Most health experts agree that a varied diet is the best way for both mother and child to get the nutrition they need for a healthy pregnancy and childbirth. At the same time, expecting mothers clearly need to be careful about consuming certain foods, such as liver (more on this later in the article), coffee, and alcohol as these may harm the growing baby’s health and affect its development.
But what about the south Asian root spice turmeric?
Given that turmeric contains more than 300 potent bioactive compounds (including curcumin) – all of which have multiple biological actions in our bodies… is it safe for women to consume turmeric during pregnancy?
What is Turmeric?
Typically added as a colorant and spice to Indian and South Asian curries, as well as to mustard and some cheeses, turmeric is the spice that gives these foods their yellow color. Known scientifically as Curcuma longa, turmeric root has also been used in India as a medicinal component in Ayurveda, the traditional Indian system of medicine which has been around for some 5,000 years or more.
More recently, thousands of scientific studies have been carried out on curcumin − the main bioactive ingredient in turmeric. Curcumin has shown to have powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and is believed to be responsible for many of turmeric’s known health benefits.
So, what do we know so far about taking turmeric during pregnancy?
Low Levels of Turmeric During Pregnancy Are Considered Safe
The short answer is, it depends on how much turmeric is being consumed. In general, physicians typically advise expecting mothers against taking any supplements unless they are absolutely essential. This is because pregnant women are usually excluded from clinical studies and there is little data to guide them.
One concern that has been raised is that consumption of turmeric may stimulate the uterus during pregnancy, possibly increasing the risk of premature births and miscarriages. However, laboratory experiments show that curcuminoids – bioactive compounds found in turmeric that include curcumin – actually have a relaxing effect on uterine muscle.
While this is not conclusive evidence that it’s completely safe to consume turmeric during pregnancy, millions of women in India and other parts of south Asia do take small amounts of turmeric as part of their daily diet when they are pregnant, without any reported adverse effects.
Another concern is whether curcumin and other bioactive ingredients in turmeric can affect the growing baby’s development. Scientific evidence shows that taking a high dose of a turmeric extract daily for up to 90 days did not cause any observable immediate or long-term toxic effects in laboratory animals. Also, turmeric had no mutagenic effects – in other words, no damage to DNA or other vital cellular structures was observed.
Along with being non-toxic, curcumin was seen to promote lung development in rat fetuses and may even protect unborn fetuses from the effects of alcohol consumed by the mother during early pregnancy. However, it must be emphasized that this does not make it safe for women to drink alcohol during their pregnancy.
Based on the available evidence so far, it is perhaps safest for pregnant women to consume low quantities of turmeric – for instance as a spice to season foods such as curries and soups – but preferably not as a high-dose supplement. Women who are allergic to turmeric should completely avoid it during pregnancy.
Health Benefits of Turmeric During Pregnancy
The many studied health benefits of turmeric, some of which have long been exploited in Ayurveda, are also likely to benefit women during pregnancy, including:
- Supporting strong, healthy, flexible joints
- Boosting the immune system to help it fight against infections
- Helping to maintain levels of healthy bacteria in the gut, protecting against stomach disorders, and relieving constipation
- Increasing the flow of bile, necessary for breaking down dietary fat during digestion
- Supporting the liver in detoxing and purifying blood
- Helping to manage healthy blood sugar and lipid levels
Recently, curcumin has also been shown in laboratory experiments to prevent endometriosis, which is the abnormal growth of cells similar to those normally found inside the uterus (known as endometrial cells) in locations outside the uterus. This health condition can have a profound social and psychological impact on women and affect their chances of having children.
General Nutrition Tips During Pregnancy
- Protein – pregnant women are advised to consume 70 grams of protein daily. Adding a little protein to every meal can help to meet protein needs, keep energy levels stable throughout the day, and lower the risk of heartburn.
- Folate – is used to describe a number of water soluble B-vitamins, known collectively as vitamin B9. Folate helps to make and repair our DNA. It is also required for red blood cell production, to keep blood levels of homocysteine safely low, and support nervous system function. Folate also helps to prevent neural tube-related birth defects, including spina bifida − which is why women who are trying to conceive are advised to consume folate-rich foods and take supplemental folate or methylated folate as applicable every day until they are 12 weeks pregnant. Plant foods rich in folate include romaine lettuce, spinach, asparagus, turnip greens, mustard greens, parsley, collard greens, broccoli, cauliflower, beets, and lentils. Additionally, calf’s liver and chicken liver are also great sources.Synthetic folic acid has been used for many years to fortify foods in the U.S. to reduce the chance of neural tube defects in developing babies. However, several concerns have recently been raised regarding its safety and effectiveness. According to some reports, supplementation with synthetic folic acid is ineffective and perhaps even harmful in a significant proportion of people. Please consult your healthcare provider for information regarding the folate supplement most suitable for your situation.
- Vitamin D – pregnant women are also advised to consider taking a vitamin D supplement, since this vitamin regulates calcium and phosphate levels, which are necessary to keep bones, teeth, and muscles healthy. All adults, including pregnant and breastfeeding women, need at least 10 micrograms (10 mcg) of vitamin D daily. (Read more about Vitamin D deficiency here.)
- Calcium – recommended daily reference intake (DRI) during pregnancy is 1000 mg, or 1 gram.
- Iron – recommended DRI during pregnancy is 27 mg. The National Academy of Sciences recommends a supplement with 30 mg/day after 12th week for most women.
- Vitamin A – pregnant women are strongly advised to stay away from vitamin A supplements or any supplements that include vitamin A (retinol), as too much of it could harm the growing baby. Liver is very rich in vitamin A so it is a good idea to limit liver consumption or avoid it entirely during pregnancy. Beta-carotene, the form of vitamin A found in fruits and vegetables, can safely be consumed in unlimited amounts, as the body will only convert it to vitamin A as and when needed.
If you’re not pregnant (or are pre- or post-pregnancy), and are looking for an excellent way to receive the health benefits of curcumin (turmeric) − plus two of nature’s other most beneficial spices − be sure to check out Magi Complex from Epigenetic Labs.
- Clinical Research Enrolling Pregnant Women: A Workshop Summary
- Nutrition in Pregnancy: The Basics
- Turmeric and Pregnancy
- Antispasmodic effects of curcuminoids on isolated guinea-pig ileum and rat uterus.
- Systematic and comprehensive investigation of the toxicity of curcuminoid‑essential oil complex: A bioavailable turmeric formulation.
- Curcumin augments lung maturation, preventing neonatal lung injury by inhibiting TGF-β signaling.
- Improvements of insulin resistance in ovariectomized rats by a novel phytoestrogen from Curcuma comosa Roxb.
- Curcumin arrests endometriosis by downregulation of matrix metalloproteinase-9 activity.
- The little known (but crucial) difference between folate and folic acid