It might not be the first supplement you think about when you’re having digestive issues, but turmeric, or more accurately the active curcuminoid ingredients in turmeric, can have a significant effect on both the health of the gut and the health of those inhabitants of the gut known as the microbiome.
Ayurvedic medicine has used turmeric for hundreds of years as a digestive aid. Western medicine has slowly caught on, with even the World Health Organisation recommending it for the treatment of acid reflux, flatulence and functional dyspepsia from 1999 onwards.(1)
Again, a lot of it comes down to its effective anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. By mediating inflammation, it can help calm the digestive system and relieve the symptoms of Leaky Gut that often occur in a variety of conditions including IBS, acid reflux and colitis.(2)
Once absorbed, it is also found in large quantities in the mucosal layer that coats the gut lining, directly influencing the strength and integrity of the gut wall itself.
But there’s more to curcumin than just the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits. More recent research has shown that curcumin has anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal properties. This means it can directly support the immune system to lessen possible infections that can take hold in the gut. (3)
On top of that, it also supports the community of helpful microorganisms called the microbiome, that live mostly in the large intestine. These trillions of microbes are responsible for a large part of our digestive health. If they’re not happy, we often know about it with symptoms such as bloating, flatulence, disrupted bowel movements and even poor skin health! But scientists have shown that curcumin can directly influence the variety of bacterial species in the microbial community, increasing the numbers and types of helpful microbes whilst simultaneously reducing the numbers and species of harmful bacteria. One knock-on effect of decreasing these harmful bacteria is that it also reduces significantly the amount of bacterial lipopolysaccharide levels, which have been shown to be able to cross the gut wall into the bloodstream and cause problems such as autoimmunity, depression and obesity or even septic shock.(4)
Another interesting area of research looks at the effect of curcumin on acid and bile production. One study compared taking curcumin with lansoprazole, a proton pump inhibitor, and concluded that curcumin could effectively prevent the damage to the mucosal layer in the oesophagus caused by acute reflux. This protective ability is thought to be due to curcumin’s strong antioxidant properties. (5,6)
Numerous scientific studies have demonstrated that curcumin can exert beneficial effects all the way down through the digestive tract. Whether you are currently suffering from a digestive issue or you just want to keep your intestines humming along optimally, taking a turmeric supplement consistently may be the key to unlocking that good gut feeling.