Turmeric for IBS and Leaky Gut - Does it Work

Turmeric for IBS and Leaky Gut: Is it Helpful?

In the new health paradigm, more people are interested in learning about the potential benefits and claims of turmeric for leaky gut syndrome and/or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). (Can it actually help, or is it just another gimmick?)

Fortunately for IBS sufferers, a new wave of emerging studies are revealing the effectiveness of turmeric for IBS and leaky gut – and it’s looking promising so far!  While more research is needed, I’ll share what I know to be true about all things turmeric and IBS / leaky gut in this article.

Disclaimer:  This article was written for educational purposes only. This is not medical / nutritional advice! Please consult with your doctor and a registered dietitian if you’re navigating a medical condition, so you can receive custom clinical guidance.

Affiliate disclosure:  This article contains affiliate links*.  As an affiliate for several online organic apothecaries (Mountain Rose Herbs* and Starwest Botanicals*), I will make a small commission on qualifying purchases made through my affiliate links, at no extra cost to you!

What’s turmeric?

Turmeric (Latin name: Curcuma longa) is a medicinal spice and rhizome in the ginger family.  It originates in Southeast Asia. You’ve encountered turmeric before if you’ve ever had curry and/or golden milk.

From a sensory standpoint, turmeric actually resembles ginger from the outside, except that the skin of turmeric is slightly darker and its size slightly smaller.  

On the inside, turmeric is a bright yellow-orange color. It also has a distinct sharp, smoky, tangy, peppery taste and smell which you won’t forget!

What’s curcumin?

Curcumin” is something you’ll see listed on a lot of turmeric-based supplements. 

Curcumin is the bioactive polyphenol (a type of antioxidant) responsible for the majority of turmeric’s health benefits.  I’ll be referring to both turmeric and curcumin in this article.

IBS and leaky gut: a brief overview

If you’re suffering from IBS and/or leaky gut syndrome (which often go hand-in-hand), and you’ve made it to this post, you’re likely dealing with some or possibly all of the following symptoms, which link back to an unhealthy gut:

…and you’re in search of some natural relief!

Enter: turmeric, or specifically curcumin – the active polyphenol (antioxidant sub-type) in turmeric which research is showing to be helpful for IBS and leaky gut.

The digestive system: a brief overview

Your digestive system is not just your gut (which encompasses your mouth, esophagus, stomach, intestines, colon, and rectum), but also certain other digestive organs including your pancreas (a little organ under the left rib), liver, and gallbladder.  

  • Each of these organs works together as a team to make up your digestive system, through which you continuously digest and absorb nutrients from the food you eat (while eliminating whatever you don’t need as waste). 

Now, let’s take a closer look at how turmeric is impacting the digestive organs of people with IBS and/or leaky gut, on a deeper level.

Benefits of Turmeric for IBS and Leaky Gut - List with Graphics

Turmeric and curcumin in the digestive system: actions and benefits

According to research studies, the curcumin in turmeric helps many people with IBS and/or leaky gut, specifically because of its ability to:

  • Strengthen the gut wall (aka “intestinal barrier”) (1, 2, 3)
  • Reduce inflammation in the gut (1, 4, 5, 6)
  • Stimulate digestive secretions (5, 7, 8)
  • Improve intestinal motility (6)
  • Help relieve IBS symptoms of constipation and diarrhea (9, 10)
  • Help optimize the gut microbiome (11)

Helps tone and tighten a leaky gut

Turmeric is definitely one of many great herbs for leaky gut!  This can likely be attributed to turmeric being naturally astringent (toning, tightening) and vulnary (wound-healing) to the tissues of the body, from an herbal energetics (constitutional) standpoint.

According to research, curcumin and turmeric help to restore the integrity of the gut wall or intestinal barrier in a “leaky gut” (poor gut barrier), according to multiple clinical studies that have been published since 2017. (1, 2, 3)

Anti-inflammatory

Turmeric and curcumin are well-known for their antioxidant activity, especially when combined with black pepper extract (which seems to activate and enhance the effects of the curcumin polyphenols in turmeric). 

This is relevant for people with leaky gut and IBS, as well as for people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) since these types of gut disorders are usually accompanied by inflammation in the gut wall. (6)

Turmeric and curcumin antioxidants help to block inflammatory pathways in the gut by altering the immune response, according to a 2021 study published by Molecular medicine reports.  

Reducing gut inflammation ultimately helps your gut to do what it’s supposed to do – break down and absorb nutrients from food – more effectively and efficiently. 

Helps stimulate digestive secretions

A 2022 comprehensive review by Frontiers in pharmacology recently pointed out that taking turmeric stimulates the release of pancreatic enzymes and gastric juices such as gastrin, secretin, and bicarbonate, as well as a healthy type of mucus for optimal digestion.  

(Translation: digestive enzymes and gastric juices are what help us to break down fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals from the food we eat! And the mucous membranes protecting your gut need support.  Turmeric can enhance all of these things.)

Turmeric and curcumin have also been found to aid in the breakdown of fats by stimulating gallbladder contraction and increasing bile flow by ~62%, according to a 2013 study from the World Journal of Gastroenterology.

Helps reduce IBS & IBD symptoms 

Newer studies are confirming and concluding that many people with IBS, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and leaky gut syndrome can all find relief from supplementing with turmeric or curcumin extract. (9, 10)

For example:

  • A 2021 meta-analysis which analyzed 21 different studies on turmeric, curcumin, and gut issues found that 4 out of 7 studies confirmed that turmeric reduced symptoms among people with IBS, while 6 out of 7 studies confirmed that turmeric/curcumin had a positive effect for people with ulcerative colitis (a sub-type of inflammatory bowel disease).
  • A  review from 2022 by the Iranian journal of public health concluded that “curcumin and turmeric alone or in combination with other medications could improve the severity of IBS as well as the quality of life among people who suffer from IBS symptoms.”

Supports healthy gut microbes

Up until recently, researchers couldn’t make sense of how so little turmeric gets absorbed into the body, yet it has still been able to offer so many health benefits confirmed by research.

Enter: the gut microbiome! This is where turmeric can play big roles in the gut, without actually getting absorbed into the bloodstream.

According to a recent study from 2020, curcumin as a polyphenol has prebiotoic properties (helping to feed and support the growth of healthy probiotics in the gut). (11)

  • Curcumin’s role in optimizing gut microbes also seems to indirectly help improve the gut barrier and counteract the expression of pro-inflammatory mediators, which may explain how it helps support a healthier gut lining for people with IBS and leaky gut. (11)

When & how to take turmeric/curcumin for IBS and leaky gut

When it comes to taking turmeric as a gut repair ally, it’s important to consider a few key factors:

  1. The delivery method
  2. What type?
  3. How much?
  4. When to take it

Best delivery methods

The best delivery methods for taking turmeric in order to optimize the antioxidant benefits would be through:

  1. Capsules (if properly pre-extracted)
  2. An herbal tincture
  3. Turmeric powder (combined with a dash of black pepper).

For the best user experience, if you’re going for therapeutic doses of curcumin in turmeric, it’s a lot easier and more convenient to go with pre-extracted capsules or a fresh herbal tincture of turmeric root with a few black peppercorns.

On the other hand, if you prefer a “food as medicine” lifestyle experience, you could start adding some turmeric powder to smoothies and stir fry/curry dishes, and/or you could get started making and enjoying golden milk on a regular basis.

What’s the best turmeric for IBS & leaky gut?

According to Molecules (2020), curcumin (the main medicinal constituent in turmeric) can be taken as “turmeric, concentrates of turmeric, essentially pure (95%) curcuminoids or curcumin alone.” (12)

Best powders

All of that said, if you’re going for a powdered form of turmeric to add to foods or recipes such as golden milk, go for something organic and make sure to add a sprinkle of black pepper.

A few of my favorite powdered forms of turmeric are those which are certified organic, relatively fresh (not sitting on a shelf for decades), and properly stored in a cool, dark, dry space:

  1. Mountain Rose Herbs*
  2. Starwest Botanicals*
  3. Any organic store-bought variation of turmeric could also work (it may just be less potent)

Best capsules

My go-to for turmeric capsules is Turiva (by OrthoMolecular) because it’s organic and pre-extracted, so we can get the most benefit out of it. This product is also third-party tested (most supplements are not regulated!).

Turiva is not available in stores or on Amazon since it’s an exclusive practitioner-grade product. 

That said, you can order these turmeric + curcumin capsules online via the OrthoMolecular website, or it’s also available for purchase through my private online dispensary (FullScript) where you can receive 15% off Turiva and all other supplements!

Order supplements through my Fullscript store.

Best tincture

You can order a turmeric tincture online, but I find it’s pretty easy and way more cost-effective to DIY!  (You can read how to make herbal tinctures here – and make sure to also add just a few black peppercorns into your tincture blend, to help activate the curcumins.)

How much should you take?

A standard dose of turmeric/curcumin is about 500 milligrams, taken 1 to 3 times daily. 

This translates to any of the following options:

  • 1 500-milligram capsule 1 to 3x daily
  • 30 drops of fresh turmeric tincture 1 to 3x daily
  • 1 teaspoon (200 milligrams) of ground turmeric (in food or golden milk) 3 to 5x daily

Remember: one size never fits all, so consult a healthcare professional such as a doctor, functional dietitian, and clinical herbalist to receive custom recommendations based on your individual needs!

When to take it

Since turmeric benefits digestion, and the curcumin antioxidants are fat-soluble (12), it makes the most sense to have your daily dose(s) of turmeric around meal times, ideally with some element of fat.

(If you decide to give golden milk a whirl, consider making it with coconut milk or a full-fat nut milk to reap the benefits of fat-soluble curcumin!)

When NOT to take turmeric: side effects & contraindications

Turmeric and curcumin are not too good to be true! They aren’t for everyone.

Turmeric and Fertility Avoid Turmeric if you are pregnant or trying to conceive - Whle-istic Living

Avoid in pregnancy and preconception

According to the Frontiers in pharmacology comprehensive review (2022), the curcumin in turmeric reduces sperm count and sperm motility, as well as the number of ovarian follicles, and has resulted in complete inhibition of implantation.  

The data in this review concluded that turmeric could make a good natural candidate as an “intravaginal contraceptive” and “antispermatogenic”.

(I don’t know about you, but I feel like this is a big deal – and it isn’t well-known to most people… many people trying to conceive may think that taking turmeric to optimize their health. Please share this article with anyone you know who is pregnant or trying to get pregnant.)

Turmeric contraindications list with graphics

Avoid if gallstones are present

Turmeric and curcumin stimulate gallbladder contractions and increase the flow of bile through the gallbladder into the stomach – for better or worse, depending on your situation.

If you have gallstones, then taking turmeric could actually increase your risk of a gallstone obstruction in the bile duct.

Avoid turmeric if you suspect you might have gallstones.

Could worsen bile acid diarrhea

Bile acid diarrhea is a case of chronic diarrhea caused by an overflow of too many bile acids into the stomach, from the gallbladder.  

  • It’s a common but little-known underlying culprit of diarrhea-predominant IBS (IBS-D).

If you suspect you could have bile acid diarrhea, or you’ve been diagnosed with it, you should avoid turmeric since it could trigger or exacerbate the diarrhea.

On the flipside, if you’ve been taking turmeric for IBS-D and it’s made things worse, you may want to consider consulting a doctor to see if you might have bile acid diarrhea!

Proceed with caution if on medication

Turmeric and curcumin reduce blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar – and it’s blood-thinning.

If you’re taking medications to manage your cardiovascular health and/or blood sugar levels, make sure to consult your doctor before taking turmeric. 

(In a perfect world, it would be awesome if people could someday be prescribed turmeric first, before medication, to help manage those types of conditions – but that’s not usually the case, so proceed with caution!) 😉

Is turmeric low FODMAP?

Yes!  Turmeric is included on the Monash University FODMAP App’s list of approved low FODMAP herbs and spices.

More resources

Wanna learn more about my favorite herbal remedies and functional nutrition tips for all things gut health and wellbeing? If so, make sure to check out the following articles:

Final thoughts

Taking turmeric or curcumin for IBS and leaky gut is not just a gimick – it’s legit!  The curcurmin polyphenols in turmeric serves as a prebitic, interacting with the gut microbes, helping to feed and support the growth of good bacteria which can help to strengthen the intestinal barrier (aka heal and seal a laeky gut lining), while also reducing inflammation and symptoms of IBS in the process.

Turmeric can also aid in digestion by stimulating the release of bile, enzymes, and other gastric secretions that help us to digest and absorb all the vital nutrients from our food.

The best ways to consume turmeric for IBS/leaky gut are via powder (in food or golden milk), capsules (if the curcumin is pre-extracted), or as an herbal tincture  -in combination with some black pepper, to amplify the antioxidant benefits.  A standard dose for turmeric is ~500 milligrams a few times a day, but don’t self-prescribe if you’re unsure!  Always consult an expert who is qualified to help you – like a doctor, dietitian, or clinical herbalist.

On the other hand, even if you have gut issues, you should avoid taking turmeric if you’re pregnant or trying to become pregnant, since turmeric seems to have an anti-fertility effect on both men and women.

You should also avoid turmeric and consult a doctor if you have underlying gallstones or possibly a condition called “bile acid diarrhea” since turmeric can make these conditions worse. (If you’ve tried turmeric and it triggered diarrhea, consider asking your doctor about bile acid diarrhea!)

Lastly, since turmeric thins the blood and reduces blood pressure and blood sugar, you should proceed with caution and consult your doc before bringing turmeric into your regimen so you don’t become clinically unstable.

If you’d like to learn more from me and stay in touch, subscribe to my weekly newsletter & download my complmentary gut guide: the 5 Biggest Diet Mistakes to Avoid When Healing Your Gut!

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XO – Jenna

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