You may have seen a bottle of capsules at the health food store called curcumin and wondered what it was and what it could do for you. Indeed, this supplement is showing promise for the treatment and prevention of another illnesses and conditions and may be the key ingredient of an ancient spice that has been used for medicinal purposes in India since ancient times.
What Is Curcumin?
Curcumin is the major compound found in the turmeric spice. There are a number of different curcuminoids found in turmeric, however curcumin is the major one and is what gives turmeric its coloring and accounts for about 2% of the weight of turmeric. It is extracted from turmeric using a process that involves a solvent such as ethanol (ethyl alcohol), the form of alcohol found in beverages. Alcohol is only used in the extraction process and there is no alcohol in curcumin powder that has been extracted from turmeric.
Health Benefits of Curcumin
At present, there are many studies that have been conducted on the health benefits of curcumin, and many are still going on or are being planned. Thus far, it has shown to be useful in the prevention of cancer. In 1949, it was discovered to have properties that were antibacterial and ever since then, curcumin continues to amaze at its healing benefits. How curcumin can be effective against such a wide range of illnesses continues to puzzle medical scientists.
The diseases which curcumin has shown promise at treating or curing include:
- A variety of cancers (colorectal, pancreatic, breast, lung, head and neck)
- Crohn’s disease
- Bowel disorders
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Inflammation after surgery
- Alcohol intoxication
- Respiratory tract infections
- Arsenic exposure
- Alzheimer’s disease
- AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome)
In addition to the list above, it has also been shown to help regulate total cholesterol, triglycerides, creatinine and antioxidants in the human body.
Toxicity Of Curcumin
Curcumin is considered extremely safe and thus far, daily doses of 12 grams per day have been given in clinical studies with no side effects or harmful consequences. In a study published in the Cancer Chemotherapy and Pharmacology journal in July of 2011, pancreatic cancer patients were given 8 grams of curcumin per day and none suffered and none reported any ill side effects. As a result, none of the participants in the study had to drop out (source). This is one of the reasons, the fact that it is so safe, that interest in this compound is so high in the medical research community.
The Problem With Curcumin Supplements
While it would seem that popping capsules filled with curcumin into your mouth and swallowing them might be a great way to prevent and or treat some illnesses and medical conditions, the problem with this approach is that curcumin is not water soluble (at room temperature) and its bioavailability is quite low. In addition, many curcumin supplements have been tested and found to have synthetic curcumin which have an “unbalanced spectrum of curcuminoids,” according to Terry Lemerond, president of EuroPharma Inc.
If you are going to take a curcumin supplement, research and ask about bioavailability of the supplement you are considering purchasing as well as the claims about the purity of natural curcumin that it contains. Absorption of curcumin may possibly be increased by taking it along with foods that are high in lecithin such as egg yolk or some vegetable based oils. A study published in the Journal of Natural Products indicated that curcumin was more highly absorbed with phospholipids such as that contained in lecithin.
Another study showed that when curcumin was boiled in water for ten minutes, bioavailability of curcumin increased 12 fold.
Curcumin certainly has the potential to help you with your health and to prevent illness and disease. However, simply taking a supplement may not be providing you with the amounts of curcumin that you think. If you are going to purchase curcumin supplements, for more availability and absorption into your bloodstream, you may want to consider emptying the contents of the curcumin capsules and either boiling in hot water or taking it along with an oil. There is also some evidence that reservatrol may also work synergisticly with curcumin.
Therapeutic Roles of Curcumin: Lessons Learned from Clinical Trials. The AAPS Journal. 2012 Nov 10. [Epub ahead of print]. (Abstract)