, which will cause adverse symptoms in people with gluten intolerance.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Authority Nutrition.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Alexandra Rowles
Oregano is a fragrant herb that's best known as an ingredient in Italian food.
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By Emily Grubert
Natural gas is a versatile fossil fuel that accounts for about a third of U.S. energy use. Although it produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants than coal or oil, natural gas is a major contributor to climate change, an urgent global problem. Reducing emissions from the natural gas system is especially challenging because natural gas is used roughly equally for electricity, heating, and industrial applications.
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What RNG Is and Why it Matters<p>Most equipment that uses energy can only use a single kind of fuel, but the fuel might come from different resources. For example, you can't charge your computer with gasoline, but it can run on electricity generated from coal, natural gas or solar power.</p><p>Natural gas is almost pure methane, <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/" target="_blank">currently sourced</a> from raw, fossil natural gas produced from <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/where-our-natural-gas-comes-from.php" target="_blank">deposits deep underground</a>. But methane could come from renewable resources, too.</p><p><span></span>Two main methane sources could be used to make RNG. First is <a href="https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/inventory-us-greenhouse-gas-emissions-and-sinks" target="_blank">biogenic methane</a>, produced by bacteria that digest organic materials in manure, landfills and wastewater. Wastewater treatment plants, landfills and dairy farms have captured and used biogenic methane as an energy resource for <a href="http://emilygrubert.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/eia_860_2017_map.html" target="_blank">decades</a>, in a form usually called <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/biomass/landfill-gas-and-biogas.php" target="_blank">biogas</a>.</p><p>Some biogenic methane is generated naturally when organic materials break down without oxygen. Burning it for energy can be beneficial for the climate if doing so prevents methane from escaping to the atmosphere.</p>
Renewable Isn’t Always Sustainable<p>If RNG could be a renewable replacement for fossil natural gas, why not move ahead? Consumers have shown that they are <a href="https://www.nrel.gov/analysis/green-power.html" target="_blank">willing to buy renewable electricity</a>, so we might expect similar enthusiasm for RNG.</p><p>The key issue is that methane isn't just a fuel – it's also a <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/ghg_report/ghg_overview.php" target="_blank">potent greenhouse gas</a> that contributes to climate change. Any methane that is manufactured intentionally, whether from biogenic or other sources, will contribute to climate change if it enters the atmosphere.</p><p>And <a href="http://doi.org/10.1126/science.aar7204" target="_blank">releases</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wasman.2019.07.029" target="_blank">will happen</a>, from newly built production systems and <a href="https://theconversation.com/why-methane-emissions-matter-to-climate-change-5-questions-answered-122684" target="_blank">existing, leaky transportation and user infrastructure</a>. For example, the moment you smell gas before the pilot light on a stove lights the ring? That's methane leakage, and it contributes to climate change.</p><p>To be clear, RNG is almost certainly better for the climate than fossil natural gas because byproducts of burning RNG won't contribute to climate change. But doing somewhat better than existing systems is no longer enough to respond to the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2923" target="_blank">urgency</a> of climate change. The world's <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/" target="_blank">primary international body on climate change</a> suggests we need to decarbonize by 2030 to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.</p>
Scant Climate Benefits<p><a href="https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/ab9335/meta" target="_blank">My recent research</a> suggests that for a system large enough to displace a lot of fossil natural gas, RNG is probably not as good for the climate as <a href="https://investor.southerncompany.com/information-for-investors/latest-news/latest-news-releases/press-release-details/2020/Southern-Company-Gas-grows-leadership-team-to-focus-on-climate-action-innovation-and-renewable-natural-gas-strategy/default.aspx" target="_blank">is publicly claimed</a>. Although RNG has lower climate impact than its fossil counterpart, likely high demand and methane leakage mean that it probably will contribute to climate change. In contrast, renewable sources such as wind and solar energy do not <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/carbon/" target="_blank">emit climate pollution directly</a>.</p><p>What's more, creating a large RNG system would require building mostly new production infrastructure, since RNG comes from different sources than fossil natural gas. Such investments are both long-term commitments and opportunity costs. They would devote money, political will and infrastructure investments to RNG instead of alternatives that could achieve a zero greenhouse gas emission goal.</p><p>When climate change first <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/1988/06/24/us/global-warming-has-begun-expert-tells-senate.html" target="_blank">broke into the political conversation</a> in the late 1980s, investing in long-lived systems with low but non-zero greenhouse gas emissions was still compatible with aggressive climate goals. Now, zero greenhouse gas emissions is the target, and my research suggests that large deployments of RNG likely won't meet that goal.</p>
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By Charli Shield
When an elephant dies in the wild, it's not uncommon to later find its bones scattered throughout the surrounding landscape.
Elephant Burial Grounds<p>Highly social creatures that form deep familial bonds, elephants have long been observed gathering at the site where a peer or family member has died — often spending hours, even days, quietly investigating the bodies or the bones of other dead elephants.</p><p>Although the popular idea that dying elephants are instinctively drawn to special communal graves — so-called "elephant graveyards" — is a myth, their tendency to go out of their way to visit the bones and tusks of the deceased isn't unlike human rituals at graveyards, says animal psychologist Karen McComb.</p><p>"They spend a lot of time touching and smelling skulls and ivory, placing the soles of their feet gently on top of them, and also lifting them up with their trunks," McComb, who's been studying African elephants for 25 years in Kenya's Amboseli National Park, told DW.</p><p>The most striking part of watching an elephant experience loss, Poole recalls, is the quietude. She still remembers one of the first elephant deaths she witnessed; a mother who birthed a stillborn calf. That elephant stayed with its baby for two days, trying to lift it and defending it from vultures and hyenas.</p><p>"I was so struck by the expression on her face and her body. She looked so dejected. It was really like, 'Oh God, these animals grieve…'. It was just so different," Poole told DW. </p>
Witnessing Emotions in Animals<p>Not all scientists are comfortable concluding that elephants grieve. Among the more than 30 reports of elephant reactions to death that Wittemyer co-reviewed in <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10329-019-00766-5" target="_blank">a study published in November 2019</a> were accounts of "enormous variation and nuance" he says. "It can be incredibly involved and intricate for extended periods or can be relatively cursory checks."</p><p>In Wittemyer's own experience, it can be difficult not to attribute some kind of emotional experience to the more involved interactions between elephants and their dead.</p><p>He shares the story of an "extraordinary event" involving the death of a 55 year-old matriarch in Kenya in a protected area that happened to be near his place of work. She was visited by multiple unrelated families while she was dying, including another matriarch that exerted such enormous effort attempting to lift her to her feet that she broke her tusk, which Wittemyer says, is "like breaking a tooth." </p><p><span></span>"It was a remarkable example of this heightened emotional state, it was very clearly a very stressful interaction," he says.</p>
A Different Sensory World<p>One factor that limits our ability to fully grasp the way elephants process and respond to loss is our markedly different sensory experiences of the world.</p><p>An elephant's world is fundamentally olfactory — based on smell. Ours is visual. Previous <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25053675/" target="_blank">research</a> has shown elephants possess the most scent receptors of any mammal, and can <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17949977/" target="_blank">use smell</a> to discern the difference between different human tribes from the same local area.</p><p>That could explain why elephants exhibit such interest in sniffing the bones and tusks of others, as a <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1617198/" target="_blank">2005 study</a> from McCombs highlighted. When presented with the skulls and ivory of long-dead elephants and those from other large herbivores, including rhino and buffalo, McCombs and her team found elephants approached and were specifically attracted to the remains of their own species. </p><p>Without access to the smells an elephant picks up on, Wittemyer says "an enormous amount of stuff" could be missed by humans when studying these behaviors.</p>
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