Curcumin is the yellow pigment associated with the spice, Turmeric (curcuma longa), a member of the ginger family which is commonly used in curries and gives them flavor and a yellow colour. It is also found to a lesser extent ginger. The active polyphenols in turmeric are known as ‘curcuminoids’.
There have been numerous studies that show curcumin has powerful anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor and antioxidant properties and has multiple uses for many health conditions.
However it is difficult to absorb into the blood stream (most is quickly metabolised by the liver and walls of the intestines and then excreted from the body) and this should be borne in mind when using supplements to ensure that they are effective. Curcumin is fat soluble so should always be taken with a source of fat – some supplements contain oils to enhance absorption.
There are good scientific studies that show Curcumin:
- Reduces inflammation in many conditions
- Osteoarthritis: there appears to be significant reductions in symptoms of osteoarthritis, with the largest decrease noted 8 months after supplementation and more halved symptoms
- Improved function in the elderly with osteoarthritis – subjects were able to cover more than twice the distance than those who took a control
- Reduces oedema – swelling under the skin and in the body
- Pain reduction: at doses of 400-500mg the spice can reduce pain generally but also in post-operative and arthritic symptoms.
- Possibly increases HDL cholesterol (so called ‘good’ cholesterol) that brings circulating cholesterol and fatty acids back to the liver for clearance; high HDL levels are considered heart protective.
- Possibly reduces triglycerides but studies are inconsistent: circulating levels of fatty acids excessively high levels of which contribute to cardiovascular disease.
- Increases blood flow (blood circulation)
- Colorectal cancer risk: Appears to be associated with a reduced risk for colon cancer
- Fatigue: A decrease in postoperative fatigue has been noted with curcumin supplementation
- Mucositis is the painful inflammation and ulceration of the mucous membranes lining the digestive tract, usually as an adverse effect of chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment for cancer. Curcumin has been noted to decrease symptoms.
- Prostate cancer: appears to be associated with a reduced risk of prostate cancer; has been noted to decrease prostate specific antigen levels following supplementation
- Crohns Disease and Ulcerative colitis: Symptoms reduced with supplementation of curcumin
The following conditions have undergone clinical trials with regard to the effect of Curcumin but results have proved inconclusive and more research is required:
- Reduction in blood pressure
- Effect on blood glucose levels
- Liver enzymes
- Stomach ulcers
- Reduced pain in pancreatitis
- Weight management
What supplement should you take?
As mentioned curcumin is poorly absorbed into the blood stream. Companies often combine it with piperine – an extract of black pepper that improves absorption.
In the case of curcumin, taking it with piperine is useful because it gets the supplement to the extremities rather than being broken down by the liver.
However there may be some contraindications in taking piperine if you are on prescribed medication so you should consult your GP, consultant or other health professional.
There are a number of good quality supplements on the market that do not contain piperine but have been processed in ways to increase their absorption.
Alternatively you can add the spice Turmeric to cooking along with black pepper (both spices commonly found in curries) and by ensuring you have a good source of fats eg ghee (clarified butter often used in South Asian cooking, coconut oil or olive oil to aid absorption.
The University of Maryland makes these recommendations:
The following doses are recommended for adults:
- Cut root (fresh): 1.5 to 3 g per day
- Dried, powdered root (spice): 1 to 3 g per day
- Standardized powder (curcumin): 400 to 600 mg, 3 times per day
- Fluid extract (1:1) 30 to 90 drops a day
- Tincture (1:2): 15 to 30 drops, 4 times per day