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Sun, Sept. 15

To Your Good Health: Tumeric works for reader’s pain — except for the side effects

DEAR DR. ROACH: I was having lots of arthritis pain in my neck and feet last summer. Someone recommended turmeric supplements to help. I started taking 600 mg twice a day. The pain slowly subsided. Needless to say, I was ecstatic. I took it for about a month, then I started getting minor stomach cramping and diarrhea, which would come on suddenly and urgently. I stopped taking the supplements, and the diarrhea stopped right away. I tried the supplement again but lowered the dosage to a single 600-mg capsule a day. The cramping and diarrhea came back right away. I have stopped taking the supplements, but now the pain is back, especially in my feet. It is affecting my ability to exercise as I would like. Is there a form of turmeric that does not cause this side effect? I have tried turmeric tea with the same results. I feel so much better taking the turmeric -- except for the dreaded stomach cramping and diarrhea. -- R.S.J.

ANSWER: Turmeric does not cause side effects in most people, but when it does, stomach upset, nausea and diarrhea are the most common. The fact that your symptoms went away when you stopped taking the supplement and returned upon restarting does suggest the symptoms are caused by the supplement.

Curcumin is the active chemical, which can be extracted from the spice turmeric. You can try taking curcumin itself, which might help. The dose you are taking is fine for either turmeric or curcumin.

If you are already taking curcumin, you can lower the dose even further. Unfortunately, some people simply will not tolerate it at any dose.

DEAR DR. ROACH: What I want to see is a chart of bone density results for a 70-year-old white woman, to gauge where my results are in comparison. Am I normal for loss, or higher or lower than normal for bone loss? I’ve searched for this, and every time, I’m compared to a 30-year-old! Of course I have lost bone mass; that’s life. My sister’s results are from a different doctor, and we can’t even compare ourselves! — V.W.

ANSWER: There are three ways that bone density results are reported. One is called the absolute bone density, and it is given in grams per square centimeter. This number varies depending on the machine, and one machine cannot be compared against another. However, the two other numbers are designed for easy comparison.

The first is called the T-score, and that is the one that compares you against a healthy 30-year-old woman (men get compared against healthy young men). Bone loss does go down with age, so a 70-year-old woman is expected to have a negative T-score, meaning that she has less bone density than a 30-year-old. The definition of osteoporosis can be made by T-score, with a result below -2.5 putting a woman at high risk for fracture.

The second score is the Z-score, and it is less known, but that’s the one that compares you against other people of your age and gender. If you have a Z-score of zero, that means your bone loss is as predicted for your age. A very negative Z-score suggests a reason other than just age for bone loss, such as vitamin D deficiency. Ethnic background also has an effect on bone density: Black women tend to have higher bone density results than white women (about the level of white men), and are at lower risk for fractures. Of course, there are large differences among individuals within an ethnic population as well as differences between populations.


Dr. Roach regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but will incorporate them in the column whenever possible. Readers may email questions to ToYourGoodHealth@med.cornell.edu or send mail to 628 Virginia Dr., Orlando, FL 32803.

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