Curcumin may increase risk of bleeding

Dear Dr. Roach: My brother took turmeric every day, after hearing all the hype about it being the new superfood. At his next annual checkup, it was noted that his blood platelets were very low. A month later he died of a stroke. He was 70. After doing some research on turmeric, I read that indeed it can lower your blood platelets. Is there any chance that low platelets can cause a stroke? This is just a precautionary tale for your readers.

— J.S.

Dear J. S.: I am very sorry to hear of your brother.

Turmeric is a commonly used culinary spice that’s also used as a medication widely throughout the world. It is generally considered safe. However, there is ample evidence that curcumin (the active substance in turmeric) can increase bleeding risk, acting in a way similar to aspirin to reduce “stickiness” of platelets. Turmeric does not cause the platelet levels to go down, but rather interferes with their function.

Dr. Keith Roach

In most cases, this reduces the risk of stroke. Most strokes are caused by blood clots, and aspirin and similar drugs are often used to reduce the risk of strokes caused by blood clots. Unfortunately, any medical intervention runs the risk of causing an untoward effect. In your brother’s case, it’s possible the stroke was caused by bleeding inside the head. He may have had a condition that lowered his platelets — there are many, but the most common is an autoimmune disease called idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura — which may have made the additional effect of turmeric on his platelet function more dangerous.