It’s likely you’ve learned about the health benefits of turmeric and curcumin, and maybe noticed these terms are sometimes used as if they mean the same thing.
They’re mentioned together because curcumin is derived from turmeric, which has been valued for its health benefits for ages. Curious about what makes turmeric beneficial, researchers identified curcumin.
What’s the real difference, then? Turmeric is a root used to create a spice for cooking and making herbal teas. Within this root, we find curcumin, a bright yellow carotenoid and a potent antioxidant. It’s one of three similar compounds in turmeric, the others being demethoxycurcumin and bisdemethoxycurcumin, known together as curcuminoids.
You might be familiar with other carotenoids like lutein and zeaxanthin, which are great for eyes, and beta-carotene that the body turns into vitamin A. These carotenoids color plants, help them convert light into energy, and act as antioxidants to protect the plant cells.
Studies have shown that curcumin can affect the cellular signaling in our bodies, which helps explain its broad range of health benefits.
Since curcumin is made from turmeric, is there a difference? Is either one better?
Choosing between curcumin and turmeric isn’t very simple, as both have their own merits. Many advocates of whole foods suggest that our bodies utilize nutrients more effectively when they come from their natural sources.
An example often cited is the preference for eating whole fruits, skin and all, rather than consuming just the juice, as the body processes the natural sugars differently in whole fruits compared to their juiced counterparts.
Turmeric comes in different forms. The powdered turmeric in your kitchen is simply the dried and ground version of the root, while turmeric extract is created by soaking shredded turmeric in edible solvents, commonly used in items like wellness teas.
On the other hand, curcumin, which comprises just 3% of turmeric’s weight, is separated out through chromatography, a more intricate process. This allows for supplements containing pure curcumin, whereas turmeric extracts may have up to 95% curcumin, and the powdered spice found in your rack generally contains about 3%.
Studies suggest that this isolated curcumin is a more potent antioxidant than the powdered spice, though it’s worth noting that other compounds within the spice, known as curcuminoids, also have antioxidant properties.
Shared Benefits of Both Turmeric and Curcumin
Turmeric and curcumin offer a wide array of health benefits according to scientific research.
These include relief from osteoarthritis symptoms due to their anti-inflammatory properties, potential regulation of body fat and obesity inflammation, as well as a reduction of “bad” LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, lowering the risk of heart disease.
Moreover, turmeric and curcumin may have positive effects on diabetes by improving blood sugar metabolism, and might also act protectively against chronic liver damage caused by oxidative stress.
While research on cancer is still ongoing, there are indications that turmeric and curcumin may inhibit the activity of cancer cells. Additionally, they exhibit antifungal and antibacterial effects, disrupting cell membranes and reducing the growth of disease-causing bacteria.
Benefits Unique to Turmeric
Turmeric has earned widespread recognition in the medical field for its potential benefits.
Its positive effects extend beyond arthritis relief, as it shows promise in protecting the brain as it ages and has potential in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease.
The synergy of various plant compounds within turmeric supports its effectiveness in the body. For instance, studies have shown that the combination of components in turmeric, including curcumin, demonstrates superior antifungal activity compared to curcumin alone.
Similarly, research has revealed that turmeric exhibits a greater ability to suppress tumor cell growth than curcumin by itself. However, due to the presence of curcumin in turmeric, further studies are required to determine if turmeric is more effective than curcumin for other health conditions.
Benefits Unique to Curcumin
Researchers have started to focus on isolating curcumin from turmeric to investigate its potential benefits for specific conditions. Curcumin has demonstrated strong anti-inflammatory, antioxidant properties, and antibacterial effects, which can aid wound healing.
Both turmeric and curcumin have shown promising effects in reducing blood sugars in type 2 diabetes; however, curcumin has been found more effective at minimizing diabetes markers in an animal study. It has the ability to lower inflammatory markers that contribute to type 2 diabetes.
Moreover, curcumin is associated with reducing the risk of osteoporosis. An animal study showed that enriched turmeric extracts containing curcuminoids preserved bone mass, unlike those with a lower amount of curcuminoids which had no effect.
Although curcumin is known for its health benefits, it is often poorly absorbed and can pass through the gut undigested. To enhance its absorption, it is recommended to consume black pepper with meals or supplements containing curcumin, as the substance piperine in black pepper can significantly increase curcumin’s bioavailability.
Is One More Easily Absorbed Than The Other?
When it comes to absorption, both curcumin and turmeric don’t fare too well on their own, often requiring fats or oils to boost bioavailability. Turmeric root has some oils naturally, and it’s typically cooked with additional oils, which aids absorption. Turmeric powder, popular in turmeric lattes, also benefits from the natural fats found in milk.
Curcumin supplements are sometimes blended with fatty acids like those from fish or krill oil to improve absorption. Yet, the real game-changer for enhancing turmeric’s bioavailability is black pepper.
Its ingredient, piperine, prevents the breakdown of turmeric during digestion, allowing it to remain in the body longer. At Just Vitamins, we’ve included Bioperine® in our turmeric supplement formula, which ramps up bioavailability by 2000%. This significant increase in efficacy is why our turmeric tablets are one of the most frequently repurchased items in our catalog.
Turmeric Vs. Curcumin: Which Should You Choose?
There’s no definitive guide on whether curcumin or turmeric supplements are more effective. Research predominantly points to turmeric extract, rich in curcumin, or isolated curcumin itself as having notable health benefits. For assurance of efficacy, opt for supplements that have undergone clinical validation for optimal absorption.
Studies suggest that turmeric extracts with 1 gram of curcumin daily can significantly improve joint arthritis symptoms within 8-12 weeks. Individuals aiming to manage cholesterol levels might find 700 mg of turmeric extract twice daily effective.
An investigation over eight weeks observed that daily consumption of a mixture containing 2.4 grams of turmeric powder and nigella seeds led to lower cholesterol, reduced waist size, and decreased inflammation.
Despite varying results, one piece of research highlighted that athletes taking a combination of 6 grams of curcumin with 60 mg of piperine spread throughout the day experienced less muscle damage post-workout.
Curcumin has a strong safety record, with tolerable use in doses as high as 12 grams daily. Even so, it’s worth noting some individuals may experience mild side effects such as digestive discomfort or nausea.