Turmeric might as well be one of the most popular spices and nutritional supplements are known to both holistic medical practitioners and the general public. But what exactly makes turmeric so special compared to the dozens upon dozens of other herbs and extracts out there? Primarily, the importance lies in one of the active compounds found in turmeric, called curcumin.
Curcumin is the main bioactive constituent in turmeric, although turmeric contains many beneficial compounds known as ‘curcuminoids.’ Turmeric has been used for thousands of years as a traditional spice, and as a therapeutic remedy. Research clearly demonstrates a strong correlation between this compound curcumin and improved neurological function, potent anti-inflammatory effects, high antioxidant capacity, improved heart health, arterial health and circulation, anti-cancer properties, significant benefit in fighting age-related disease, and improvement in cognitive decline.
To reinstate – turmeric is a root or rhizome (part of the ginger family) with many beneficial compounds, like curcumin. Curcumin is a particular compound in turmeric that is extremely potent, with high anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity. This specific compound is where a lot of the research on the benefits of turmeric has been done, and the focus of research on turmeric as a supplement. Most will find benefit in supplementing with an extract that is specifically high potency curcumin, rather than just turmeric powder alone. Of course, turmeric is extremely healthy and has its own benefits that make it worth incorporating into your diet outside of supplementation.
Unfortunately, a primary issue with curcumin (and turmeric – by extension) is the low bioavailability of curcumin by the body. This is why less benefit is derived from incorporating turmeric into cooking (or using a powdered turmeric supplement) as opposed to an optimized curcumin extract. Bioavailability, even with curcumin extracts, can still be an issue.
Reasons attributed to this include poor absorption rates by the body, rapid metabolism of curcumin (and rapid elimination), and instability of the compound – all of these factors lead to curcumin being ‘active’ in the body for much shorter durations in addition to at a much lower concentration than what you think you might be getting.
Many manufacturers have taken this into consideration when creating new formulations of curcumin or turmeric products – specifically with the aim in mind of making it more potent and bioavailable.
This is an important consideration to keep in mind when looking or shopping for a curcumin supplement – the most potent and bioavailable supplements will be those that are micellar or micronized. Particles reduced to a smaller size, a nano-particle size, that is then encapsulated in lipids will help ensure they are broken down slowly and can circulate the body for longer in a much higher concentration.
Other supplements will include turmeric polysaccharides (also derived from turmeric compounds) or other extracts like piperine (derived from black pepper) to help enhance absorption and bio-availability.
Now that you know a little about the importance of bioavailability of curcumin, and the distinction between turmeric and curcumin extracts – what about all the proposed health benefits?
One research paper indicates that there has been well over 18,000 published analysis, reviews, research papers, and manuscripts investigating or reporting the health benefits and properties of curcumin (most of them within the last 10 years). Most of them are looking at using curcumin as a treatment method in a variety of chronic ailments and diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
The primary drawback most of these reports argue has to do with bioavailability – which we have already taken a look at!
There is clear evidence demonstrating curcumin’s therapeutic potential against an extremely wide array of health concerns and conditions. Curcumin demonstrates antitoxic capabilities in many bodily organs, including prevention and treatment of hepatotoxicity (liver damage), genotoxicity (DNA damage), cardiotoxicity (heart damage) and neurotoxicity (nervous system damage and brain function impairment).
Another prized benefit of curcumin is the anti-cancer properties it has. Curcumin seems to have a profound impact on modulating cancer cell growth and proliferation. By that, we mean that curcumin inhibits the growth of human tumors in studies, and seems to prevent carcinogen cancers in animal studies. It has strong anti-proliferative effects to prevent the spread, development, and growth of various cancers.
All of these reports and it is no surprise curcumin can also be beneficial for treating Alzheimer’s disease, as well as other neurological disorders and traumatic brain injuries. There is still no ‘cure’ for Alzheimer’s disease and this is why prevention, slowing progression, reducing inflammation, reducing oxidative stress, and reversing plaque formation is essential. Curcumin has been shown to cross the blood-brain barrier.
It is also evident that inflammation and oxidative damage plays a large factor in Alzheimer’s disease and curcumin has extremely potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory capabilities – more than the majority of supplements on the market. The most significant marker of the Alzheimer’s disease is the buildup of protein tangles known as amyloid plaques. It is demonstrated in clinical studies that curcumin can help prevent accumulation and build-up these plaques. Curcumin may either slow down or reverse the progression and symptoms of the Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, along with others suffering from neurological disorders or recovering from traumatic brain injuries.
Curcumin shows promise as a potent replacement for NSAIDs as well! These prescribed or OTC anti-inflammatory drugs are extremely common for those looking for pain relief. Unfortunately, they often come with extremely unwanted side effects from prolonged use like gastrointestinal ulcers and bleeding, along with the increased risk of kidney disease.
When it comes to curcumin, most of the research on the benefits of curcumin supplements for joint pain, injury, diabetic neuropathy, or migraines comes from research with formulations that are not very bioavailable. Enhanced bioavailability (which is now common) should increase the already promising results of curcumin’s benefit for joint pain, arthritis, osteoporosis, migraine, and neuropathy sufferers.
Some may be wondering about curcumin and turmeric’s safety – especially when supplementing at higher doses. Those inquiring will be relieved to know that curcumin has an excellent safety profile – especially compared to many other herbal and traditional supplements. There have been numerous trials on the efficacy and safety of curcumin at an intake of 0-3mg/kg of body weight. Very few negative side effects have been reported in those exceeding that dosage – typically, these have been reports of nausea, diarrhea, and yellow stool.
As always, for those with a pre-existing medical condition that are taking medications, or those who are pregnant or breast-feeding, it is always recommended to consult with a health care professional prior to use.
Given curcumin’s general high safety profile, well-tolerated supplementation, and numerous range of benefits for no less than… cardiovascular health, neurological health, cognitive function, metabolic syndromes, inflammatory conditions, oxidative stress, arthritis, anxiety, depression, cancer, dementia, Alzheimer’s, heart disease… among various other conditions and chronic ailments, it is imperative for those seeking relief for health concerns to look into curcumin as a highly effective option.
Even those without any ailments and in good health may find supplementing with a lower dose of curcumin beneficial for reducing risk of health concerns later in life as a preventative measure. It may also help improve mood and energy levels by reducing oxidative stress and inflammatory after mental or physical stress.
Curcumin has received a massive amount of attention over the last few decades publicly and for good reason. With curcumin, believe the hype.