People throughout the world enhance the flavor and aroma of their foods with spices and herbs, including turmeric. Commonly used in Indian and Thai dishes, this yellow root has several scientifically established health benefits. For instance, turmeric has been demonstrated to improve joint pain and soreness, fatigue, depression, cholesterol levels, diabetes symptoms, digestive issues, colds, headaches, and more. People use both the natural root or powdered forms to add seasoning to their foods, and many people also take turmeric as nutritional supplements for health purposes.
Women who are pregnant might be drawn to taking turmeric for relief from common pregnancies complaints such as inflammation, aching joints, and sore muscles. But it appears that curcumin — turmeric’s active ingredient that comprises only about 3% of turmeric by weight — might lead to health issues when consumed in large doses.
- Benefits of Turmeric During Pregnancy
- Is Turmeric Tea Safe for Pregnant Women?
- Is Turmeric Milk Safe for Pregnant Women?
- Are Turmeric and Ginger Products Safe for Pregnant Women?
- Supplements That Are Safer Than Turmeric for Pregnant Women
- Is Turmeric Safe During Pregnancy? The Bottom Line
Benefits of Turmeric During Pregnancy
Turmeric, also referred to as curcuma longa or the golden spice (due to its bright yellow color), has a 4000 year history of medicinal use in Ayurveda. Ayurvedic medicine (or simply Ayurveda for short) is the ancient holistic, or whole-body, healing system of India. Ayurveda is based on the belief that a person’s wellness depends on the intricate balance between the body, mind, and spirit.
Turmeric is a plant grown primarily in India, where its roots are used in both foods and medicines. Turmeric, which includes its most potent active ingredient curcumin, is also available in powder or capsule form as a nutritional supplement.
The curcumin in turmeric has been shown to decrease swelling in pregnant women. It has also been found to relieve joint and back pain, balance blood sugar levels, and prevent constipation. But in regards to pregnancy, turmeric is best known for its ability to act as a potent anti-inflammatory.
Turmeric Reduces Inflammation During Pregnancy
Inflammation exists because it serves a positive purpose — it can prevent diseases and ward off infections. Too much inflammation, though, results in numerous negative issues. That’s especially true in the case of pregnancy.
There are both animal and human studies that conclude that some amount of uterine inflammation is important for normal implantation and then throughout pregnancy. Excessive inflammation, though, can lead becomes to pregnancy complications including fetal resorption, miscarriage, or preterm birth.
Inflammation is considered a normal part of a person’s immune system’s response to chronic stress, infection, or obesity. Pregnant women who gain a great deal of weight rapidly may experience an abundance of inflammation. This rise in inflammation has been shown to increase the risk of brain development issues, including autism, in children.
Factors other than weight gain can cause an over-active inflammation response in a pregnant woman. Viral and bacterial infections, or irritations of the joints, lungs, skin, or stomach can all trigger the maternal immune system to go into overdrive.
Turmeric is proven to inhibit inflammation. While turmeric in general gets the credit for this significant act, it’s actually the curcumin component of turmeric that’s doing the heavy lifting here. Curcumin is the key active component of turmeric, and is in fact responsible for most of the positive health aspects of turmeric (which is why turmeric supplements are often labeled as curcumin supplements — to catch the eye of nutritionally minded people who understand the power of curcumin).
Turmeric (curcumin) blocks specific cytokines and enzymes that lead to the development of inflammation. Cytokines are small proteins that control activity of immune system cells. Enzymes are another type of proteins, and act to accelerate chemical reactions in cells.
Is Turmeric Tea Safe for Pregnant Women?
Of all the many turmeric-containing drinks and foods available, turmeric tea is probably the most looked into. Turmeric is commonly included in comforting or stomach-soothing blends along with ginger or lemon. With pregnancy-induced nausea and morning sickness, it should not be surprising that these kinds of teas are a kitchen cupboard staple for a lot of women during the course of their pregnancies.
Turmeric has a rather strong flavor, and for that reason most teas that are labeled as turmeric actually only include a modest amount of this spice. The quantity of turmeric in a glass of turmeric tea could be categorized as a typical food amount (meaning not a large supplement-level quantity), which makes it a safe option to consume during pregnancy.
When deciding on a type of tea to drink while pregnant, make sure to thoroughly look over the listed ingredients, as there are tea blends that include unsafe herbs. The majority of turmeric teas are herbal teas, which tend to naturally be free of caffeine, but it is certainly worth a moment of your time to check the label to verify that’s the case.
If you’re taking, or considering taking, turmeric (or curcumin) supplements, turmeric tea is a safer option. Supplements have a much higher level of turmeric, and should be avoided by pregnant women.
Is Turmeric Milk Safe for Pregnant Women?
Turmeric milk, also referred to as golden milk, turmeric latte, or Haldi milk, is a warm, is a yellow-tinted, milk-based drink. The exact ingredients in turmeric milk can differ by preference, but it always consists of dairy or non-dairy milk and, of course, turmeric. Additional common additives include cinnamon, sweetener, and perhaps cardamom (a spice in the ginger family).
Like turmeric teas, the amount of turmeric in a cup of turmeric milk is small — a typical recipe calls for at most a single teaspoon of the spice. Again like the tea, the low-dose turmeric milk makes for a soothing drink that has a safe level of turmeric.
Turmeric milk has become popular enough that pre-packaged and bottled milks are readily available at grocery stores. These pre-made drinks are almost always caffeine-free, but make sure to check the ingredients label so you can be assured of avoiding both caffeine and unwanted herbal ingredients.
Are Turmeric and Ginger Products Safe for Pregnant Women?
Turmeric and ginger have become a classic pairing in both teas and milks. With the popularity of both, companies have paired these two spices in a variety of other edible products.
It’s now commonplace to find turmeric together with ginger in juices, candies, and even cough drops and lozenges. Like turmeric, ginger is known to be a powerful anti-inflammatory. And like turmeric, ginger can be safely taken when pregnant provided it (and the turmeric) are in the very low doses common to single servings of drinks and foods.
A caveat for turmeric and ginger drinks is in the case of what are commonly referred to as juice shots, or health shots. While these types of drinks are a good way to get a quick dose of nutrients, the levels of these spices approach the amounts found in supplement capsules and are thus too high to be considered safe during pregnancy.
Supplements That Are Safer Than Turmeric for Pregnant Women
We’ve sung the praises of turmeric more than once on this website, as it’s a powerful anti-inflammatory that provides a host of benefits to the immune system. But when it comes to pregnancy, we have to scale back on our turmeric cheerleading. While small amounts of the spice are just fine during pregnancy, larger amounts are not.
A small amount would be the amount commonly found in a single tea or milk or a single dish that includes turmeric as an ingredient. A large amount would be the medicinal level that’s present in a typical turmeric (or curcumin) supplement — whether that supplement is in the form of a tablet, capsule, or powder.
The American Pregnancy Association (as well as other sources) considers medicinal amounts of turmeric (as found in supplements) to be potentially dangerous during pregnancy.
Though turmeric supplements should be avoided during pregnancy, there are some supplements, such as spirulina, that supply the benefits of turmeric without putting pregnant women at risk.
Folic Acid Better and Safer for Pregnant Women
Vitamin B9 is an important nutrient that occurs naturally as folate. Folic acid is a synthetic form of folate — folic acid is used in supplements and as an additive to some foods in place of folate mainly because folic acid is more heat-stable — folate tends to be easily broken down by light and heat.
Folic acid supplements are recommended for pregnant women because it can greatly reduce some specific birth defects of the spinal cord and brain — specifically neural tube defects, or NTDs. Spina bifida is the most common type of NTD.
As mentioned in the above Turmeric Reduces Inflammation During Pregnancy section, keeping inflammation in check is especially important during pregnancy because an over-abundance of inflammation leads to pregnancy complications, some of which are severe. Like turmeric, folic acid is a powerful anti-inflammatory, so taking a folic acid supplement during pregnancy reduces inflammation — without the safety issues associated with turmeric supplements.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommendation is that women take a folic acid supplement daily for at least a month before becoming pregnant, and then continue taking folic acid daily throughout their pregnancy. This greatly reduces systemic inflammation — inflammation throughout the whole body. As an added bonus folic acid has been found to have memory-enhancing properties.
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) Better and Safer for Pregnant Women
Coenzyme Q10, more commonly referred to as CoQ10, is a naturally occurring biomolecule (a molecule that is produced by a living organism) that is found in every cell in a person’s body.
CoQ10 is a powerful antioxidant and helps in the supply of energy in all cells. That makes it vital for the health of all organs, tissues, and cells. CoQ10 is a nutrient present in some foods, but it is generally present in fairly low concentrations — so it’s often taken as a nutritional supplement.
Researchers have discovered that women with higher levels of CoQ10 had higher quality embryos as well as higher pregnancy rates. Because many women take CoQ10 supplements for fertility, they often naturally want to know if CoQ10 supplements are safe and helpful to take during pregnancy. The answer to both of these questions is “yes.”
As has been pointed out here, inflammation during pregnancy has the potential to be harmful to the fetus. Like folic acid, CoQ10 has been shown to reduce inflammation — especially in people that already have low levels of CoQ10.
Studies have also shown that there is a relationship between low levels of CoQ10 and spontaneous abortion. Furthermore, CoQ10 supplementation can decrease the risk of a pregnant woman developing pre-eclampsia.
Pre-eclampsia is a pregnancy complication that can affect some pregnant women, typically from around 20 weeks all the way up to shortly after the delivery of the baby. Though exactly what causes pre-eclampsia is not fully understood, it’s believed to take place when there’s an issue with the placenta. If not properly treated , pre-eclampsia can result in significant and perhaps even fatal complications to both the mother and the baby. Supplementation with CoQ10 reduces the risk of a woman developing pre-eclampsia. These studies also determined that CoQ10 appears to be safe and well-tolerated during pregnancy.
Is Turmeric Safe During Pregnancy? The Bottom Line
While some trendy spices, herbs, and roots offer great health benefits, several — such as turmeric and ashwagandha need to be avoided during pregnancy. At least in medicinal, or supplement, quantity doses.
While there aren’t any studies that show that turmeric is harmful to take during pregnancy, medical experts are wary about pregnant women taking supplement-level quantities of this spice.
Though taking large amounts of turmeric (or curcumin) during pregnancy may not be safe, the same doesn’t apply to consuming turmeric in the levels typically found in food dishes. The American Pregnancy Association states that the low amounts of turmeric present in meals and turmeric-based drinks and teas is considered safe during pregnancy.
If you love turmeric as a seasoning on your food and you want to know if it’s safe to continue to eat your favorite turmeric-seasoned Indian or Thai dishes while pregnant, the answer is yes — go ahead and consume turmeric in moderation.
If you are instead interested in taking a turmeric supplement for its health benefits while pregnant, here the answer is no — most supplements include amounts of turmeric (and thus its active ingredient curcumin) that may be too high to be considered safe for an expectant mother. In this case it’s much better to take a supplement that is known to be both beneficial and safe during pregnancy. Folic acid is a prime example of such a supplement.