Curious about how the “golden spice” turmeric could benefit your symptoms of PCOS? Turmeric is not only a delicious, warm spice but one of its active components curcumin may actually have health benefits like being ant-inflammatory and having antioxidant properties. So can turmeric really help PCOS management? Let’s take a look at the evidence of turmeric for PCOS.
What is PCOS?
PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome or polycystic ovarian syndrome) is a common endocrine disorder that impacts approximately 6-13% of people assigned female at birth. There are many PCOS symptoms including irregular periods, difficulty getting pregnant, acne, oily skin, hair loss on the head, rapid weight gain and hirsutism.
Although the syndrome cannot be current, management of PCOS can help to improve symptoms of PCOS and reduce the risk of metabolic disorders. Management of PCOS involves lifestyle changes, supplementation and managing stress.
What is turmeric?
Turmeric is known as the “golden spice” that has a characteristic bright yellow colour. It comes from the root of the Curcuma longa plant that is native to countries in Southeast Asia. It is an essential spice in Indian and Southeast Asian cuisine.
It has a warm, bitter flavour and is often used in spice blends such as curry powder. In its fresh form, turmeric looks similar to a ginger root and can be grated or sliced during cooking. The powdered form is more convenient and can be used in many recipes or the beverage known as a “turmeric latte” or “golden milk”.
Curcumin vs. turmeric
You may have heard of curcumin when learning about turmeric. But what is the difference?
Curcumin is the naturally occurring chemical compound found within turmeric. It is considered to be one of the active ingredients in turmeric. It is responsible for the bright yellow colour that makes turmeric so distinctive. It doesn’t have its own flavour or aroma and is not used as a standalone spice.
To summarise, turmeric is the root of a plant and curcumin is the active ingredient found within turmeric that has been linked to many health benefits including having antioxidant properties, being anti-inflammatory and contributing to healthy liver function.
Benefits of turmeric for PCOS
Turmeric has been touted for its potential health benefits for centuries. In regards to PCOS, certain benefits such as improving insulin resistance and blood sugar levels, lowering cholesterol, reducing inflammation and improving menstrual irregularities have been found in recent studies.
Improves insulin resistance and blood sugar levels
Insulin resistance impacts approximately 80% of people with PCOS regardless of body weight. This is when the body cells’ insulin sensitivity is reduced which results in higher circulating insulin levels and blood glucose levels. This can contribute to some of the symptoms of PCOS, particularly difficulty getting pregnant, carbohydrate cravings and fatigue.
A 2021 systematic review of three randomised controlled trials found that curcumin significantly improves fasting glucose, fasting insulin, HOMA-IR and quantitative insulin sensitivity check index.
PCOS is associated with raised cholesterol levels which is linked to heart disease and other chronic diseases. The same systematic review with meta-analysis as above found that supplementing with curcumin significantly improves total cholesterol levels and boosts high-density lipoprotein levels (known as “good” cholesterol), having a positive effect on the lipid profile of the patients.
People with PCOS are believed to have chronic inflammation which is when low-grade inflammation is consistently present in the body. Turmeric may have anti-inflammatory properties. In fact, a recent research (a 2022 systematic review) found that supplementing with curcumin may have beneficial effects on markers of inflammation in people with PCOS. Larger studies are required but initial evidence is promising.
Improves menstrual irregularities
A recent study investigating the effect of curcumin on PCOS patients found that two 500 mg curcumin tablets taken for twelve weeks improved menstrual characteristics (such as improving the regularity of the menstrual cycle and ovulation) compared to the placebo group.
Turmeric dosage for PCOS
There is no definitive turmeric dosage for PCOS. A common supplementary dose of turmeric is 500-1000 milligrams per day. As always, consult with your doctor or healthcare team before supplementing with anything.
When should turmeric be taken?
There is no one best time to take turmeric. Some people prefer to take their dietary supplements in the morning, while others prefer to take them before bed. We recommend taking turmeric alongside a meal to help with absorption.
Side effects of curcumin or turmeric supplementation
Turmeric and curcumin are generally considered safe when used in sensible amounts (i.e. as a spice in food) but there may be potential side effects associated with supplementation when taken in high doses or for extended periods. It is essential to speak with your healthcare provider when starting any new supplement regime, especially if you have existing health conditions or are taking medication to prevent adverse effects.
High doses of curcumin or turmeric can lead to gastrointestinal issues such as diarrhoea, indigestion and nausea. Curcumin also has natural blood-thinning properties so if you are taking blood thinners or have a bleeding disorder consult your healthcare team before taking it. Plus, if you are having a scheduled surgery soon it is advised to discontinue the use of curcumin for a few weeks before the procedure because of the blood thinning properties.
Turmeric and curcumin may interfere with some medications such as anticoagulants, antiplatelet drugs and drugs that reduce stomach acid. The effectiveness of these medications may be impacted. Although rare, some people do suffer from allergic reactions when taking curcumin supplements.
High doses of curcumin or turmeric may lead to kidney stone formation, especially those with a history of kidney stones, or worsen gallbladder issues. Plus, curcumin can inhibit the absorption of non-heme iron (plant-based iron) so if you are at risk of iron deficiency or anaemia it is recommended that you do not supplement with curcumin or turmeric.
How to consume turmeric
There are many ways that you can incorporate turmeric into your diet via tea, turmeric milk, in recipes or supplementation. If you are consuming turmeric or curcumin for its health benefits it is advised to add a pinch of black pepper to enhance those benefits. Piperine, a compound found in black pepper, increases the bioavailability of curcumin which means it increases the absorption of the compound.
You can enjoy turmeric in tea, milk, recipes or in supplement form.
Turmeric tea can be a warming and simple way to incorporate turmeric and its health benefits into your diet. There are many turmeric teas on the market, or you can follow our simple recipe to make your own.
1 cup of water
1/2 teaspoon of ground turmeric (or a thumb of fresh turmeric root, sliced)
1 pinch of ground black pepper
(Optional) cinnamon, ginger, honey or maple syrup, fresh lemon juice
1. Boil the water in a small saucepan
2. Add your turmeric and ground pepper to the boiled water
3. Allow to simmer in the water for 10 minutes
4. Add any additional ingredients and strain using a fine-mesh strainer
Turmeric milk for PCOS
Also known as golden milk, turmeric milk is a warm, soothing drink made with a milk of your choice and turmeric. You can add many other ingredients to enhance its taste. Here is a simple recipe for making turmeric milk.
1 cup of milk (any dairy or plant-based milk of your choice)
1/2 teaspoon of ground turmeric
1 pinch of ground black pepper
(Optional) cinnamon, ginger, honey or maple syrup to taste
1. In a saucepan or in the microwave warm up the cup of milk. Don’t let the milk boil.
2. Add the turmeric and a pinch of ground black pepper, plus any additional ingredients
3. Stir well and enjoy!
Turmeric can be enjoyed in many different meals. Some of our favourite ways to incorporate turmeric into recipes is by adding the spice to curries, rice and grains, soups and stews, smoothies, roasted vegetables, salad dressings, baked goods, golden milk, marinades, egg dishes, grilled meats, veggie burgers and sauces.
Turmeric powder can be supplemented. If you choose to supplement with turmeric choose a supplement that includes black pepper in its formulation to enhance absorption.
Key takeaways: turmeric for PCOS?
Although we require more research the evidence for turmeric for PCOS is promising. Studies suggest that turmeric may reduce insulin resistance, stabilise blood sugar levels, lower cholesterol and reduce inflammation.
We can’t definitively recommend turmeric for people with PCOS, and those taking other medications or living with other conditions should be acutely aware of the side effects, boosting our turmeric intake could be a low-cost way to potentially improve symptoms of PCOS. As with any dietary change, consult your doctor or healthcare team or work with one of our PCOS nutritionists or dietitians for bespoke advice.
Founder and Editor | Registered Associate Nutritionist
Founder of Be The Collective LTD [The PCOS Collective & The Endo Collective] Alex Okell ANutr is a London-based reproductive health nutritionist with experience in research, private practice and digital media. She holds a Master’s degree in Nutrition from King’s College London and has co-authored papers with the University of Cambridge, King’s College London, The Food Foundation and the Food Standards Agency. Alex offers 1:1 PCOS support in our virtual PCOS clinic.