Posted on Wed, 26 Oct 16
Turmeric is trendy, and added to everything from foods to dietary supplements, but there is also a lot of confusion about how best to use the spice for health benefits. Here are 3 essential tips.
Turmeric is big business and with this huge commercial growth comes intense marketing of everything from turmeric-boosted foods to absorption-enhanced pills. But are the product claims supported by science? What is better; food or supplements? And how do you choose a product or use the spice?
1. Turmeric vs. Curcumin
Turmeric is chemically diverse, containing approximately 235 compounds . The curcuminoids are perhaps the best know but comprise just 3-5% of turmeric powder. Of the curcuminoids the main ones are curcumin, demethoxycurcumin, and bisdemethoxycurcumin, and all of these may have biological importance, are synergistic, and have different activities [2-4]. Turmeric extracts in dietary supplements tend to concentrate the curcuminoids up to 85-95%.
Whole turmeric root contains essentials oils, polysaccharides, proteins and many non-curcumin phytochemicals, which appear to be as active or important as the curcuminoids. Curcuminoid-free turmeric still exhibits anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer activities, for example . And curcuminoid-free turmeric even helped reduce arthritis pain .
Both the whole root powder and high-potency extracts that concentrate curcuminoids have been shown to be clinically effective.
2. Enhanced vs. Natural
Absorption of curcuminoids is relatively low, but may be improved with fat which is perhaps why traditionally turmeric is taken as a medicine with foods such as ghee or coconut milk. The low absorption and bioavailability of curcuminoids is a major focus of commercial turmeric products and absorption enhancers are often added.
Actual increases in absorption are likely overstated for many enhanced products . And few, if any, studies have compared the health effects of enhanced-absorption products to a standard extract or the spice, so it is hard to know if they are actually better for you. In fact, one review found that standard turmeric extracts might even be better for improving mood than those containing absorption-enhancers like piperine .
The ingredients used to enhance bioavailability are sometimes artificial emulsifiers, including polysorbate-80 and povidone, another name for polyvinylpyrrolidone. There are potential health concerns with these additives, with polysorbate-80 linked to disruption of the gut microbiome, inflammatory bowel disease and metabolic syndrome in experimental studies . And there is often so much emulsifier in the product there is not much room for the turmeric extract, leaving you with a small amount per capsule.
Despite marketing claims that enhanced-absorption products are better there is little evidence to support superior health benefits, and turmeric extracts work just fine regardless.
3. Supplements vs. Food
The dose for turmeric or turmeric extract varies widely in clinical studies, typically from around 300 to 500 mg of curcuminoids daily up to 1000 mg twice daily. In some cases the dose appears to be important to ensure the therapeutic effects, but often it is simply a best guess so we don’t yet know if more, or less, would be better.
Until we work out what dose is best for a particular use, try an extract providing around 300 to 500 mg of curcuminoids one to two times daily. And if you are using turmeric for a particular illness it is best to speak to a health professional versed in nutritional medicine for guidance.
Some studies suggest simply adding turmeric to cooking may help reduce disease risk [10-11], and as little as ½-teaspoon of turmeric powder daily was enough to reduce cancer-related markers .
But most research has focused on turmeric supplements so we know little about how food compares to pills. However, a recent study found that 1-teaspoon of turmeric in cooking or with food was better than a dietary supplement at changing a particular gene marker associated with risk of diseases such as depression, asthma and cancer .
Traditional use and some science supports benefits of regularly using of turmeric powder in cooking, and there is a lot of research on turmeric extracts as dietary supplements: both have health benefits.
1. Li, S. Y., Yuan, W., Deng, G. R., Wang, P. et al., Chemical composition and product quality control of turmeric (Curcuma longa L.). Pharmaceutical Crops 2011, 2, 28–54.
2. Kou MC, Chiou SY, Weng CY, Wang L, Ho CT, Wu MJ. Curcuminoids distinctly exhibit antioxidant activities and regulate expression of scavenger receptors and heme oxygenase-1. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2013 Sep;57(9):1598-610.
3. Kiuchi, F.; Goto, Y.; Sugimoto, N.; Akao, N.; Kondo, K.; Tsuda, Y. Nematocidal activity of turmeric: Synergistic action of curuminoids. Chem. Pharm. Bull. 1993, 41, 1640–1643
4. Guo LY, Cai XF, Lee JJ, Kang SS, Shin EM, Zhou HY, Jung JW, Kim YS. Comparison of suppressive effects of demethoxycurcumin and bisdemethoxycurcumin on expressions of inflammatory mediators in vitro and in vivo. Arch Pharm Res. 2008 Apr;31(4):490-6
5. Aggarwal BB, Yuan W, Li S, Gupta SC. Curcumin-free turmeric exhibits anti-inflammatory and anticancer activities: Identification of novel components of turmeric. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2013 Sep;57(9):1529-42.
6. Madhu K, Chanda K, Saji MJ. Safety and efficacy of Curcuma longa extract in the treatment of painful knee osteoarthritis: a randomized placebo-controlled trial. Inflammopharmacology. 2013 Apr;21(2):129-36.
7. Jäger R, Lowery RP, Calvanese A, Joy JM, Purpura M, Wilson JM. Comparative absorption of curcumin formulations. Nutr J. 2014;13:1–8
8. Al-Karawi D, Al Mamoori DA, Tayyar Y. The Role of Curcumin Administration in Patients with Major Depressive Disorder: Mini Meta-Analysis of Clinical Trials. Phytother Res. 2016 Feb;30(2):175-83.
9. Chassaing B, et al. Dietary emulsifiers impact the mouse gut microbiota promoting colitis and metabolic syndrome. Nature. 2015 Mar 5;519(7541):92-6
10. Hutchins-Wolfbrandt A, Mistry AM. Dietary turmeric potentially reduces the risk of cancer. Asian Pac J Cancer Prev. 2011;12(12):3169-73.
11. Ng TP, Chiam PC, Lee T, Chua HC, Lim L, Kua EH. Curry consumption and cognitive function in the elderly. Am J Epidemiol. 2006 Nov 1;164(9):898-906.
12. Polasa K, Raghuram TC, Krishna TP, Krishnaswamy K. Effect of turmeric on urinary mutagens in smokers. Mutagenesis. 1992 Mar;7(2):107-9.
13. Personal communication and BBC & Newcastle University summary of study comparing turmeric powder to supplements [un-published]. Accessed at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/PSTGKKt3HR08tmK69w7J1b/does-turmeric-really-help-protect-us-from-cancer