Written by Slawomir (“Swavak”) Gromadzki, MPH
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) has been used for thousands of years as a popular spice and natural healing herb in India and throughout Asia. In fact, it is believed that the high intake of Turmeric could be one of the reasons why many elderly citizens of India have been reported to be able to maintain healthy brain functioning at old age.
The most important bioactive ingredient found in Turmeric is flavonoid Curcumin. Extensive research shows Curcumin can benefit multiple targets in our body and is believed to be one of natures’ most powerful antioxidants with many health benefits. Apart from helping our body to fight cell-damaging free radicals and increasing Glutathione levels Curcumin is also ideal for those who wish to have healthy digestive, immune and nervous system.
Curcumin also seem very beneficial for preventing and treating other conditions such as arthritis, depression cancer. It is, therefore, very important to know how to increase the effectiveness of this amazing natural remedy.
Some modern studies stunned the world by providing clear evidence that humble turmeric can even reverse Alzheimer’s disease! There is a significantly lower rate of Alzheimer’s disease amongst Asian populations that have diets high in turmeric.
Curcumin has been shown to break down amyloid-beta plaques (a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease) in studies. In each case, turmeric was shown to relieve dementia and improve cognitive function. The authors concluded: “In a study involving three patients with Alzheimer’s Disease, whose cognitive decline and behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia were severe, exhibiting irritability, agitation, anxiety, and apathy, supplementation with turmeric powder capsules for over one year was found to be associated with improvement in symptoms.”
Also another research confirmed these findings with the following words: “Curcumin as an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and lipophilic action improves the cognitive functions in patients with Alzheimer’s Disease. Due to various effects of curcumin, such as decreased Beta-amyloid plaques, delayed degradation of neurons, metal-chelation, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and decreased microglia formation, the overall memory in patients with Alzheimer’s Disease has improved.”
Since scientists found that people who were given anti-inflammatory medications were significantly less likely to develop Alzheimer’s it is believed that anti-inflammatory substances in turmeric are responsible for its effectiveness in helping reduce symptoms of this condition. But turmeric can help Alzheimer’s patients in many ways. In fact, there is mounting clinical evidence that turmeric might protect the brain from the onset as well as the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
Read excellent article on ALZHEIMER’S >
Unfortunately, it was shown that Curcumin found in the standard ground Turmeric is poorly absorbed and usually fails to benefit the rest of the body outside the gut. In addition, even when isolated curcumin is ingested (in the form of extract), without some other important ingredients present in turmeric, its absorption is not much higher either because our liver removes most of it.
First of all, in order to boost the absorption of curcumin we should consume a whole fresh ground turmeric root because its natural oils (found in ground turmeric) enhance the bioavailability (absorption) of curcumin even up to eight fold!
Apart from that, as a result of taking turmeric with additional healthy fats (avocado, coconut oil, nuts, seeds, ground flax, etc.), curcumin bypasses liver and is absorbed directly into the bloodstream through the lymphatic system.
But there is even better way to boost bioavailability of curcumin. It was discovered that adding small amount (approximately a quarter teaspoon) of black pepper increased the power and absorption of curcumin (the key active ingredient found in turmeric) by 2000%! And even much smaller amount of black pepper consumed with turmeric still significantly improved absorption.
However, even though piperine in black pepper appears to boost bioavailability of curcumin be careful to not overdose it. Like most hot spices, it also contains some harmful chemicals. For instance, safrole in black pepper irritates the delicate lining of the stomach. In some animal studies very high doses of black pepper triggered stomach cancer. For this reason it is safer to use it with turmeric sparingly and rather with meals and not between them. On the other hand, however, when turmeric is taken about 30 min before meals the absorption of its active ingredients (including curcumin) is improved as otherwise they have to compete for absorption with other ingredients found in foods.
I myself wouldn’t take black pepper because of the side effects mentioned above. Besides, I don’t think boosting curcumin absorption by 2000% is a good idea as too much of this active ingredient doesn’t seem to be safe. Second video (below) by Dr Greger deals with this problem. But if you decide to use black pepper with turmeric anyway, try to not overdose it.
If, like myself, you don’t like the taste of turmeric and prefer supplements, the best choice (when we take into consideration the mentioned above facts) seems to be the Curcumin 3 offered by HealthAid. First of all, it combines all the key factors which have shown to greatly increase concentration, absorption and effectiveness of Curcumin. Due to its unique synergistic formulation and holistic nature Curcumin 3 can be regarded as the most absorbable form of Turmeric. It is standardized in its purest and concentrated form, providing 95% of active Curcuminoids, especially its three main compounds – Curcumin, Demethoxycurcumin, and Bisdemethoxycurcumin. Furthermore, all of them are combined with the highest quality of Piperine extract (the active ingredient in black pepper) which according to one study was able to enhance bioavailability of curcumin by as much as 2000%! Consequently, because of the carefully designed holistic formulation and additional ingredients included in this formula, the Curcumin is not destroyed by the digestive enzymes and can be effectively absorbed into the blood stream and distributed all over the body, including brain.
Another good choice is Holistic Turmeric by Pukka Herbs because apart from curcumin it also contains wholistic turmeric and long pepper fruit which contains the same ingredient as black pepper.
Ingredients of Pukka’s Wholistic Turmeric: Turmeric root 50%, Turmeric root wholistic extract 40%, Long Pepper fruit 5%, Nutrigest Seagreens Arctic fresh seaweed, Ginger root, Spirulina, Vegetable cellulose capsule.
But, there is still another way to improve bioavailability of curcumin. Quercetin (the same substance which kills cancer cells and reduces symptoms of hay fever and allergies) is a flavonoid found in many plants as has been proved to be able to inhibit the enzyme that deactivates curcumin. For this reason it is a good idea to consume turmeric with foods that are high in quercetin such as red grapes, onions, apples, cranberries, blueberries, nettle leaf, red lettuce, raw kale, chicory greens, raw spinach, sweet peppers, snap beans or raw broccoli.
Shoba G1, Joy D, Joseph T, Majeed M, Rajendran R, Srinivas PS. Influence of piperine on the pharmacokinetics of curcumin in animals and human volunteers. Planta Med. 1998 May; 64(4):353-6.
Turmeric and It’s Main Compound Curcumin
Written by Vesna Manasieva, BSc Herbal Medicine; MSc Pharmacology
Turmeric is a rhizomatous herbaceous perennial plant (Curcuma longa) of the ginger family and is commonly known as spice, which has long been recognized for its medicinal properties. Curcumin (1,7-bis (4-hydroxy-3-methoxyphenyl)-1,6-heptadiene-3,5-Dione), also called diferuloylmethane, is the main natural polyphenol found in turmeric. Curcumin is being used worldwide in many different forms for multiple health benefits.
For example, in India curcumin is used in curries; in Japan, it is served in tea; in Thailand, it is used in cosmetics; in China, it is used as a colorant; in Korea, it is served in drinks; in Malaysia, it is used as an antiseptic; in Pakistan, it is used as an anti-inflammatory agent; and in the United States, it is used in mustard sauce (Hewlings & Kalman, 2017). Curcuminoids, also known as derivatives of curcumin, have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as safe and with good tolerability; safety profiles have been shown by clinical trials, even at doses between 4000 and 8000 mg/day (Basnet & Basnet, 2011).
Recently, curcumin has been extensively researched for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. However, despite its numerous reported anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits, one of the major problems with curcumin itself is poor bioavailability, which appears to be primarily due to poor absorption, rapid metabolism, and rapid elimination (Anand et al., 2007). Several agents have been identified successfully in blocking the metabolic pathway of curcumin and increasing its bioavailability (Shoba et al., 1998). Piperine, the major active component of black pepper has been identified as the most known bioavailability enhancer, and has been associated with an increase of 2000% in the bioavailability of curcumin (Shoba et al., 1998). Therefore, when consuming turmeric, it is best to be taken with black pepper, or in a form of supplement, a combination of curcumin and piperine.
Curcumin is considered as a chain-breaking antioxidant. Being a lipophilic compound, it is also efficient scavenger of free radicals. Curcumin’s effect on free radicals is carried out by several different mechanisms. It can scavenge different forms of free radicals such as reactive oxygen (ROS) and reactive nitrogen (RNS) species (Menon & Sudheer, 2007); it can inhibit ROS-generating enzymes such as lipoxygenase/cyclooxygenase and xanthine hydrogenase/oxidase (Lin et al., 2007); it can also modulate the activity of superoxide dismutase (SOD) enzymes which are important for the neutralization of free radicals (Marchiani et al., 2014). A recent systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized control trial examining the efficacy of purified curcuminoids on oxidative stress demonstrated a significant effect of curcuminoids on different oxidative stress parameters including plasma activities of SOD and catalase, as well as serum concentrations of glutathione peroxidase (GSH) and lipid peroxides (Sahebkar et al., 2015).
Inflammation is closely related with oxidative stress; inflammatory cells release a number of reactive species at the site of inflammation leading to oxidative stress. In addition, a number of reactive oxygen and nitrogen species initiate an intracellular signalling cascade that could further enhance pro-inflammatory gene expression (Hewlings & Kalman, 2017). Curcumin is known to block nuclear factor (NF-kB), which is a transcription factor associated with inflammation; and is activated by tumour necrosis factor (TNF-α), known as major mediator of inflammation in most diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, cerebral injury, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, allergy, asthma, bronchitis, colitis, arthritis, renal ischemia, psoriasis, diabetes, obesity and depression. Therefore, by blocking the activation of NF-kB, curcumin has been confirmed as potent anti-inflammatory agent with ability to supress inflammatory processes in the body (Panahi et al., 2016).
Curcumin Health Benefits
Curcumin for Osteoarthritis
Osteoarthritis is a chronic joint condition that affects over 250 million people worldwide. It is associated with elevated cytokine levels and inflammation. Being already identified as potent anti-inflammatory agent, curcumin could be highly beneficial in the treatment of osteoarthritis. Colitti et al. (2012) found that oral delivery of curcumin in patients with osteoarthritis leads to decreased production of TNF-α, and inhibition of the inflammatory transcription factor NF-kB in white blood cells. In another study, a randomized double blind placebo controlled trial, 40 subjects with mild to moderate knee pain received either curcuminoid (500 mg/day in three divided doses) with 5 mg piperine added to each 500-mg dose, or a matched placebo for six weeks. The study further demonstrated significantly greater reductions in all parameters in the group that received curcuminoids, comparing to the placebo group. There was also a decrease in systemic oxidative stress, as measured via serum activities of superoxide dismutase (Kuptniratsaikul et al., 2014).
Curcumin for Metabolic Syndrome
Metabolic syndrome includes a variety of conditions such as: insulin resistance, hyperglycaemia, hypertension, low levels of good cholesterol (HDL), elevated levels of bad cholesterol (LDL), elevated triglyceride levels, and visceral obesity. Pro-inflammatory cytokines are one of the major complications associated with metabolic syndrome disorders. Being already identified as potent anti-inflammatory agent, curcumin could be highly beneficial in the treatment of various metabolic syndrome disorders. Curcuminoids have been identified significantly capable in the treatment of cardiovascular disorders due to their ability to modulate the expression of genes and the activity of enzymes involved in lipoprotein metabolism that lead to a reduction in plasma triglycerides and LDL cholesterol levels (Sahebkar, 2014). A study published by Chuengsamarn et al. (2012) suggested that regular consumption of curcumin may help prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes. In this study, over the course of nine months, researchers monitored 240 pre-diabetics who were given either a placebo or a curcumin supplement. Results indicated that 16.4 percent of the group who were provided a placebo had developed diabetes, whereas the curcumin group did not.
Curcumin for Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
Inflammatory bowel disease is a chronic immune disorder that involves an overactive immune component in the intestinal mucosa. IBD is divided into two major categories, ulcerative colitis (UC) and Crohn’s disease (CD) that manifest with similar symptoms such as: abdominal pain, cramping, diarrhoea, rectal bleeding, urgency, nausea, fever, and weight loss. Certain cytokines have been associated with IBD, including TNF-α, IL-1, IL-6, IL-8, and others. Curcumin, being identified with strong anti-inflammatory properties and ability to block nuclear factor (NF-kB), which is the transcription factor associated with inflammation, and activated by tumour necrosis factor (TNF-α), may have a positive effect on reducing symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease. In a study that involved five people affected with inflammatory bowel disease, researchers found out that curcumin helped improve the symptoms of the participants (Holt et al., 2005).
Curcumin for Skin Health
Thanks to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties Curcumin is also highly beneficial for skin health. In terms of skin health, curcumin neutralises free radicals and prevents cell damage; it can also accelerate wound healing and improve collagen deposition. Asawanonda & Klahan (2010) conducted a study involving 10 patients affected with vitiligo who were subjected to a procedure that combined UVB therapy and curcumin cream. Asawanonda & Klahan (2010) further demonstrated a significant reduction in the skin pigmentation after the application of curcumin cream. In another study, patients suffering from psoriasis were provided a 450-gram curcumin supplement per day for 12 weeks. After the study, several participants reported an 83 to 88 percent improvement of symptoms (Gupta et al., 2013).
Anand P., Kunnumakkara A.B. et al. (2007). Bioavailability of curcumin: Problems and promises. Molecular Pharmacology. 7(4), 807–818.
Basnet, P., Skalko-Basnet, N. (2011). Curcumin: An anti-inflammatory molecule from a curry spice on the path to cancer treatment. Molecules 11(16), 4567–4598.
Colitti, M., Gaspardo, B. et al. (2012). Transcriptome modification of white blood cells after dietary administration of curcumin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug in osteoarthritic affected dogs. Vet Immunol Immunopathol. 147(34), 136–146.
Gupta, S.C., Patchva, S. et al. (2013). Therapeutic Roles of Curcumin: Lessons Learned from Clinical Trials. AAPS Journal. 15(1), 195–210
Hewlings, S.J., Kalman, D.S. (2017). Curcumin: A Review of Its’ Effects on Human Health. Foods. 6(10), 92-99.
Holt, P.R., Katz, S. et al. (2005). Curcumin therapy in inflammatory bowel disease: a pilot study. Dig Dis Sci. 50(11), 2191-2193.
Kuptniratsaikul, V., Dajpratham, P. et al. (2014). Efficacy and safety of Curcuma domestica extracts compared with ibuprofen in patients with knee osteoarthritis: A multi center study. Clin. Interv. Aging. 14(9), 451–458.
Lin, Y.G., Kunnumakkara, A.B. et al. (2007). Curcumin inhibits tumour growth and angiogenesis in ovarian carcinoma by targeting the nuclear factor-B pathway. Clinical Cancer Research. 7(13), 3423–3430.
Marchiani, A., Rozzo, C. et al. (2014). Curcumin and curcumin-like molecules: From spice to drugs. Curr. Med. Chem. 14(21), 204–222.
Panahi, Y., Hosseini, M.S. et al. (2016). Effects of curcumin on serum cytokine concentrations in subjects with metabolic syndrome: A post-hoc analysis of a randomized controlled trial. Biomedical Pharmacother. 2016, 82, 578–582.
Sahebkar, A., Serbanc, M.C. et al. (2015). Effect of curcuminoids on oxidative stress: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. J. Funct. Foods. 5(18), 898–909.
Sahebkar, A. (2014). Curcuminoids for the management of hypertriglyceridemia. Natural Review Cardiology. 14(11), 121-123.
Shoba G., Joy D., Joseph T., Majeed M. et al. (1998). Influence of piperine on the pharmacokinetics of curcumin in animals and human volunteers. Planta Medica. 8(64), 353–356.