Curcuma longa (Turmeric) roots and powderAlthough turmeric has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries, the renewed attention around this member of the ginger family centers on the scientific evidence supporting its main active component, curcumin. A potent plant-based compound, curcumin has been used in many animal and cell studies, where it has been shown to have potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anticancer, and neuroprotective properties.

Turmeric PowderThe problem is seeing these benefits in human trials. Curcumin effectiveness is limited by its bioavailability, as Linus Pauling Institute nutrition scientist Barbara Delage, Ph.D., told Roni Caryn Rabin for the New York Times’ Ask Well column. Turmeric (or just straight curcumin) is poorly absorbed, rapidly metabolized, and quickly eliminated from the body. Therefore, its potential currently seems very limited.

Although attempts are underway to develop forms of curcumin that are better absorbed, as quoted by Delage in a blog from the Food Network, they “will need to be tested for safety and effectiveness.”Turmeric Tonic

Tricks that boost the bioavailability of turmeric include heating in a curry or warm drink, like this one from Vogue. Also, since curcumin is fat-soluble, eating some oil at the same time may help. And last but not least, a tip from our Micronutrient Information Center: a compound from black pepper (piperine) can slow how fast curcumin is kicked out of the body, thus may aid availability.

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2 thoughts on “Turmeric: A Potent Anti-inflammatory with Availability Issues

  1. There is a brand of curcumin that has a patent for increased bioavailability of free curcumin and they have published some studies. I want to try it to see if it can help with inflammation issues.
    Most available information says curcumin is safe but this study: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4315775/ says:
    “Despite the fact that curcumin seems to be a promising agent in slowing-down aging, one should keep in mind that its improved bioavailability and its long-term administration might have an opposite effect and it could accelerate aging, for example by inducing senescence of primary cells building the vasculature.”
    On the other hand you have this study: http://gerontologist.oxfordjournals.org/content/55/Suppl_2/195.2.full
    which says curcumin supplementation improves vascular endothelial function.
    Could you shed some light on this?

    Reply
    • There is much we don’t know about what will happen once efforts to increase the absorption of curcumin are successful. It is possible that the benefits of curcumin supplements lie in a ‘window’, where taking too little has no effect, but taking too much may have a negative outcome. Unfortunately, everything you read now is just speculation.

      Researchers need to be aware that their efforts to increase the bioavailabilty of curcumin may not yield extra benefits beyond a certain point – thus the need for extensive trials before making recommendations to consumers to buy these supplements.

      Reply

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