Long recognized for its medicinal properties, turmeric has also been shown in numerous scientific studies to have significant benefits. Its proven antioxidant and anti-inflammatory abilities come from the curcumin it contains. While the benefits of turmeric and its active ingredient, curcumin, have long been known it is only recently that the exact mechanism of how curcumin works has been investigated. Let’s take a quick look at how Curcumin works and how to get the most out of it.
Just taking turmeric itself is not the best way to get the benefits of curcumin. As a National Institute of Health medical report states:
“Ingesting curcumin by itself does not lead to the associated health benefits due to its poor bioavailability, which appears to be primarily due to poor absorption, rapid metabolism, and rapid elimination”. There are 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%. Curcumin combined with enhancing agents provides multiple health benefits.’ NCBI
So we see here that to get the most out of the turmeric you are taking we need to pair it with piperine, and an even better form of piperine that was formulated to work with curcumin is Bioperine.
Why does piperine work? Because just like approximately 3% – 5% of the spice turmeric is composed of an active compound called curcumin, about 5% of black pepper by weight contains a compound called piperine. Curcumin is responsible for the yellow color of turmeric and piperine for the pungent flavor of pepper.
Piperine is a potent inhibitor of drug metabolism. One of the ways our liver gets rid of foreign substances is making them water soluble, so they can be more easily excreted. But this black pepper molecule inhibits that process. This means while the liver is trying to process the curcumin, the piperine is slowing that down, making more of it available in your body. There’s a reason people in India add pepper to their curry!
Another way to increase absorption is to take curcumin with fats. Traditionally this was done by consuming turmeric in fat-based sauces, such as in a rich curry. Taking curcumin with a meal that has some fat increases your absorption of curcumin. Think pairing it with vegetable fats such as coconut milk, olive or other plant oil, or with a meat. This way the curcumin is directly absorbed into the bloodstream through the lymphatic system, bypassing the liver.
Dosage and Frequency
So how much is considered a “therapeutic” dose of curcumin? Well, we asked ourselves that and found that there isn’t really a “recommended dosage”. What we did find is that taking turmeric with a curcumin extract is where nearly all the medical studies started. There are other benefits from turmeric besides containing curcumin however as turmeric also contains some 34 essential oils such as turmerone, atlantone, and zingiberene.
Caution: shameless plug ahead! Continue reading below↓
Some of the studies have found curcumin effective in alleviating arthritis conditions with relatively low doses (800mg turmeric and 200mg 95% curcumin) total a day. This medical study had patients with Osteoarthritis take 683 mg of curcumin extract three times a day. It states in its conclusions that a twelve week use of curcumin complex reduced pain in patients with OA.
The thing that stands out is that in the medical studies they really put in far more curcumin than most people take. This could be because they are trying to get statistically significant results in a short time period. In another study the authors concluded that, “This systematic review and meta-analysis provided scientific evidence that 8–12 weeks of standardized turmeric extracts (typically 1000 mg/day of curcumin) treatment can reduce arthritis symptoms (mainly pain and inflammation-related symptoms) and result in similar improvements in the symptoms as ibuprofen and diclofenac sodium. Therefore, turmeric extracts and curcumin can be recommended for alleviating the symptoms of arthritis, especially osteoarthritis”.
Because curcumin is flushed through the body relatively quickly most of the studies had people splitting the daily dose into three capsules. The only side effects, and in some studies they had people taking up to 12,000 mg in a dose, was gastrointestinal discomfort.
The most effective way to take turmeric is to find higher amounts of curcumin, take enough of it, and space it out throughout the day. It is also important to make sure to it contains piperine and if possible pair it with some fats.
If you found this brief summary of taking curcumin interesting and want to know more there is an excellent medical summary from the National Institutes of Health at this link. In it they discuss several studies including one that showed relatively low doses of curcumin improving attention and working memory!