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Should I Worry About Lead In Turmeric?

Updated: Dec 20, 2022

The health benefits of turmeric and its many beneficial compounds have been documented in thousands of scientific studies from around the world. According to a 2019 paper published in Science Direct, turmeric is one of the most studied herbs. However, long before modern medicine stepped in, ancient sages of India developed the practice of Ayurveda, which continues to be one of the world’s most sophisticated and powerful mind-body health systems. More than a mere system of treating illness, Ayurveda is a science of life (Ayur = life, Veda = science or knowledge). It offers a body of wisdom designed to help people stay vibrant and healthy while realizing their full human potential. Modernized practices derived from Ayurveda traditions have formed the basis of much of what we know as complementary or alternative medicine.

Turmeric Is a "Balancer and Stabilizer"

Ayurveda teaches that there should be a balance between mind and body – what affects the mind affects the body and vice versa. Within the cornucopia of medicinal plants, few possess such a wide spectrum of qualities and medicinal uses as turmeric. This powerful herb’s ability to treat a myriad of diseases and ailments has made it a perfect “balancing and stabilizing” force for maintaining a healthy body as espoused by Ayurveda. One of the key elements in turmeric – curcumin – is scientifically associated with its capacity to control arthritis pain, anxiety, and metabolic syndrome, as well as lower cholesterol.

Lead is Naturally in All Soil

The soil in which turmeric and other plants used as spices (such as ginger, dill, and fennel) are grown contains minerals such as quartz, mica, and iron oxides. Indeed, all soil on our planet contains minerals, including trace amounts of lead. Lead-containing paint, tap water from rusty pipes, and pesticides sprayed on plants are leading sources of consumed lead. The 1979 medical study of lead paint by a pediatrician was among the earliest to show that licking it caused permanent brain damage in young children. This is a major reason why the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began monitoring and regulating lead levels in foods, dietary supplements (such as vitamins), and health supplements (such as turmeric capsules) produced in the US. turmeric that is organically grown (such as that of the American turmeric Company is both pesticide-free and grown in the US. However, turmeric grown outside of the US is not regulated, and certain geographic areas are linked to a high level of lead in their turmeric (plus other spice) plants, along with health supplements derived from them.

Pesticides and Lead

The use of pesticides to control the destruction of farmers’ crops by insects became widespread in the 1950s, and pesticides remain the most commonly used way to kill insects that harm plants/trees. Due to the link between pesticides and the development of cancer (especially leukemia), the organic farming movement spread across the US – resulting in the US National Organic Program (NOP) creation in 1990 within the federal Dept. of Agriculture (USDA). One of the primary tenets of organic farming is not using synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.

Since the lead level in pesticides is typically extremely high, pesticide-contaminated soil is the primary way that a high amount of lead can end up in a turmeric plant. One issue for every nation’s importers of overseas turmeric supplements is that turmeric is native to Southeast Asia and especially India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh). Pesticide use is still high in that area, due to the high prevalence of crop-destroying insects. However, it is also the region of the world where most turmeric plants used in spices and health supplements are grown for export.

Turmeric’s Yellow Color and Lead Level

Ground turmeric is associated with a yellow color that is due to the chemical makeup of curcumin. Since that yellow color specifically distinguishes turmeric from other spices, many producers of ground turmeric in Southeast Asia add lead chromate to increase the vibrancy of the yellow color in their turmeric-containing products. According to an article in Environmental Research in 2019, lead concentrations in Bangladesh – one of the foremost global exporters of turmeric – was 500-fold higher than the national allowable limit, so extremely toxic.

This article also noted that the lead chromate used in Bangladeshi products was primarily produced in India for use in dyes rather than consumption, but Southeast Asian producers of turmeric in general add lead chromate to their turmeric products (with Southeast Asia as the primary source of all turmeric sold in the US).

Lead Chromate and Prepared Food Items in the US – How Common is the Problem?

In 2017, an article in Public Health Reports specified that 13 brands of lead-containing turmeric were recalled by the FDA over the past several years, and that ethnic markets were the primary sources of turmeric from Southeast Asia. Additionally, this article reported that most turmeric sold as a spice in the US is imported from India and Bangladesh. Notably, color additives in food items manufactured in the US must be approved by the FDA before they can be used in food items, pursuant to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act .

In addition, a New Jersey-based company was ordered to issue a recall on at least seven brands of ground turmeric sold nationwide due to concerns that it was contaminated by lead.

Regulation in the US of Dietary Supplements Including Turmeric Supplements

The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) of 1994 authorized the FDA to ensure the safety of dietary supplements (such as vitamin and mineral pills) and herbal supplements sold in the US. Since Congress passed that Act which designated oversight to the FDA, the determination that Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) of dietary and herbal supplements has occurred has been one of the many FDA roles. Moreover, this federal agency regulates both the finished dietary supplement product and its ingredients.

Since the DSHEA specifies that manufacturers and distributors are prohibited from marketing products that are adulterated or misbranded, the companies marketing the products are responsible for evaluating their regulatory compliance prior to the product availability in the marketplace; the FDA then has the authority to take action against a company if a given marketed product results in a reported adverse reaction and/or fails their review of the product.

Meanwhile, states have also enacted laws regulating the sale of dietary supplements. In California, Proposition 65 was passed in 1986. This law mandates that foods, dietary (and herbal) supplements, and other products bear warnings about certain chemicals contained in the particular product on a visible warning label for it to be sold in California.

In comparing the turmeric produced and sold by The American Turmeric Company with the minimum reporting requirements set forth by the State of California, we are WAY BELOW the level at which we would need to report our turmeric.

How Can You Tell if a Turmeric Product You Have Purchased has Lead in It?

You definitely cannot determine if lead is in a turmeric product just by viewing or tasting it. However, you can have your turmeric product tested by a laboratory if you are unsure as to whether it contains lead (or lead chromate). It is recommended that you purchase turmeric supplements from a company such as The American Turmeric Company. For turmeric that you plan to use as a spice in food, an organic supplier based in the US is recommended – with fresh turmeric grown on an organic farm as the most preferable for use in cooking meals.

Third-Party Certification by Independent Laboratories

The turmeric products sold by The American Turmeric Company are not only certified to be lead-free, but are internally tested for the presence of other heavy metals (such as cadmium and mercury); curcumin content; and pathogens (organisms that can cause illness, such as E. coli and Salmonellae, bacteria). We utilize only independent, third-party laboratories that produce detailed reports and certify the products before we market them to the public, and their lab results for offered products are then posted on our company’s website. To view what our reports look like, click here.

Why Use a Turmeric Supplement?

Meanwhile, many scientific researchers over decades have shown its ability to relieve inflammation. turmeric was first used medicinally around 3,000 years ago, but its US popularity to promote better health has tremendously increased over the past five years. Consequently, online retail stores worldwide are offering turmeric supplements to consumers. However, these may contain a higher lead content than safe, plus not actually be turmeric.

By using turmeric products sold by The American Turmeric Company, you know that you are utilizing a high-quality product that may benefit your health and well-being.

Please let us know if you have any questions or comments regarding this information. Contact us at

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