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Turmeric and Epilepsy: Can It Help With Seizures?

Medically reviewed by Lisa Booth, RDN
Posted on February 23, 2024

When you hear some people talking about turmeric, it sounds like there’s nothing this spice can’t do, from fighting inflammation to helping prevent cancer. This may lead you to wonder whether it can also help people who are living with epilepsy.

    Scientists have wondered the same thing. While there haven’t been any clinical trials involving people, researchers have studied the anti-seizure effect of turmeric in animal models, such as mice, rats, and fish.

    Continue reading to learn more about turmeric and what the science says about whether it can help with seizure control.

    What Is Turmeric?

    Turmeric comes from a plant native to Southeast Asia that is related to ginger, called Curcuma longa. It’s used as a spice in cooking and as a supplement in traditional medicine. The spice comes from the underground stem (called a rhizome) of the plant.

    You can find turmeric in foods cooked with a spice mix known as curry powder, which is commonly used in Indian dishes. Turmeric has also been used in tea, drinks, and cosmetics. The spice is also available as a dietary supplement in the form of tablets, capsules, or gummies.

    Curcumin is the active component of turmeric that gives turmeric its yellow color. Curcumin’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties help support its health benefits. Anti-inflammatories can help reduce swelling, discoloration, and pain caused by injuries. Natural anti-inflammatories like curcumin also help manage inflammatory conditions such as arthritis or heart disease.

    Antioxidants help to protect your cells from damage. The potential benefits of regularly taking turmeric as a supplement may include:

    • Preventing cancer
    • Treating infections
    • Reducing inflammation
    • Treating joint pain

    However, whether a person realizes any of these benefits depends on factors including the quality and amount you take, what it’s combined with, and your personal response to it. Before you take any supplements, make sure to check in with your physician.

    How Does Turmeric Work?

    Turmeric’s benefits are mostly due to the effect of curcumin’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

    Working as an antioxidant, curcumin can help prevent cell damage. Antioxidants help defend your body from free radicals — unstable chemicals your body makes in the process of generating energy from food or that come from the environment, such as pollution. Too many free radicals can cause oxidative stress, a process that can damage your cells and potentially cause long-term disease or other medical conditions. Curcumin may have a protective effect against oxidative stress by neutralizing free radicals and preventing their formation.

    Oxidative stress is also linked to inflammation. Many different diseases are associated with inflammation, including epilepsy. It’s thought that curcumin can reduce inflammation by modulating (regulating) the immune system.

    What Does the Evidence Say About Turmeric for Epilepsy?

    So far, only preclinical studies (studies conducted before human trials) on curcumin and epilepsy have been conducted in animals. Though the results are promising, one should not assume turmeric would have the same effects on humans without first conducting rigorous tests involving people. Still, these animal studies can be used to help design clinical trials in humans.

    Researchers can use different drugs to induce seizures in animals to study how curcumin affects animals before, during, and after having a seizure. Examples of drugs used to mimic different types of epileptic seizures include:

    • Pentylenetetrazol, which can induce generalized tonic-clonic seizures
    • Kainic acid, which can induce temporal lobe epilepsy
    • Pilocarpine, which can induce status epilepticus (seizures lasting longer than five minutes)
    • Iron, which can induce seizures similar to a traumatic brain injury
    • Penicillin, which can induce focal motor seizures

    The results of several animal studies suggest that curcumin may be effective in treating or preventing seizures in people with epilepsy. Curcumin may even help other antiepileptic drugs, like sodium valproate, work better.

    Researchers don’t know exactly how curcumin may improve epilepsy. It’s thought that curcumin’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity may have neuroprotective effects (defending the brain and central nervous system).

    Future research is needed to learn the proper dose, efficacy, and safety of using turmeric or curcumin for epilepsy. However, the results of animal studies show promising results.

    Limitations for Using Turmeric for Epilepsy

    The main limitation of using turmeric to treat epilepsy is curcumin’s low bioavailability. Having a low bioavailability means that curcumin isn’t absorbed into your body efficiently. If your body can’t take it in to use, it can’t work to benefit your condition.

    Additionally, to have an effect on the brain, curcumin must cross the blood-brain barrier — a membrane that separates your central nervous system (CNS) from the rest of your body.

    Researchers have been studying different ways of increasing the bioavailability of curcumin to help it work better and cross into the CNS, such as liposomal technology (formulating curcumin with fats).

    A simpler solution may be to add black pepper to curcumin. A compound in black pepper called piperine increases the amount of curcumin available to your body by 2,000 percent.

    One MyEpilepsyTeam member suggested, “I take turmeric and curcumin, both as a supplement and as a spice to help with brain health. If you take turmeric as a supplement, be sure to get it with black pepper.”

    What Are the Risks of Turmeric?

    The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies curcumin as “generally recognized as safe” because it is considered to be safe and well-tolerated by people. However, there may still be risks associated with taking turmeric.

    Side Effects

    Turmeric is safe for most people in the amounts found in food or drinks. If you’re allergic to turmeric, you may experience a rash, hives, or stomach pain.

    Side effects of turmeric are usually associated with higher doses of turmeric found in supplements. The most commonly reported side effect of taking turmeric is stomach upset. However, some curcumin products have been associated with serious side effects, such as:

    • Liver problems
    • Kidney stones
    • Serious allergic reactions
    • Low white blood cells
    • Anemia (low red blood cells)

    Drug Interactions

    Turmeric may also interact with some medications, including antiepileptic drugs, such as:

    Other medications turmeric may interact with include:

    • Chemotherapy drugs
    • Pain relievers, including acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Motrin)
    • Blood pressure medications
    • Blood thinners
    • Immunosuppressive drugs

    Low-Quality Supplements

    If you and your doctor decide you may benefit from taking tumeric supplements, it’s important to note that the FDA does not regulate supplements as rigorously as it does medications. Supplement packaging may make claims that aren’t backed by science and may not accurately reflect a product’s ingredients. It could contain more or less of a particular nutrient or have unexpected additives or contaminants.

    To purchase supplements from reputable sources, look for verification from respected third-party testing agencies, such as ConsumerLab.com, NSF International, UL, or U.S. Pharmacopeia.

    Discuss Turmeric With Your Doctor

    Antiepileptic drugs are the only proven epilepsy treatment option. If you’re interested in starting any new medications or supplements for the treatment of epilepsy, talk to your medical care team first.

    You should tell your neurology specialist about any over-the-counter drugs or nutritional or herbal supplements you’re taking so your neurologist can help you find the right dose and prevent any dangerous drug interactions.

    Talk With Others Who Understand

    MyEpilepsyTeam is the social network for people with epilepsy and their loved ones. On MyEpilepsyTeam, more than 120,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with epilepsy.

    Have you taken turmeric for epilepsy? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

      Posted on February 23, 2024
      All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.

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      Lisa Booth, RDN studied foods and nutrition at San Diego State University, in California and obtained a registered dietitian nutritionist license in 2008. Learn more about her here.
      Amanda Jacot, PharmD earned a Bachelor of Science in biology from the University of Texas at Austin in 2009 and a Doctor of Pharmacy from the University of Texas College of Pharmacy in 2014. Learn more about her here.

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