For anyone who has been a user of food supplements, for even a brief period of time, turmeric/curcumin is one supplement you are likely to be familiar with. PubMed-indexed research on curcumin parallels that of probiotics, increasing from 359 articles in 2007 to 1,367 in 2017.
There are many excellent reasons for the increased interest in the health benefits of this ancient spice. Curcumin is one of a family of curcuminoids – the bioactive phytonutrients from turmeric (Curcuma longa) root extract including curcumin, demethoxycurcumin and bisdemethoxycurcumin often simply referred to as curcumin. These special phytonutrients are widely known for anti-inflammatory properties. , , In fact, turmeric is a member of the well-known family of anti-inflammatory spices – the Zingiberaceae (ginger) family.
“Curcuminoids are well known for their anti-inflammatory actions”
The bioactive curcuminoids can modulate molecular targets such as cell signalling proteins, cytokines and chemokines, enzymes and cell surface adhesion modules, as well as being powerful antioxidants in their own right. In fact, curcumin could be viewed as a nature-made jack-of-all-trades! There is a plethora of clinical data supporting curcumin’s use in joint problems and other concerns related to inflammation including autoimmune disease, , osteoarthritis, , neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases1 and even exercise recovery. ,
Curcuminoids are bioactive lipophilic polyphenols but only comprise 2-5% of the root extract and, in unmodified forms (i.e. direct from turmeric powder), exhibit poor solubility meaning that their absorption in the digestive tract can be poor. Simply put, sprinkling turmeric powder into your morning smoothie is not going to raise levels of curcuminoids to clinical significance.
This has resulted in the race to produce a bioavailable curcumin food supplement with several different technologies developed to address just this problem. However, we feel that this has led to market confusion when trying to compare curcumin products and their bioefficacy. So what do you need to look for when choosing an efficacious and bioavailable curcumin food supplement?
Choosing a Bioavailable Curcumin Food Supplement
Bioavailability of nutrients is key to their biochemical and physiological success and key to choosing an efficacious and value for money food supplement. After all, the most expensive food supplement you’ve ever bought is one that didn’t work!
Often, studies simply compare one technique for increasing bioavailability of a product to the standard, non-enhanced spice/herb/nutrient. This then leaves consumers with only information about that particular product’s absorption and doesn’t allow for comparison between products, as testing techniques and even the standard spices used can vary between individual manufacturers’ tests.
So how do you choose between curcumin supplements?
One study published in the Nutrition Journal in 2014 has come up with the answer by investigating and comparing absorption of three different popular curcumin products marketed for their enhanced bioavailability.
“Bioavailability of curcumin is key to its biochemical and physiological success”
The curcumin formulation that was found to have the best bioavailability, i.e. is well absorbed across the gastrointestinal tract and available for systemic utilisation, comprises a molecular dispersion process to dissolve a highly purified turmeric powder consisting of at least 95% curcuminoids in a water-soluble base, followed by the addition of antioxidants to protect the curcumin from degradation. The resulting natural product is water-soluble (rather than lipophilic) so is more easily absorbed.
Results showed a 45.9-fold increase in oral absorption as compared with standard curcumin, a 5.8-fold increase over a popular curcumin phytosome product, and a 34.9-fold increase over a curcumin-lecithin-piperine complex. Additionally, the molecular dispersion process resulted in a dramatically increased plasma serum concentration after 12 hours compared to other products suggesting systemic retention of this product enhancing its bioefficacy.
Importantly, this molecular dispersion process retained the same curcuminoids profile as found naturally in turmeric powder and no chemical solvents are used in this type of processing meaning both an excellent clinical and safety profile. In summary, this unique natural formulation demonstrated better absorption, bioactivity (due to protection from formulation antioxidants) and retention in plasma serum.
“The curcumin formulation with greatest bioavailability contains 95% curcuminoids in a water-soluble base.”
We can be left in no doubt that curcumin food supplements can play an important role in many nutrition programmes and that by choosing the most bioavailable product provides enhanced clinical efficacy.
For more information about supporting specific areas of health through nutrition please enjoy the related Nutrigold blogs:
- How healthy is your brain?
- How healthy are your joints & bones?
- Nutritional support for joint and bone health
- Antioxidants work at different speeds
- Aggarwal BB, Harikumar KB. Potential therapeutic effects of curcumin, the anti-inflammatory agent, against neurodegenerative, cardiovascular, pulmonary, metabolic, autoimmune and neoplastic diseases. Int J Biochem Cell Biol. 2009 Jan;41(1):40-59.
- Amalraj A, et al. Biological activities of curcuminoids, other biomolecules from turmeric and their derivatives – a review. J Tradit Complement Med. 2016 Jun 15;7(2):205-33.
- Nicol LM, et al. Curcumin supplementation likely attenuates delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Eur J Appl Physiol. 2015 Aug;115(8):1769-77.
- Abdollahi et al (2018) Therapeutic effects of curcumin in inflammatory and immune-mediated disease: A nature-made jack of all trades. J Cell Physiol 233:830-848
- Amalraj A, et al. A novel highly bioavailable curcumin formulation improves symptoms and diagnostic indicators in rheumatoid arthritis patients: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, two-dose, three-arm, and parallel-group study. J Med Food. 2017 Oct;20(10):1022-30.
- Chandran B, Goel A. A randomized, pilot study to assess the efficacy and safety of curcumin in patients with active rheumatoid arthritis. Phytother Res. 2012 Nov;26(11):1719-25.
- Panahi Y, et al. Mitigation of Systemic Oxidative Stress by Curcuminoids in Osteoarthritis: Results of a Randomized Controlled Trial. J Diet Suppl. 2016;13(2):209-20.
- Henrotin Y, et al. Curcumin: a new paradigm and therapeutic opportunity for the treatment of osteoarthritis: curcumin for osteoarthritis management. SpringerPlus 2013 Dec;2(1):56.
- Tang et al (2017) The mechanism of action of curcumin in Alzheimer’s disease. J Alz Dis 58:1003-1016
- Delecroix B, et al. Curcumin and piperine supplementation and recovery following exercise induced muscle damage: a randomized controlled trial. J Sports Sci Med. 2017 Mar 1;16(1):147-53.
- Oliver JM, et al. Novel form of curcumin attenuates performance decrements following muscle damaging exercise. The FASEB Journal. 2017 Apr;31(1_supplement):lb415.
- Anand P, et al. Bioavailability of curcumin: problems and promises. Mol Pharm. 2007 Nov-Dec;4(6):807-18.
- Jäger R, et al. Comparative absorption of curcumin formulations. Nutr J. 2014 Jan 24;13:11