The problem with turmeric health benefits

Turmeric is yet another ancient spice that was rediscovered by western science. Promising research results are linked to this golden spice, but there is a hurdle on the way to enjoying all the incredible turmeric and curcumin health benefits. Our body processes turmeric very efficiently and only minimal curcumin concentrations end up in the bloodstream. Find out how you can boost curcumin bioavailability of this incredible spice to get the most out of it.

The health benefits of curcumin

A large number of studies have been conducted to find out how turmeric can improve your health. The efficiency of turmeric has been proved through many different researches for a remarkable specter of conditions with minimal side effects. What makes it so incredibly healing is the active ingredient curcumin. Turmeric is the yellow spice powder used for cooking and curcumin is the polyphenolic compound that gives turmeric the power to prevent and treat disease.
The list of conditions turmeric can help with is quite long, but here are some of the main benefits linked to regular curcumin intake:

  • Fights inflammation and pain
  • Treatment for inflammatory bowl disease
  • Relives rheumatoid arthritis
  • Acts as an antidepressant
  • Shows promising results in cancer prevention and treatment
  • Helps with cystic fibrosis symptoms
  • Brain health
  • Prevents strokes
  • Prevents Alzheimer’s disease
  • Lowers cholesterol
  • Keeps your skin younger

How to consume turmeric

Curcuma longa plant and turmeric root

Turmeric belongs to the ginger family and is grown as the root of the Curcuma longa plant. It visually resembles the ginger root. It has a brown skin with¬† deep orange to yellow flesh on the inside. The deep yellow color is very characteristic for this plant. That’s why it has has been used for centuries as a pigment for dying.

Although it has a rich color its taste is not strong. In fact compared to ginger it is quite mild, doesn’t have a hot note and has a slight bitter earthy taste. It can be used in cooking as a spice and goes well with rice dishes, chowders, curries, eggs, … In fact I try to sneak it in anywhere I can because of its incredible health implications.

The problem – Poor bioavailability

The only problem with turmeric consumption is that it needs to get from the intestines into your blood stream to benefit from all its healing powers. The fact is that curcumin is poorly absorbed by our intestines. In fact even if you would take very high doses, like several teaspoons of turmeric, concentrations in your blood would still be very low. This is due to the fact that it’s quickly metabolized by the liver and intestinal walls.

Black pepper and turmeric

The solution to this problem is quite simple though. A study found that piperine enhances bioavailability of curcumin up to 2000%. And where can you find piperine? In plain simple black pepper. Piperine inhibits enzymes that attack curcumin molecules and prevents processing of curcumin in the liver. The result is in an enormous increase of curcumin bioavailability in the bloodstream. Just a pinch of pepper will significantly increase the levels of curcumin in your blood.

Curcumin is best consumed with black pepper to boost its bioavailability by 2000%.

Curcumin is also better absorbed by your body if you eat it with fat. Through fat curcumin gets absorbed directly into the blood stream bypassing the liver.

What is an effective turmeric dosage?

Turmeric dosage

The most common way of taking curcumin is consuming turmeric powder. Fresh turmeric roots are still not commercially available for most of us. Since the bioavailability of curcumin is an issue it is very hard to say what an effective dosage of turmeric powder would be. Up today there is no evidence-based dosage that is recommended.

To be able to tell an exact dosage for a specific use it would be necessary to measure the amount of curcumin levels achieved in the affected tissue after eating turmeric. Since this is impossible, while we are waiting for more research on this field, it is considered that you should take about 1-3g of turmeric powder to experience health benefits form curcumin. This is about 1/2- 1 teaspoon a day. This dosage is considered to be effective and safe for preventative treatment. Turmeric powder contains about 5-10% of curcumin, so taking 1/2 tsp (1.5g) to 1tsp (3g) equals about 80 mg- 150 mg of pure curcumin intake. It is necessary to combine these dosages with black pepper to boost bioavailability for the tissues in your body.

1/2-1 teaspoon a day of turmeric powder is considered a safe and effective dosage for preventive treatment.

To treat acute conditions the dosages would have to be higher. Turmeric is considered safe and has only little side effects. Even higher dosages than 1 teaspoon can be considered quite safe.

Turmeric supplements – yes or no?

Curcumin supplements

Curcumin is popping up in many products these days. Even teas and juices are formulated with added curcumin. As the popularity of this spice has grown so has the supplement industry. Curcumin is widely available as a supplement, but the problem of absorption stays the same as with turmeric powder consumption.

Even high concentrated curcumin supplements can result with little bioavailability in your body. A consumer report has evaluated that more than a third of popular turmeric supplements failed its quality review. Most of the products provided less curcuminoid compounds than stated on the label and many also had traces of lead and cadmium.

Clearly it is easier to take a pill or two per day and get all the benefits out of curcumin instead of reminding yourself to put the spice in your food or dink it as a tincture with water. Using high quality turmeric in cooking is the natural way to incorporate this beneficial spice into your meals, like it has been done for centuries in the Indian diet.

An additional advantage of consuming turmeric powder or root, is that the essential oils contained in the whole food enhance the absorption of curcumin naturally multiple times. Adding black pepper and fat during cooking enhances bioavailability even further, up o 2000%. Using turmeric in cooking is a good preventative measure you can take to enhance your health. By consuming a teaspoon of turmeric powder with black pepper satisfactory concentrations of curcumin can be achieved in the bloodstream.

If you would like to choose a supplement to achieve higher curative concentrations, or are just looking for more convenience, look out for the following to get a high quality supplement:

  • Choose a good reputable manufacturer
    Chances are a high quality manufacturer is going to look out for heavy metal residues in the product and enhance bioavailability of the product.
  • Use a product derived from standardized 95% curcumin (curcuminoids)
  • Look out for products that contain more curcuminoids
    Curcumin is the main curcuminoid (active ingredient) found in turmeric but there are also demethoxycurcumin and bisdemethoxycurcumin. A good product will contain all three of them.
  • Check bioavailability claims on the label
    Choose a product that uses advanced technology to enhance bioavailability. If it does, it will be pointed out on the label. The daily dosage stated on the label can be a good clue for bioavailability. The less doses you need per day, the more probable it is that the manufacturer uses advanced technology to enhance bioavailability.

Although curcumin absorption is a problem when consuming turmeric it is definitively worth incorporating this golden spice into your diet due to its many health benefits.

Photo credit: By Simon A. EugsterOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0; Turmeric by mmmavocado, Turmeric by bungabunga