April 27, 2018
In India, turmeric has
been recognized as a medical superfood for literally thousands of
years, but when people in other parts of the globe came to learn
about it, for the most part, they knew it as just the spice which
added flavor and color to curries.
Over recent years,
however, there has been a (re)discovery of natural, plant-based
health and traditional medical practices such as
ayurvedic medicine and this has led
to a new appreciation of turmeric and curcumin.
While we see this as a positive, we also get the feeling that there
is a lot of confusion around the topic of turmeric and curcumin, so
we have put together this guide to help clear it up.
Let's start with some
What exactly is
From a botanical perspective, turmeric is more properly known as
curcuma longa and is a member of
the zingiberaceae plant family.
In practical terms it's a
compact bushy plant, which thrives in regions where there is a
combination of warm temperatures and plenty of rainfall, hence it's
mainly found in Asia, particularly India.
principally for its rhizomes (roots), which can be eaten raw or
cooked from fresh, but are more often dried and ground into powder
or used for the production of turmeric oil.
Then, what is
Chemically, curcumin is what is known as a
These are natural
chemical compounds produced to serve a purpose related to the
environment in which an organism is found, for example they may help
to ward off common diseases or to discourage predators.
As you may have guessed
from this, these phenols often have properties which are very
beneficial to humans, particularly in terms of health.
At current time, curcumin is mainly recognized as an antioxidant,
hence its use in anti-ageing beauty products. It has long been used
in ayurvedic medicine for its anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial
properties and is currently being studied by scientists to measure
its potential as an immunomodulatory and chemosensitizing agent.
In particular, it is of
great interest as a potential treatment for cancer.
What is the
difference between turmeric and curcumin?
We've looked at turmeric and we've looked at
curcumin, so let's clarify the difference between them.
In short, curcumin is the
main bioactive component of turmeric and hence makes a significant
contribution to the health benefits offered by turmeric.
Indeed, from a health and
wellness perspective the presence of curcumin is arguably the
single, biggest difference between turmeric (which has it) and
ginger (which does not although it does have other health benefits).
bioavailability is essentially a measure of how easy it is for the
body to absorb a substance. We'll talk about it in more detail
While curcumin is arguably the best-known component of turmeric, it
actually only accounts for 2-5% of the content of a turmeric
Most of the rest of the
content is carbohydrate (about 70%) and there is also some protein
(about 7%) along with a range of vitamins, minerals, essential oils
The importance of these
extra elements should not be underestimated, in fact, scientific
research has indicated that even without the presence of curcumin,
turmeric offers significant medical benefits.
What health benefits
does turmeric offer?
This is probably the single, most recognizable benefit of
turmeric and why it is recommended to people with arthritis.
provides pain relief
Turmeric and pain relief may be a bit of a chicken-and-egg
situation in that turmeric is often suggested as a
pain-relieving solution for joint pain, particularly arthritis.
Given that turmeric
is recognized as having anti-inflammatory properties, it is to
be expected that as it reduces the inflammation which is causing
the pain, so the pain itself will be relieved.
It would be
interesting to see further studies into turmeric's
pain-relieving properties in other situations.
is an antioxidant
Let's explain this in simple terms.
Oxidation is any
chemical reaction caused by the addition of oxygen. In everyday
life, ordinary rust is probably the most visible example of
oxidation. It's when iron turns to iron oxide.
The reason rust is
often associated with wetness rather than just with oxygen is
because oxygen is transported in water (H2O), often
alongside chemicals which damage the iron and make it more
vulnerable to oxidation.
In the human body, oxidation is a process which may result in
the production of free radicals, which can cause great damage to
cells, proteins and DNA.
Free radicals are
associated with serious illnesses such as Alzheimer's disease,
atherosclerosis cancer and Parkinson's disease to name but some.
At this point in time, scientists are getting very excited about
the potential for using turmeric to prevent or at least manage
Even those who
already have diabetes may benefit as turmeric may prevent their
liver from being damaged by strong drugs.
can assist with digestion
Practitioners of ayurvedic medicine have long recommended
turmeric to promote good digestion.
Now Western science
has realized they were right. Since turmeric has
anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, it helps your
In fact, turmeric may
even benefit those with Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
While turmeric curcumin has many benefits and is perfectly safe for
most people, people on blood-thinning drugs such as
Warfarin (also known as Coumadin)
should definitely take medical advice before consuming turmeric in
anything more than the smallest of doses as it has blood-thinning
Even if you are not
taking blood-thinning drugs, be alert to any signs that cuts are
bleeding more than normal. This is extremely rare but does
If you are going to experience issue with turmeric, they are much
more likely to be related to your digestion.
Even though turmeric is
generally beneficial for the digestive system, if you've ever eaten
it or even just smelled it, you'll know that it's a strong spice and
basically it seems to be a bit too much for some people.
Having said that, if you
introduce it into your diet gradually, you're much more likely to
adapt to it easily and avoid any issues.
There is a slight possibility that turmeric may stimulate
contractions in pregnant women. There are plenty of stories about
women in the late stages of pregnancy eating curry (which contains
turmeric) to try to induce labour.
While these have long
been thought of as old wives' tales, there is now evidence to
suggest that turmeric could be useful in the treatment of menstrual
problems so the issue of turmeric and pregnancy may come under the
heading of "watch this space".
Turmeric and curcumin
- The marketing and the facts
As ancient wisdom has been put under the microscope of modern
science, we've developed a far greater and clearer understanding not
just of what plants do, but of how they do it, in other words what
chemical compounds, specifically, are responsible for the medical
benefits offered by healing plants such as turmeric.
This has brought the
healing power of curcumin to mainstream attention and has created a
kind of self-fulfilling marketing prophecy.
Basically all the medical and (health) media attention devoted to
curcumin specifically has led to a situation where modern customers
are just as likely to be looking for curcumin as they are for
From a sales perspective,
therefore, it is vital that all packaging and product descriptions
contain both terms so that customers can find what they need either
on a shelf or through a search engine.
At the same time,
however, this approach can give the impression that turmeric is all
about curcumin and actually this is very far from being the truth.
In actual fact, even though science is validating the health-giving
properties of curcumin, it is also highlighting the fact that even
when the curcumin content is removed, turmeric still offers a wide
range of medical benefits.
one study investigated curcumin-free
turmeric (CFT) components and concluded that there was evidence to
indicate that they not only had anti-inflammatory properties but
could also be beneficial in the treatment of both cancer and
Another study compared curcuminoids-
and oil-free aqueous extract of turmeric with curcuminoids and
turmerones (volatile oil) and concluded that the former,
anti-inflammatory effects against acute and chronic inflammation
and the effects were comparable to those of curcuminoids and
This second study was
a third study into an aqueous based
extract of turmeric and its polysaccharide fractions in the presence
and absence of mitogens. (Mitogens
are substances which trigger mitosis or cell division).
It found that in addition
to having anti-inflammatory properties, it also demonstrated
Cutting to the chase, while curcumin is great, turmeric has a whole
lot more to offer. In fact, arguably the strongest reason for taking
turmeric curcumin supplements has less to do with the increase
content of curcumin and more to do with a combination of
bioavailability, consistency and convenience.
Let's look at all of
these starting with the issue of bioavailability, which we mentioned
Bioavailability is essentially a measure of how easy it is for the
human body to make use of a substance.
For example, refined
sugar is one of the most bioavailable substances there is. You eat
it and it's available to you in the form of energy pretty much
straight away, so much so that you can experience a "sugar rush".
At the other end of the scale, parents and pet owners will be well
aware of the fact that both children and pets can swallow items that
were never intended for them to be eaten and hence have zero
When this happens, you
basically just have to hope that they pass through their bodies and
come out the other end undigested, otherwise it's a (potentially
expensive) trip to the doctor or veterinarian.
While turmeric is definitely a legitimate foodstuff (for humans at
least), it has low bioavailability. In practical terms this means
that most of the turmeric you eat will be wasted and pass through
your body undigested.
Given turmeric's many
benefits, this is, of course, a great shame and so people, such as
nutritionists and scientists have looked for ways to address this.
Basically, there are
intake of turmeric
On paper this looks reasonable and simple, but in real life the
situation may be rather different.
At the end of the
day, turmeric is not only a food (meaning there's a physical
limit to how much of it you can eat), but it's also a
strong-tasting food, which has a bearing on how it can be used,
for example we doubt many people would willingly sprinkle it on
their breakfast cereal in the morning.
the bit of the turmeric you want
If you specifically want curcumin, then, mathematically
speaking, it makes a lot of sense to extract the 2-5% curcumin
content from the turmeric and make this available as a
stand-alone health product.
There is, however,
more to life than math.
First of all, curcumin itself has low bioavailability so
although you're improving the situation in the sense that you're
getting your body to focus on digesting the curcumin rather than
all of the turmeric, you're arguably not really resolving it.
Secondly, while curcumin may be the headline attraction of
turmeric, as we've already mentioned, turmeric comes with a
whole range of extra benefits in addition to curcumin and it
seems a pity to pass them over.
curcumin with Bioperine
In the case of turmeric and curcumin, the addition of simple
black pepper can improve bioavailability by up to 200%.
This improvement has
been traced back to the relationship between turmeric and
curcumin and a specific component of black pepper called
Piperine has been
used as the foundation for a patented product called
bioperine, which is often included in the best turmeric
supplements in order to improve the bioavailability of turmeric
curcumin with fats
Curcumin does not readily dissolve in water, but it does
dissolve in fat (the technical term is lipo solvent).
This means that
edible oils could be used to help with the initial process of
breaking down curcumin to make it easier for the body to digest.
Now that we've clarified the issues surrounding turmeric
curcumin and bioavailability, let's look at the issue of
Turmeric curcumin and
One of the single, biggest reasons people have issues with weight
control is that they do not keep proper track of what they eat and
so they wind up consuming not only more calories than they thought
but also more "empty calories" than they thought, empty calories
calories without any
nutritional value, sugar being probably the single, biggest
Similarly, one of the
single, biggest reasons, people fail to get the most out of any
health and wellness product, be it a fresh superfood or a
supplement, is because they fail to use it regularly and
consistently so they can accurately judge its effect on their
body and/or mind.
If you're using fresh
foods, such as fresh turmeric, this means you have to keep tabs on
portion sizes. If you're using supplements, it basically means you
have to stick to the same brand and dose for a while to give it a
chance to do its work.
We have to add a slight caveat here and say that regardless of
whether you're using fresh superfoods or a supplement, it's
important to go to a quality supplier so you get consistently good
products, otherwise your results will be influenced by the changes
in the quality of the food or supplement you are eating/taking.
Let's be honest, while interest in healthier living seems to be
growing all the time, many people live very fast-paced ("always-on")
lifestyles and frankly convenience matters to a lot of us.
In terms of turmeric and
curcumin, we'd define convenience as getting an appropriate turmeric
curcumin dosage reliably and with minimal hassle.
For the sake of clarity, let's go over these points.
turmeric curcumin dosage will depend on your reasons for taking
turmeric in the first place, basically, are you just trying to
add an extra element to a healthy diet or do you actually need
relief from a condition such as arthritis?
Reliably means you can get a consistent enough does, which
again, depends on your situation.
If you use a specific
measure of turmeric powder every day, then your dosage should
stay within the same sort of ball park. If, however, you take a
supplement every day, then your dosage should be exact.
The former situation
is more appropriate for general healthy eating and the latter
for treating medical conditions.
With minimal hassle means exactly that. In very blunt terms,
human nature being what it is in everyday life, the easier it is
to do something we know is good for us, the more likely it is
that we will do it.
All that said, let's have
a look at the various ways to take turmeric and curcumin and see how
they stack up in these terms.
curcumin dosage and how to get it
It may be just us, but the fact that we continually see turmeric
powder, turmeric oil and turmeric curcumin supplements makes it
easy to forget that turmeric is still sold fresh and raw as a
foodstuff, or at least it can be, depending on where you live.
If you are a city
dweller with access to Asian food stores, you have a decent
chance of finding it, elsewhere probably rather less so.
If you can get fresh turmeric and you like the taste then you
can certainly go ahead and enjoy it, you'll find plenty of
recipes on the net and if you're into smoothies and juicing,
then a piece of turmeric root can, quite literally, spice up
your drink as well as adding plenty of nourishment.
At the same time, however, you do have to be aware that when
you're simply buying fresh ingredients and preparing them at
home, it's nearly impossible to be as accurate and/or consistent
with your dosage as you can be with supplements, which are
produced in carefully-monitored conditions.
If you're simply looking to add turmeric to your diet as part of
healthy eating then this may not bother you at all, but if
you're looking to use turmeric to treat a particular condition
then it may be more of an issue.
We suspect that all but those living in the remotest of areas
should be able to find turmeric powder in a store somewhere near
them and even those who live in remote locations should be able
to get it on the internet.
Turmeric powder offers a higher level of convenience than fresh
turmeric for the simple reason that it's intended for
longer-term storage, but otherwise it can be thought off in much
the same terms.
If you like turmeric
by all means, use it in cooking (and/or juicing), just be aware
that you have far less control over either the overall quality
or the specific levels of active ingredients.
Similar comments apply to turmeric oil as for turmeric powder,
however for once we'll allow ourselves to go ever so slightly
off topic and toss in the fact that turmeric oil may be a great
choice for anyone who wants to use turmeric externally.
While this article is
mainly about turmeric consumed as a food (or supplement), it
actually offers a lot of benefits when applied to the body in
the form of an oil, so if you're in to making your own
toiletries and/or beauty products, then turmeric oil could be
well worth a look as a potential ingredient.
High quality turmeric curcumin supplements tick all the boxes of
providing an appropriate level of turmeric curcumin dosage,
accurately, reliably and conveniently.
The best supplements
also address the issue of turmeric, curcumin and
bioavailability, usually by blending the turmeric with
substances which make it more digestible, usually through the
addition of piperine/bioperine and/or a fat.
We are, however,
aware that choosing the right supplement can be a bit of a
challenge due to the sheer number of the out there and the great
variation in their quality.
With that in mind, we've compiled a list of what we feel are the
top turmeric and curcumin supplements, which we're happy to
So if you do decide
that turmeric and curcumin supplements are the right choice for
you in general, we hope this list will save you the effort of
working your way through the huge range of options out there and
help you choose the exact one that's appropriate for you
personally in your own unique situation.