For the last couple of years, the reputation of turmeric has shifted enormously. You have probably seen it times in the cafe menus. It's been proclaimed as a superfood, a health booster, an anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory agent. But before we start, let's clear some basics...
Turmeric or Curcumin: What's the difference?
People often get confused when they talk about Turmeric/Curcumin. The two words are sometimes used interchangeably, but there is a technical difference between them. So, let's break this problem down. Curcumin is a naturally occurring chemical compound that is found in the spice turmeric. It represents about 2–8% of Turmeric, and it gives turmeric a distinct colour and flavour. (1)
Turmeric is the yellowish powder used mostly to flavour foods (you'll find it in a lot of Indian dishes).
WHAT ARE THE HEALTH BENEFITS?
Research suggests that curcumin can help in the management of (2):
oxidative and inflammatory conditions (osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis,...)
A recently published study from the University of California states that curcumin also improves memory and mood.(3) More to that, research states, turmeric and curcumin might also help treat upset stomach, diabetes, depression, HIV, uveitis, and viral infections. It has also shown potential in treating and preventing cancer. It’s important to keep in mind that most of these studies have been done in the laboratory. Researchers haven’t yet conducted significant studies on the benefits of turmeric and curcumin(4). So it's too early to say what health benefits turmeric might have. But more research is needed.
There's also a study claiming that curcumin seems to enhance the synthesis of DHA and increase concentrations in the liver and the brain (5). Which might be handy information for those who do not consume fish or supplement fish oil
Curcumin has also been shown to decrease intensity and pain experienced during periods, and its antispasmodic action can also help with menstrual cramps. (6) While there are many medicines available today for this problem, using curcumin can provide a great natural and powerful choice. If you're pregnant or breastfeeding, HERE is some guidance regarding turmeric in this period.
Studies have shown, it may also help in the management of exercise-induced inflammation and muscle soreness (enhancing recovery and performance in active people). (7) It works the same way as anti-inflammatory drugs and painkillers like Advil, Motrin and Ibuprofen but without the nasty side effects these drugs can have on our bodies.
CAN YOU GET CURCUMIN NATURALLY FROM FOODS?
Of course. As we've already said, curcumin is the main bioactive of turmeric. But unfortunately, there is one major problem, when ingesting turmeric orally.
Curcumin has very poor bioavailability, meaning that when you ingest it orally, not much of it will be absorbed and available for use.
Why? Because it's a very lipophilic (fat soluble) supplement. (8) BUT there might be several components that can increase bioavailability. For example, piperine is the major active component of black pepper and, when combined in a complex with curcumin, has been shown to increase bioavailability by 2000% (2).
DOSAGE: Turmeric is an unproven treatment, though it has years of traditional use and some preliminary convincing research. There is no standard dosage. Usually, it depends on which reason do you ingest it. Take a look at HERE for further advice on dosage.
DRUG INTERACTIONS: Curcumin has a potential interaction with antiplatelet agents, anticoagulant agents, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents, salicylates, thrombolytic agents, vinblastine and ciprofloxacin or cotrimoxazole (when treating Salmonella typhimurium, as it lowers the antimicrobial efficacy of both drugs.) (8).
SIDE EFFECTS: Turmeric is generally safe. Taking large doses of turmeric or purified curcumin for long periods, such as several grams per day, can potentially cause side effects, including nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. In severe cases, stomach ulcers may develop. Large doses of turmeric may also worsen the symptoms of gallbladder disease.
RISK: Pregnant women should not use turmeric supplements. Talk to a doctor before using turmeric supplements regularly if you have any medical conditions, including gallbladder or kidney disease, bleeding disorders, diabetes, or immunity problems. Since turmeric can potentially increase bleeding, stop taking it at least two weeks before any surgery.
First and foremost, it is important to always aim for pure proprietary blends, when choosing a supplement. As you can see, researchers are just beginning to investigate the health benefits of curcumin in humans. There have been found beneficial effects of curcumin in treating autoimmune disorders, type I diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis. There is also some evidence of curcumin to have potential in treating and preventing cancer and to treat an upset stomach. We must take note that many studies also involved conflicts of interest, that researches who owned supplement companies, could benefit from sales of curcumin extract. However, curcumin is not a magic "cure-all" pill, like no other single nutrient. Based on the research that we got today, I certainly believe there are some health benefits. But additional large scale studies are needed to confirm these results.
Peter G. Bradford :"Curcumin and obesity". NCBI. January 22, 2013. Accessed July 24, 2018.
Hewlings, Susan J., and Douglas S. Kalman. "Curcumin: A Review of Its’ Effects on Human Health." NCBI. October 22, 2017. Accessed July 24, 2018.
Mustafa M. Husain, Yamna Channa, Mohan Chilukuri. "Turmeric for Prevention of Dementia: Food for Thought" The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, Volume 26, Issue 3, March 2018, Pages 278-279
WebMD. " Turmeric (Curcumin)" Accessed July 24, 2018.
Wu A, et al. "Curcumin boosts DHA in the brain: Implications for the prevention of anxiety disorders." Biochim Biophys Acta. (2015)
Samira Khayat,Hamed Fanaei,Masoomeh Kheirkhah,Zahra Behboodi Moghadam,Amir Kasaeian,Mani Javadimehr . " Curcumin attenuates severity of premenstrual syndrome symptoms: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial " Elsevier . Complementary Therapies in Medicine. June 2015 . Accessed July 24, 2018.
Takada, Yasunari, Bhardwaj, Anjana, Potdar, Pravin Aggarwal, Bharat B. “Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents differ in their ability to suppress NF-κB activation, inhibition of expression of cyclooxygenase-2 and cyclin D1, and abrogation of tumor cell proliferation”. Oncogene. October 2004.
"Curcumin," Examine.com, February 5, 2015, Accessed on 11 November 2018.