Everyone is talking about curcumin, curcuma, or turmeric. Supermarkets are stocking their shelves and turmeric recipes (such as the popular "turmeric latte") are being liked and shared on Instagram and Pinterest.
Often used in Ayurvedic medicine, it is called the "healthiest spice in the world" or "the spice of life" and thus it naturally attracts a lot of attention. As a team of chemists and nutritionists, we must dig deeper into these claims as we cannot simply accept everything that is being thrown at us.
We have dug deeper into this topic to share with you the 5 facts about curcumin everyone should know. We’ve researched the difference between curcumin and turmeric, how the active ingredients can be absorbed, and whether it is really as healthy as the medicinal plant is said to be.
Read on to learn more about what curcumin can do for your health.
1. What Is Turmeric?
Turmeric is a herbaceous plant that grows up to 1 meter high. It’s underground stems, or rhizomes, are where we get the medicinal herb of curcumin.
As a type of plant in the ginger family, turmeric is strongly reminiscent of the ginger spice, which is why it is referred to as Indian saffron and yellow ginger.
The turmeric plant loves the warm climate because it comes from Southeast Asia. As a spice in the kitchen, turmeric is mainly used in Indian cuisine and Ayurvedic healing arts. For this purpose, the root of the plant is usually ground to produce a powder, which can be mixed with food.
This rhizome (root)  is often processed into yellow powder, packaged and resold. This is the form of curcumin most commonly known to us.
2. What Is The Difference Between Curcumin And Turmeric?
Curcumin is a secondary plant substance from the root of the ginger family Kurkume (Curcuma longa), also known as turmeric . That sounds complicated at first. In fact, this simply means that it is an organic molecule that fulfills special tasks in the plant.
Curcumin is a yellow pigment and is commonly sold as a plant substances supplement. As a pigment, it is used for food coloring (E100) and is used to color margarine, yellow cakes, icings, and gelatins among other things. Therefore, it can be found in trace amounts in many different foods. Curcumin is also what gives curry spice its distinct yellow color.
As an herbal supplement, we are concerned with its active plant compounds. The molecules demethoxycurcumin, bisdemethoxycurcumin and cyclocurcumin, create what is known as curcuminoids, the active polyphenolic compounds from turmeric.
Turmeric contains up to 5% curcuminoids in addition to essential oils, minerals and fibers .
These curcuminoids are what give curcumin the promise of health benefits. For this reason, the curcuminoids are also extracted and concentrated in order to be examined in high doses in clinical studies.
3. How do I get the best Bioavailability?
The potential health benefits of curcumin are limited by:
- its poor solubility
- the low absorption from the intestine
- the fast metabolism
- and the fast, systemic excretion
In short, these limitations are all due its low bioavailability when taking conventional turmeric powder .
For this reason, the natural bioenhancer piperine is added to many products to increase the biointake.
What is piperine?
Piperine is an active ingredient made from long pepper. It represents the best and first described bioenhancer. A substance that can increase the absorption or effect of other molecules.
Since its discovery in India in 1979, piperine has shown to increase the bioavailability of various drugs ranging between 30 and 200%. When taken together, the effects of curcumin are increased almost tenfold , but are still limited by the limitations.
What are liposomes?
Liposomes are nano-sized lipid vesicles that can encapsulate active ingredients. This allows them to bypass all of the limitations mentioned above. Liposomes are made from phospholipids, which is the same material of our cell membranes. Because of this, liposomes can fuse to our cells and deliver the active ingredients directly to the bloodstream.
We call this our "Trojan Horse". Enclosed in a protective cover, curcumin is channeled past the picky digestive system and is very well absorbed even without piperine .
You can read more about liposomes in our article "What are liposomes".
4. What is the correct dosage?
The European Food Safety Authority EFSA recommends a maximum of 3 mg curcumin per day and kilogram body weight .
With a body weight of 70 kg this gives 210 mg per day.
Curcumin has a preventive or long-term effect and should therefore be taken either as a fixed component in regular food or for long periods in normal doses as a dietary supplement. Because of the low bioavailability, curcumin is best taken in combination with pepper, fat or as a finished emulsion (for example liposomal formulation) .
Since liposomal formulations do not need this pepper additive, maximum bioavailability and of the chosen active-ingredients is guaranteed.
5. What are the effects of curcumin in the body?
Like most phytonutrients, curcumin has no essential function in the body. It is not a vitamin. However, some herbal substances are associated with various positive effects.
The ayurvedic superfood is still said to be a remedy. Some people describe the effect of curcumin as pain relieving, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial. But these effects have not yet been confirmed in evidence-based research and western medicine.
Various antioxidant properties have been described for curcumin . Oxidation is a gradual process. It can be aggravated by various factors such as lack of sleep, smoking, alcohol consumption but also infections and it can damage cell structures. Some studies suggest that curcumin supports the activity of antioxidant enzymes , , .
In addition, an anti-inflammatory effect is being researched , which can be explained by its role as an antioxidant. On the one hand, immune cells communicate in inflammatory foci via oxidative signals . On the other hand, a high level of oxidative molecules is said to be able to promote inflammatory reactions. This is how systemic inflammation is associated with various chronic symptoms.
Since curcumin has an antioxidant effect, it could also have an anti-inflammatory effect that inhibits chronic inflammation.
Can athletes also benefit from taking curcumin?
The anti-inflammatory effects of the medicinal plant also have their right to exist in the world of sports. Hard, sweaty training in particular produces free radicals that can lead to oxidative stress. The superfood serves here as a radical scavenger and supporter for sore muscles. Studies have also investigated the influence of curcumin in athletes . If these microtears become inflamed, muscle soreness follows. In order not to be slowed down by the discomfort for too long, curcumin can provide relief. Study results suggest that taking it can reduce muscle damage and significantly improve the symptoms of muscle soreness . This allows your body to take shorter recovery breaks and more intense sessions.
And curcumin can even be used to treat degenerative joint changes with cartilage degradation. Studies have shown that it has an effective impact in relieving symptoms .
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6. Bottom Line
The superfood of tomorrow is Curcuma longa. What has long been sold as a spice on supermarket shelves, has now found its way to the science lab.
Evidence-based researchers are still on the trail of the reported positive effect on health. However, it is believed that the yellow curcuminoids in the turmeric plant (especially curcumin) are responsible for the observed health-promoting effects. We were able to find some studies that at least examined the antioxidative and anti-inflammatory effects. Possibly, Indian traditional medicine, in which this spice and its phytochemicals have been recognized as a treatment for over 5000 years, has a small lead.
We continue to enjoy the ingredient curcumin and recommend the turmeric latte, the turmeric tea or our own liposomal curcumin.
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