Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is commonly used as a spice, food preservative, and coloring agent in many countries. Recently, researchers have suggested that turmeric may be beneficial for people living with psoriasis as a complementary therapy to treatments such as biologics and topical therapy.
Turmeric has been used for more than 4,000 years in India's Ayurvedic medicine and in traditional Chinese medicine to promote health and treat various ailments, including arthritis pain, indigestion, skin conditions, cardiovascular diseases, and autoimmune disorders.
“I started using turmeric curcumin supplements, 1,000 [milligrams] a day, before Christmas [and] it seems to help some, but I still need to take a pain reliever when flare-ups are really bad,” wrote one MyPsoriasisTeam member.
The beneficial effects of turmeric for psoriasis may be due to the presence of curcumin, the spice’s main active ingredient. Curcumin, which is a member of the curcuminoid family, has strong antioxidant, anticancer, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory properties. Researchers have studied curcumin as a topical (applied directly on the skin) and supplemental (ingested) agent in dermatology.
It can be helpful to understand the potential benefits and risks of using turmeric to treat psoriasis symptoms. Before starting any new treatments, however, confer with your health care provider.
Several studies have looked at the effects of topical curcumin on psoriasis and found a benefit. Scientists have reported that a turmeric tonic, a topical application, improved scalp psoriasis. Some research also suggests that turmeric baths may decrease the severity of psoriasis.
Researchers from Iran concluded that a turmeric gel decreased skin rashes and lesions in mild to moderate psoriasis. In another study, a gel containing 1 percent curcumin resolved psoriasis in 90 percent of the participants. The curcumin gel was more effective than calcipotriol, a vitamin D analog, in the treatment of moderate to severe psoriasis.
In addition to topical treatments, supplemental turmeric taken by mouth has been studied by the scientific community. However, research is limited.
In Italy, researchers conducted a study to investigate how effective oral curcumin is for people with psoriasis vulgaris, the most common type of psoriasis. Among participants who used a topical corticosteroid, those who also took 2 grams of oral curcumin per day saw more improved psoriasis symptoms than participants who used the steroid alone.
In another study, researchers enrolled participants with moderate to severe psoriasis. One group of participants received oral curcumin and light therapy. The other group of participants (the placebo group) received the same dose of oral curcumin and a fake light therapy. While 81 percent of participants responded favorably to the curcumin plus light therapy, only 30 percent of participants in the placebo group had a reduction in skin lesions. The study’s findings suggest that oral turmeric had a beneficial effect on plaque psoriasis when combined with light therapy.
In the U.S., researchers performed a clinical trial to determine the effect of oral curcumin on moderate to severe psoriasis. Out of eight participants, only two responded favorably to oral curcumin.
Due to the limited number of studies, experts cannot say conclusively whether turmeric is effective in psoriasis — though evidence is promising.
Topical curcumin also tends to temporarily stain the skin yellow.
However, there has been progress in overcoming these limitations. For example, researchers are developing formulations with increased oral absorption and gel-based topical preparations with improved topical absorption. Some turmeric dietary supplements contain piperine, the major active component of black pepper. When combined with piperine, the bioavailability (i.e., the amount that enters the bloodstream) of curcumin increases by 2,000 percent. Novel delivery systems for curcumin show promise as potential future treatments of psoriasis.
Topical and supplemental curcumin or turmeric are widely available on the internet and from supplement and health food stores. However, turmeric and other vitamins and supplements for psoriasis are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Talk to your health care provider or dermatologist before using supplements or topical products containing turmeric.
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