Turmeric is a well-known spice used throughout the world. The active ingredient in Turmeric is called “curcumin.” (Curcuma longa). About 2 to 6 % of turmeric is made of curcumin and related compounds.
Turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties and may have some role in inflammatory conditions in humans. Studies suggest some benefit in osteoarthritis and other studies have indicated possible effects on inflammatory bowel syndrome, diabetes and insulin resistance states, abnormal cholesterol profiles (including the so called 'metabolic syndrome') and possibly cancer (colon cancer and leukemias being the most intensively studied).
It's not clear yet if turmeric and curcumin have benefit in hair loss. I'm keenly interested and have used in a limited number of patients with alopecia areata, and the scarring alopecias where inflammation is present.
Exactly how the compound cur cumin reduces inflammation remains to be completely worked out. Curcumin may reduce inflammatory chemicals in the blood and inside blood cells. These chemicals are known as "chemokines" and "cytokines" and are the means by which cells in the body talk to each other. Cytokines like interleukin 6 may be reduced by curcumin and this is important since these cytokines are known to stop hair from growing. Inflammatory markers like ESR are also reduced by curcumin. Similar to aspirin, curmumin has effects on the cyclooxygenase (COX) and lipo-oxygnesase (LOX) pathways .
Once should check with his or her physician before using turmeric extracts or related compounds. As mentioned above, I do occassionally use in alopecia areata (where IL-6 appears relevant) and some scarring alopecias. It's not clear yet what, if any benefit, turmeric has but I'm very interested.
When I do advise curcumin, I recommend 50 mg twice daily of the Turmeric Rhizome Extract (curcuma Longa L, 50:1) and typically start every other day for 1-2 weeks then daily for 1 month then work up to twice daily. One should always check with their physician before using turmeric or curcumin extracts. Some of my patients enjoy using the spice itself and I recommend a teaspoon daily (sprinkled over food during throughout the day). I do not advise the use of turmeric extracts during pregnancy but the spice itself has been used for thousands of years by women. In addition, turmeric can increase the tendency to bleed so patients need to be stopped before surgery.
Dr. Jeff Donovan is a Canadian and US board certified dermatologist specializing exclusively in hair loss. To schedule a consultation, please call the Vancouver office at 604.283.9299