By Dr. Joseph Mercola
Spices are one of the most important aspects of cooking, as they have the ability to improve the flavor and aroma of any food. In many countries, spices are a big part of their cuisine and are deeply ingrained in their culture. One such example is turmeric, which has been largely associated with Indian culture for thousands of years.1
Today, turmeric is utilized in cuisines all over the world, from South Asian and Middle Eastern dishes to popular recipes in American cooking. It's one of the core ingredients used to make curry dishes, and is the source of their distinctive yellow color and flavor. Turmeric has been used for centuries in ancient Ayurvedic medicine as well. Indians used it as an antiseptic for cuts and burns, and as a remedy for gastrointestinal discomfort and respiratory conditions, and more.2
But what makes turmeric such a valued spice? Through advancements in technology, modern medicine has discovered that turmeric contains curcumin, a naturally occurring antioxidant that is the source of turmeric's various health benefits.3
Studies regarding the benefits of curcumin
Due to the purported health benefits of turmeric over the centuries, many researchers have investigated this spice to discover the truth to these claims. The table below presents some of their findings about turmeric's capabilities, which you may find very remarkable:
• May have anti-inflammatory effects — Curcuminoids found in turmeric may inhibit the activity and synthesis of cyclooxygenase and 5-lipooxygenase (5-LOX), which are enzymes related to inflammation.4 In one study conducted on rats, researchers discovered that curcumin profoundly helped reduce joint inflammation.5
• Helps support your digestive health — Curcumin may have help maintain digestive health. In a study that involved five people affected with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), researchers found out that curcumin helped improve the symptoms of the participants.6
• May help boost eye health — In a study published in Phytotherapy Research, patients affected with chronic anterior uveitis (inflammation of the uvea, or the middle layer of the eye7) were given 375 milligrams of curcumin three times daily for 12 days. Within two weeks, the participants experienced an improvement in symptoms, with no reported side effects.8
• Support recovery after surgery — Those who have just undergone surgery may experience pain and tenderness at the site of operation, a problem that curcumin may help with. In one study, patients who received 400 milligrams of curcumin three times a day for six days, as part of their postoperative treatments, experienced an 84.2% decrease in pain intensity.9
• May help keep your brain sharp — Recent research explored the potential neuroprotective benefits of curcumin. One such study suggested that curcumin may be effective against Parkinson's disease, a neurodegenerative disease that causes your brain to gradually produce lower levels of dopamine, negatively affecting movement over time.10 Another study notes that curcumin may help with cognitive impairment.11
• Helps lower cancer risk — Curcumin may play a role in diminishing the growth of cancerous cells by affecting pathways such as "mutagenesis, oncogene expression, cell cycle regulation, apoptosis, tumorigenesis and metastasis."12
• Supports your mental health — Aside from keeping your brain healthy, curcumin may help promote the healthy functioning of various mental aspects, such as emotional and psychological well-being.
In a randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled study, 123 participants diagnosed with major depressive disorder were given a placebo, a curcumin-saffron mixture, a low-dose curcumin extract and a high-dose extract. Results from the study indicate that those who took the curcumin and curcumin-saffron combination exhibited improvements in symptoms compared to the placebo group.13
• Helps keep your skin healthy — Applying a curcumin-based cream on your skin may help keep it healthy and prevent the development of skin diseases. In a study that involved 10 subjects affected with vitiligo, researchers subjected them to a procedure that combined UVB therapy and curcumin cream, which resulted in significant repigmentation.14
In another study, patients suffering from psoriasis were provided a 450-gram curcumin supplement per day for 12 weeks. After the study, two participants reported an 83% to 88% improvement of symptoms.15
• Helps lower risk of diabetes — According to a study published in Diabetes Care, consuming curcumin regularly may help prevent the onset of Type 2 diabetes. Over the course of nine months, researchers monitored 240 prediabetics who were given either a placebo or a curcumin supplement. Results indicated that 16.4% of the group who were provided a placebo had developed diabetes, whereas the curcumin group did not.16
• Supports optimal cardiovascular function — Curcumin may help maintain normal heart function, according to several studies. In one example, researchers demonstrated that curcuminoids can help decrease myocardial infarction in people who received coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG).17 In another study, researchers suggested that curcumin can help lower total cholesterol level, as well as LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.18
Sources of curcumin and how you can increase your levels naturally
Turmeric is the best natural source of curcumin. Traditionally called "Indian saffron,"19 turmeric is a root herb that has a "tough brown skin with a deep, orange flesh."20 It has been a part of Indian culture for thousands of years21 and is now highly regarded because of its multitude of health benefits.
One of the easiest ways to add curcumin to your diet is to use it as an ingredient for rubs or marinades. You may also add it to a salad to give your vegetables more spice. You can also try the following ideas from The Kitchn:22
- Add a dash of turmeric to vegetable or chicken soups to add warmth.
- Sprinkle some turmeric over sautéed vegetables for more flavor and nutrition.
- You can add turmeric into smoothies or mix it with grass fed milk to make "golden milk."
While adding turmeric to your foods is an easy way to obtain the benefits of curcumin, one of my issues with this method is that turmeric rhizomes contain only about 3% curcumin concentration. What's more, curcumin is poorly absorbed in your body. If you do add it to your foods, you're only absorbing about 1% curcumin. To work around this problem, you may try these two strategies:
- Make a microemulsion — Mix 1 tablespoon of raw turmeric powder with two egg yolks and 2 teaspoons of melted coconut oil.
- Boil the powder — Add 1 tablespoon of turmeric into a quart of boiling water. It's important that when making this beverage, the water should be boiling to increase the bioavailability. After 10 minutes of boiling, you will have created a 12% solution that needs to be consumed right away.
If you don't find turmeric's flavor to be appealing, then a curcumin supplement may be a viable option for you.
Some considerations before buying a curcumin supplement
While curcumin has been studied extensively, there are some things you need to consider before buying a supplement. As mentioned earlier, natural curcumin has poor bioavailability, and the same case applies to many curcumin supplements.
In a study conducted by ConsumerLab.com, researchers discovered that 20 percent of turmeric and curcumin supplements sold in the market today deliver less than 15% of their promised curcuminoid compounds. This means that these products deliver only a small fraction of the amount that was promised.23
In light of this information, I recommend you follow this checklist when you're looking for a curcumin supplement. Make sure it:
- Uses advanced technology to increase bioavailability — This is probably the most important item to look for. Research and review what type of technology the manufacturer uses to increase the absorption rate of their curcumin supplements and decide if it is effective or not.
- Delivers all the essential curcuminoids — Curcumin is the principal curcuminoid, but demethoxycurcumin and bisdemethoxycurcumin should also be included to provide well-rounded benefits.
- Does not use unnecessary fillers and other additives — There's very little sense for a curcumin supplement to have other ingredients in the formula.
- Comes from a trustworthy manufacturer — Do extensive research for company reviews, processes and policies. High-quality ingredients are worthless if the company making the products has questionable regulations and other controversies.
- The supplement is derived from turmeric containing at least 95% curcuminoids — This characteristic ensures that you're getting the optimal amount of curcumin in your system.
- Reasonably priced — The final product should be affordable, even with the latest technology to increase bioavailability.
Keep an eye out for these side effects of curcumin
Curcumin is generally safe for human consumption with very rare chances of developing side effects.24 In one study, 10 adults taking 490 milligrams of curcumin for a week did not develop any side effects.25 Even doses up to 1,200 to 2,100 milligrams did not have any adverse effects.26 That being said, there's still a small chance you may develop:
- Headache and nausea — A 450-milligram dose may cause one or both of these two conditions.27,28
- Digestive problems — Distension, acid reflux and diarrhea may occur when taking higher doses.29
- Rash — An extremely high dose (8,000 milligrams) may cause a skin rash, but this is very rare.30
- Lead exposure — One study showed that it's possible for certain brands of turmeric powders could be could be contaminated with lead, a heavy metal that can have adverse effects to your nervous system.31
Beware of turmeric powders that contain fillers such as barley and wheat flour.32 These substances contain gluten, and if your body can't digest it, you may develop symptoms of gluten sensitivity such as abdominal pain, nausea, headaches, brain fog, fatigue and joint pain.33
If you're currently taking anticoagulants like warfarin, do not use turmeric or curcumin supplements, as they can augment the effects of the drugs you're currently taking.34 In the same way, you should avoid turmeric-based foods to be on the safe side.35
When supplementing with curcumin, use high-quality products only
If you're going to take a curcumin supplement, always be vigilant and do your research before buying. Make sure that the company is reputable, uses advanced manufacturing process to increase bioavailability and the formula does not contain any fillers. This can help you ensure that you're purchasing a high-quality product.
Frequently asked questions about curcumin
Q: Is curcumin a good blood thinner?
A: Curcumin has been noted to have blood-thinning properties. If you're currently taking anticoagulants, curcumin may amplify the effects of these drugs.36 I recommend that you don't take curcumin supplements if you're taking blood-thinning medications.
Q: What is curcumin good for?
A: Curcumin may potentially benefit various aspects of your health, such as providing antioxidant protection and anti-inflammatory properties that may help manage pain and inflammatory conditions such as arthritis.37
Q: Are turmeric and curcumin the same thing?
A: Curcumin is essentially the beneficial compound found inside the rhizomes of turmeric. Curcuminoids can also be found in mango ginger, also known as Curcuma amada.38