Turmeric compound has potential for indigestion treatment

A natural compound found in turmeric may be as effective as omeprazole for treating indigestion symptoms, a Thai study published today has claimed.

Curcumin, which occurs naturally in the spice, is thought to have anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, and has long been used as a remedy, including for the treatment of indigestion, in South East Asia.

Omeprazole is a proton pump inhibitor (PPI), but long-term use of PPIs has been linked to increased fracture risk, micronutrient deficiencies, and a heightened risk of infections.

For this first time, a team has assessed curcumin’s effectiveness against omeprazole and the findings are published in BMJ Evidence-Based Medicine.

The team, led by the Centre of Excellence in Preventive & Integrative Medicine and Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, Chulalongkorn University, conducted a randomised double blind controlled trial, with central randomisation at a Thai traditional medicine hospital, district hospital, and university hospitals in Thailand.

It included 206 participants, aged 18-70, with a diagnosis of functional dyspepsia between 2019 and 2021.

They were randomly assigned to one of three treatment groups for 28 days: one cohort of 69 took two 250 mg capsules of curcumin four times a day and one placebo; a further 68 took one 20 mg of omeprazole daily and two large dummy capsules four times a day; and the final group of 69 were prescribed turmeric plus omeprazole.

Out of the total who joined the study, 151 completed it: with 20 in the curcumin group, 19 in the omeprazole group, and 16 in the combined treatment group dropping out.

Patients in all three groups had similar clinical characteristics and indigestion scores, as assessed by the Severity of Dyspepsia Assessment (SODA) score, at the start of the trial. Patients were reassessed after 28 days and then again after 56 days.

SODA scores indicated significant reductions in symptom severity by day 28 for pain (−4.83, –5.46 and −6.22) and other symptoms (−2.22, –2.32, and −2.31) for those in the combined, curcumin alone, and omeprazole alone groups, respectively.

These improvements were even stronger after 56 days for pain (−7.19, –8.07 and −8.85, respectively) and other symptoms (−4.09, –4.12 and −3.71, respectively).

No serious side effects were reported, although liver function tests indicated some deterioration among curcumin users carrying excess weight.

They acknowledge the small size of the study, as well as several other limitations, and call for further larger, long-term studies.

However, they add: “This multicentre randomised controlled trial provides highly reliable evidence for the treatment of functional dyspepsia,” adding that “the new findings from our study may justify considering curcumin in clinical practice.”

Kongkam P, Khongkha W, Lopimpisuth C et al. Curcumin and proton pump inhibitors for functional dyspepsia: a randomised, double blind controlled trial. BMJ Evidence-Based medicine 12 September 2023; doi 10.1136/bmjebm-2022-112231


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