Turmeric and Curcumin: from Ancient Medicine to Scientific Clinical Trials
For thousands of years Eastern medicine has used curcumin (the active ingredient in turmeric) for a wide range of health benefits, but only in recent times has its biological action been understood. (1)
Extensive research shows curcumin (curcuminoids) is effective in multiple ways, and this provides basis for many applications. Scientific data shows curcumin has powerful anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor and antioxidant properties. (1,6,15)
But curcumin is extremely difficult to absorb, so it's important to get more of it into your bloodstream. Here is the information you need to see how this ancient spice and medicinal herb can improve the quality of your life.
What is Turmeric?
Found in the roots of the Curcuma longa plant and a member of the ginger family, turmeric has been used as a medicine, a spice (curry) and as yellow dye since 600 B.C.
Turmeric is a spice, a dye, and medicinal herb.
Turmeric is the dried rhizome (root) of the Curcuma longa plant and is used for its flavor, as a food color, and as an medicinal herb.
The dried root is used to make curry, one of the most widely used spices in India.
The golden spice has long been used in both Ayurveda and Chinese medicines as an anti-inflammatory agent and used for conditions such as arthritis. It has been highly valued by those who practice Hatha Yoga, for its beneficial effects on ligaments. Throughout Asia, turmeric has been used for stomach problems, allergies, diarrhea, heartburn, wind, bloating, colic, flatulence and liver ailments. (1)
While therapeutic properties of turmeric have been known for centuries, modern science has identified the curcuminoids (phenolic compounds found in turmeric) and provides a scientific basis for many clinical uses of standardized curcumin.
What is Curcumin?
Curcumin is the most important active ingredient in turmeric, and makes up about 2-6% of the root. (2, 6)
Curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric.
Curcumin is the yellow-orange pigment and the most important ingredient in turmeric. Curcumin has many clinical applications, particularly as a powerful, yet safe, anti-inflammatory agent. (2, 6)
Which is Best— Turmeric Extract or Curcumin (Curcuminoids)?
Hundreds of scientific and technical papers and clinical trials show results were obtained using 95% standardized curcumin (curcuminoids).
Since turmeric contains only 2% curcumin (see chart below), look for standardized 95% curcumin (curcuminoids).
Curcumin is Poorly Absorbed
In fact, most consumers may not realize that even pure curcumin (including all known curcuminoids) is very poorly absorbed into the blood after oral ingestion so many studies achieved effective blood levels of curcumin by intravenous injections (directly into the veins). Until recently, very high doses of curcumin were required to obtain desired blood levels. (4)
Some formulators add piperine (Piper nigrum) to enhance absorption of curcumin in their products. (4) But the additive is a problem for many consumers because piperine should be taken cautiously (if at all) by anyone taking medications. (5)
Now, a new, patented manufacturing process dramatically increases blood plasma curcumin to levels not previously seen through oral supplementation. (This impressive rise in bioavailability is achieved without piperine.) The patented curcumin is comprised of a specific ratio of curcuminoids and a high content of turmeric essential oil compounds. (24)
How much Curcumin is in Turmeric?
Turmeric consists of 2-6% curcuminoids. (2, 6)
Composition of Turmeric
|Volatile (essential) oils
What are the Scientifically-Proven Benefits of Curcumin?
No longer relegated to folklore, modern science has created a large and fast-growing body of scientific research about this medicinal herb. The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) Library of Medicine's PubMed MEDLINE database yields thousands of scientific articles about turmeric's active ingredient, curcumin (curcuminoids).
Extensive research shows curcumin can benefit multiple targets in the body and provides scientific basis for its effectiveness in a wide variety of different body systems.
Multiple Molecular Targets of Curcumin
(Above:) Curcumin attacks multiple targets, providing the scientific basis for its effectiveness in many different diseases. Extensive research shows most diseases are caused by dysregulation of multiple signaling pathways--casting doubt on the effectiveness of monotherapy, which is limited to a single target. (2, 6)
Studies show curcumin modulates numerous molecular targets, including: regulating several cytokines and fibroblast growth factor-2 (gene expression), growth-factor receptors including modulation of androgen receptors (protein kinases), transcription factors, pro-inflammatory enzymes (including supression of COX-2, 5-LOX and iNOS and regulation of NF-κB), modulation of cell-cycle-related gene expression, blocking the adhesion molecules, downregulating antiapoptic proteins and inhibiting multi-drug resistance. (2, 6)
Review of MEDLINE Research for Curcumin
- curcumin reduces inflammation and edema
- curcumin accelerates wound-healing
- curcumin's role against cancer
- curcumin's potential to reduce heart disease
- curcumin's therapeutic effects against:
- Crohn's and inflammatory bowel disease
- irritable bowel syndrome and ulcerative colitis
- neurological diseases
- Alzheimer's disease
- multiple sclerosis
- diabetes type II
- cataract formation
- drug-induced toxicity in the heart, lung and kidney
- cystic fibrosis
- skin diseases: psoriasis, scleroderma and dermatitis
- curcumin may reduce the progression of HIV
- safety of curcumin (2, 4, 6, 16)
Most of the MEDLINE research is based upon curcumin's ability to suppress inflammation and shows curcumin is effective in both acute and chronic
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Research Service lists 78 biologic activities associated with curcumin, from anti-HIV to anti-ulcerogenic actions. (14)
There are also many private studies. The latest information is reviewed here, and references are included in footnotes for those who wish to examine more technical details.
Is There a Difference Between Curcumin and Curcuminoids?
Not in the marketplace where no distinction is possible since the terms are used interchangeably. For convenience, all curcuminoids are often referred to simply as "curcumin" even though
turmeric contains a variety of different curcuminoids. (2, 6)
Conventional curcumin (excluding nano) products typically contain three major curcuminoids: curcumin (curcumin I), demethoxycurcumin (curcumin II) and bis-demethoxycurcumin (curcumin III). (2, 6)
Most Curcumin Products Contain 3 Curcuminoids
Commercial curcumin products typically contain curcumin I (~77%), curcumin II (~17%) and curcumin III (~3%) as its major components. (1)
Preparations of curcumin contain different ratios of various curcuminoids and vary in effectiveness.
Turmeric may contain well over a hundred chemical species--many of which are expected to be discovered in the essential oil complexes of this medicinal herb. In fact, a complete analysis of all constituents in turmeric has not yet been completed. Researchers continue to discover new curcuminoids and major differences are identified. (3)
Most consumers may not realize many studies achieved effective blood levels of curcumin by intravenous injections directly into the veins because pure curcumin (including all known curcuminoids) is very poorly absorbed into the blood after oral ingestion. (4)
Many studies prove the various curcuminoids work synergistically together and certain combinations of curcuminoids produce more biological action than any curcuminoid used alone. (4)
A specific ratio of curcuminoids together with certain essential oil components of turmeric proves the most bioavailable and produces the best clinical results. This curcumin formula, together with a patented manufacturing, technology increases absorption of curcumin up to 800% greater than other standardized 95% curcumin brands. (8)
Why 95% (not 100%) Curcumin?
Purification from 95% to 100% curcumin does not increase bioavailability of curcumin but the manufacturing costs are substantially higher.
There is a better way: a new, patented technology dramatically increases blood plasma curcumin to levels not previously seen through oral supplementation. (8,24)
How Much Curcumin Can You Absorb?
Unfortunately, even pure curcumin (including all known curcuminoids) is very poorly absorbed into the bloodstream after oral ingestion due to rapid metabolism in the liver and intestinal wall, and rapid systemic elimination. (4, 16)
Bioavailability is accurately measured by what absorbs into your blood.
Contrary to a popular theory, taking curcumin with various oils is not proven to improve absorption of curcumin into the blood.
Human trials show BIOMOR® Curcumin has up to 800% better absorption into the blood and organs. Other 95%-standardized curcumin products are mostly excreted as waste. (23)
Until recently, extremely high doses of curcumin were required to obtain desired blood levels. Scientists have long sought a more bioavailable form of curcumin to maximize curcumin's efficacy. In fact, most consumers may not realize many research studies achieved effective blood levels of curcumin by intravenous injections--directly into the veins. While it may be available in other parts of the world, injectable forms of curcumin are not sold in the United States.
The good news is a patented curcumin product dramatically increases blood plasma curcumin to levels not previously seen through oral supplementation. (This impressive rise in bioavailability is achieved without piperine.) The patented curcumin relies upon a specific ratio of curcuminoids reconstituted with a high content of sesquiterpenoids (turmeric essential oil compounds).
This new, patented manufacturing technology increases absorption of curcumin up to a remarkable 800% greater than other standardized curcumin preparations. (This superior bioavailability is achieved without piperine or lecithin additives.) (8,24)
ABOVE: Human clinical trials show taking 500 milligrams of BIOMOR® Curcumin is equivalent to 3,185 milligrams of 95%-standardized curcumin with piperine, is equivalent to up to 4,000 milligrams other 95%-standardized curcumin, or 210,500 milligrams (421 x 500 milligram capsules) of turmeric with native curcumin. (9)
Unlike other 95% curcumin/curcuminoid products which rely upon purification of curcuminoids, BIOMOR® Curcumin is formulated with components of turmeric normally removed during the extraction process. This proprietary formula thereby relies on the inherent synergy of turmeric's natural components to dramatically increase blood levels of curcumin. The manufacturing process is patented and the subject of on-going clinical trials. (8,24)
Buyer Beware of Misleading Comparisons
Compared to What?
"Native" (which is only 2%) or "Standardized to 95%"?
A few curcumin brands inflate their product claims by misleadingly comparing their curcumin products against “native” curcumin (which is only 2%) where other brands compare against "95% standardized" curcumin.
A fair curcumin test compares against standardized to 95%.
ABOVE: A well-conducted single-dose human clinical study shows BIOMOR® Curcumin is up to 800% more bioavailable (in both absorption and sustainability over 8 hours) than conventional 95%-standardized curcumin extracts. (8,23)
Many commercial curcumin products include additives to increase bioavailability of curcumin. The most common additives, piperine and lecithin, are shown to spike blood levels of curcumin. (4, 9)
NOTE: Experts advise against consuming more than 15 mg of piperine per day. See warnings about the piperine, below.
ABOVE: A cross-over human clinical study shows BIOMOR® Curcumin provides 637% greater bioavailability (absorption and sustainability over 8 hours) than 95%-standardized curcumin blended with piperine and lecithin. (9,23)
BIOMOR® Curcumin is manufactured using a patented blend of curcuminoids and essential oil compounds of turmeric (with no piperine or lecithin).
12 Questions to Consider When Buying and Using Turmeric or Curcumin
Questions to ask before buying and using turmeric and curcumin products:
*Products not standardized will vary in quality.
Warnings About Solvents
Widespread Use of Toxic Solvent Found
"Curcumin extract with an EDC (toxic solvent) amount less than 5 ppm is not easily found (in the marketplace).”—Integrative Medicine (25)
Shocking data shows widespread contamination of curcumin products with a Class-1 residual
solvent known as EDC (1,2-dichloroethane). According to the Toxic Substances and Disease
Registry of the Department of Health and Human Services, the potential health effects of
exposure to the Class-1 solvent at levels above 5 ppm (parts-per-million) are: SHORT-TERM
EFFECTS OF EDC: central nervous system disorders; adverse liver, kidney, and lung effects;
and heart failure. LONG-TERM EFFECTS OF EDC: probable carcinogen.
The problem is so widespread, according to the researchers, "curcumin extract with an EDC
amount less than 5 ppm is not easily found." (25)
A deprecated testing method is often used for curcumin so toxic solvents remain undetected and blindly pass through GMP standards.
Solvent Residue Testing Used for Curcumin is Unreliable and Un-Approved by FDA
The contamination problem is complicated by widespread use of GC-MS (Gas
Chromotography-Mass Spectrometry), an unreliable, outdated and
un-approved testing method for curcumin. Current USP/FDA standards no longer permit use of GC-MS to determine solvent residue in curcumin.
The approved standard is GC-HEADSPACE (Gas Chromotography Headspace),
but it's very expensive, not widely available, and many testing companies simply do not have access to the equipment
Facts Consumers need to know about Curcumin
- Which testing methods are available for herbal extracts?
- GC-MS (Gas Chromatography–Mass Spectrometry)
- GC-HEADSPACE (Gas Chromatography Headspace)
- How should curcumin be tested?
- Why don't all manufacturers use the correct method?
- COST. GC-HEADSPACE is far more expensive than GC-MS.
Why is GC-MS a problem? GC-MS does not break or dissolve curcumin
crystals, so contaminants remain undetected. So, while GC-MS can be reliable for other herbal
extracts, curcumin is different because it undergoes crystallization during extraction and
solvents become trapped inside the curcumin crystals.
Warnings About Curcumin Additives
Piperine Added to Curcumin
Because curcumin has very poor oral bioavailability, many commercial curcumin products include additives to improve absorption. Here we examine the most common additive, piperine (Piper nigrum), extracted from black pepper fruit.
Many curcumin products add piperine to improve absorption of curcumin. (4)
But piperine is a problem for many consumers because the additive should be taken cautiously (if at all) by anyone taking medications. According to the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, piperine is a potent inhibitor of drug metabolism, which means piperine spikes blood levels of many prescription medications. (5)
WARNING: Piperine is a potent
inhibitor of drug metabolism.
Commonly added to curcumin supplements to increase blood levels of the herb, piperine should be taken cautiously (if at all) by anyone taking medications, because the additive spikes blood levels of prescription drugs. (5)
A review of published research articles reveals piperine is toxic in experimental animals. (17-21)
Some research suggests piperine is safe in small amounts but large amounts of piperine could be damaging to the liver or other organs. Experts and manufacturers advise against consuming more than 15 mg of piperine per day. (11)
Piperine has known central nervous system (CNS) depressant effects. (12, 13)
Finally, since piperine is a component of black pepper, consumers with a known allergy or hypersensitivity to black pepper should avoid piperine.
Stearates are beneficial for machines, not your health.
Stearates (known as “vegetable lubricants” and include magnesium stearate) are hydrogenated oils added at production as a flowing agent, to save manufacturing costs. These fatty substances coat every particle of curcumin, so the particles flow rapidly through machinery.
Stearic Acid is Not Good For Your Health
Magnesium stearate is synthesized using stearic acid. The so-called “vegetable lubricants” are formed by adding a magnesium ion to stearic acid. Research found stearic acid suppresses T-cells, causing collapse of cell membrane integrity and eventually cell function. Another study found that using stearates in supplements reduced the dissolving rate by 65%. (25, 26)
Do the production-coating-oils compromise safety and bioavailability? Most likely, and this is why BIOMOR® Curcumin is manufactured without it.
Warning About Synthetic Curcumin
Petroleum-Based Synthetic Curcumin
Sold as Natural
Radio-carbon-dating testing by the University of Georgia shows various commercially
available "natural" curcumin supplements are not all-natural, but are mixed with synthetic,
Why does it matter?
There are physical and pharmacological differences. Natural curcumin is extracted from the turmeric plant, whereas synthetic curcumin is made from petroleum-based chemicals. Natural curcumin contains naturally-formed compounds of curcuminoid molecules bonded with small portions of other helper-compounds in turmeric. Synthetic curcumin may copy three curcuminoids, or only one, or two. Artificial molecules lack any synergistic helper-compounds found in the turmeric plant. Most importantly, synthetic curcumin has no record of long-term safe use, nor are there studies showing whether it is beneficial in the same manner as natural curcumin for health.
Is Curcumin Proven Safe?
Yes! Safety evaluation studies show curcumin is well tolerated at very high doses without any adverse effects. For centuries, curcumin has been consumed as a dietary spice at doses up to 100 mg per day. Recent human clinical trials found no toxicity and no adverse side effects in curcumin. (1, 15)
Even though many herbs and medicinal plants contain various biologically active compounds that may trigger side effects and interact with other herbs, supplements or medications, curcumin (without piperine) is considered very safe. (1)
From the large number of studies conducted, curcumin has developed a flawless safety record. In fact, researchers are impressed with the absence of toxicity associated with turmeric and its components and therefore conclude it's superior to many contemporary medications. (1)
(Click here for warnings about additives.)
Toxicity Study on BIOMOR® Curcumin
The results of the study show ingestion of high doses of BIOMOR® Curcumin is safe and nontoxic. There were no significant changes in hematological and biochemical parameters. Interestingly, this study found a healthy decrease in serum cholesterol. (10)