What’s the deal with turmeric?
Turmeric is a spice and you hear about it in cooking especially Indian cooking. It is an ingredient sold as a capsule in most grocery stores now and even Costco. Doing a search for “turmeric” on the medical literature search engine, www.pubmed.gov, you get 4350 hits. That’s pretty amazing. So, turmeric has been studied and published in that many peer-reviewed medical publications! Turmeric has curcuminoids and curcumin is the major one in turmeric. You may have heard of polyphenols and how they are good for you. Curcumin is a yellow-colored polyphenol from the plant Curcuma-Longa.
Turmeric and the EYE
A great review article published in frontiers in Pharmacology by Liu et al in Feb of 2017 reviews it effects on various parts of the eye. Curcumin has amazing properties including anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-angiogenic and wound-healing as well as anti-tumor (breast, prostate, lung, pancreas, ovary, bladder, cervix, head and neck, brain, kidney and skin). “Curcumin can also induce cell death in human uveal melanoma cells through the mitochondrial pathway.” Wow!
Turmeric and the CORNEA
The cornea is the clear window on the front part of the eye. Inflammation can cause blood vessels to grow and cover the surface of the eye. The article goes on to say curcumin can help corneal neovascularization (KNV) (blood vessel growth on the cornea/front part of the eye) and different formulations which may help. Curcumin blocks various growth factors and cytokines which can lead to KNV either locally or in your diet. It can help wound healing on the cornea as well.
Turmeric and DRY EYE DISEASE
Dry eye disease is caused low tear production and increased evaporation, both induced by ocular surface inflammation. That’s why we try to address both tear production and prevent evaporation. But if we can attack the inflammation, we can stop dry eye at it’s source. The main treatments for dry eye are anti-inflammatory as well including omega-3s, topical cyclosporine (Restasis), topical lifitegrast (Xiidra). Treatment with the Intense Pulse Light (IPL) and Lipiflow can also decrease the chronic inflammation on the surface of the eye by helping photocoagulate the inflammatory blood vessels and decrease the chronic inflammation released from clogged oil glands in your eyelids.
Curcumin can inhibit inflammatory cytokines which can then decrease the feedback loop which causes dry eye disease. More research needs to be done in this area. However, I have patients who I prescribe omega-3 and turmeric and their dry eye is 60-75% better in 3-4 months. It may be the omega-3 effect or a combination. But there is no denying that a change in their diet (not topical medications or more drops), made the difference in their symptoms.
The article also highlights a product named “Ophthacare” made by the Himalaya Drug Company which has 8 different herbs including curcuma-long 1.30% which can help dry eye and conjunctivitis, as well as pterygium. I was able to find it on Amazon. The product includes: Carum copticum, Terminalia belirica, Emblica officinalis, Curcuma longa, Ocimum sanctum, Cinnamomum camphora, Rosa damascena and meldespumapum”. The article also mentions “Haridra Eye Drops” which may help in conjunctivitis. I couldn’t find those online. To be clear, I am NOT recommending use of these drops at this time until further research has been done to ensure they are safe. The oral Doctor’s Advantage Dry Eye Relief supplements include a small amount of oral turmeric.
Turmeric and UVEITIS
Uveitis is an inflammation inside the eye of the uvea. The uvea includes the iris, the ciliary body and the choroid. Uveitis can be in the front, back or both parts of the eye. They report a study from 1999 that showed oral curcumin 375 mg 3x per day helped uveitis.
Turmeric and CATARACT
Cataract is a clouding or opacification of the lens inside the eye. “It is believed that oxidative damage to the eye lens contributes to the development of different kinds of cataracts. The primary mechanism for the anti-cataract effect of curcumin is through its antioxidant properties.” “…vitamin C may have a preventative role in cataract progression.” Curcumin helps increase vitamin C levels as well. Vitamin E also has been shown to prevent certain types of cataracts. Turmeric and curcumin especially help the progression of diabetic cataracts by modifying the protein aggregation which may lead to lens opacification as well as reducing oxidative stress from excess calcium and nitric oxide. The authors go over 10 articles which break down the ways in which turmeric can help delay cataract progression.
Turmeric and GLAUCOMA
Glaucoma is irreversible chronic progressive vision loss due to optic nerve damage from eye pressure that’s too high for you. Sometimes glaucoma progresses even when the eye pressure is low. The thought is the nerves are getting damaged at the exit from eye and we need neuro-protection to help prevent progression. This means we need to help the nerve cells suffer stress and not suffer damage. Curcumin has been shown to have neuroprotective properties by inhibiting oxidative damage as well as helping prevent mitochondrial dysfunction.
What dose of Turmeric is effective?
Turmeric has low solubility and bioavailability. Bioperine (found in black pepper) has been shown to help the absorption of turmeric. The recommend dose on WebMD is Turmeric extract 500 mg 2-4x per day depending on your condition. If you read the NIH website from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, it states it is generally safe to take however the studies are still ongoing about its full benefits.
What are others saying about Turmeric?
If you read about Turmeric on Wikipedia, you will find the author states there is no strong studies to support the use of Turmeric to reduce inflammation. It does importantly warn about lead and another dye to monitor for which may make a product look orange but does not actually have turmeric in it.
If you read the WebMD article about turmeric, you will find that turmeric has been used for various inflammatory conditions with some effectiveness including reducing high cholesterol, helping osteoarthritis and itching/allergies. It also lists insufficient evidence for using turmeric for other conditions including Alzheimer’s, colorectal cancer, gout, diabetes and many others. What this tells me is more research is needed.