Why Curcumin Deserves to be Called the “King of All Spices”
Curcumin. It’s been known to do everything from quell painful inflammation to support brain health, health function and even better skin. But whether your interest in this ancient spice was sparked for a specific reason, or you’ve long known about the impressive health benefits of curcumin, I’m excited to tell you more about ALL of the clinically-backed health perks curcumin boasts. (Plus, I’ll offer some tips on the best time to take it and how you can maximize benefits.)
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If you’ve long been a reader of my Live in the Now newsletter, you probably know that I have a soft spot in my heart for curcumin — but that’s because I’ve personally seen and felt the results. And after diving into the research, I’ve never been more convinced that the antioxidant-rich compound concentrated at the center of turmeric, is a healing substance that I think everyone should consume daily in some form.
And now, it seems many agree, as a review published in Current Pharmacology Reports makes it official: Curcumin is, in fact, the healing king of all spices.
If you haven’t heard it, the story behind curcumin’s rise to fame is quite impressive — but more on that in a minute. Let’s first address an important question that I hear from customers and readers quite frequently:
What’s the Difference Between Curcumin and Turmeric?
Many people use the names turmeric and curcumin interchangeably, but there’s a notable difference. Curcumin is in turmeric — it’s one of the active constituents of turmeric responsible for the many therapeutic benefits of the spice.
Believe it or not, turmeric contains a wide range of highly beneficial phytochemicals, the most well-known being curcuminoids. Turmeric also contains a special class of water-soluble polysaccharides called turmerosaccharides that make this spice especially beneficial for joints.[2,3]
Turmeric powder (a primary ingredient in curry powder) only contains about 3% curcumin (and some have even been found to be contaminated with lead and other toxins). Most standardized turmeric extracts, on the other hand, contain as much as 95% curcumin, and as much as 10% turmerosaccharides. These have also been purified and are toxin free.
How Do Turmeric and Curcumin Spices Compare to the Supplements?
Consuming between one-half to one teaspoon of turmeric powder with food has been shown to enhance cognition and digestion, but most of the clinical studies have focused on turmeric extract.[53,54]
Quantities of curcumin in turmeric supplements vary because many brands use a combination of extract and powder. The greater the proportion of extract to powder, the higher the amount of curcumin that is present. To get the therapeutic dose, look for a brand that contains at least 95 percent standardized curcumin extract.
When is the Best Time to Take Curcumin Supplements?
It’s best to take curcumin with foods that contain a little fat so that the lipids can aid in absorption of the fat-soluble curcuminoids. Curcumin is hydrophobic and has low bioavailability, which means that by itself, it is hard for the body to absorb. Absorption can be dramatically improved, however, when curcumin is combined with compounds from certain foods or spices. As you may have heard, piperine, a compound in black pepper, significantly boosts the bioavailability of curcumin.
Other Nutrients Also Help Boost Curcumin Activity…Such Vitamin D and CoQ10
Vitamin D: As unlikely as it seems, vitamin D actually boosts the effectiveness of curcumin, especially for brain health. One study found that vitamin D and curcumin team up to clear the brain of buildup. Another study found the two also work synergistically to fight infection and systemic inflammation.
Co-Q10: Curcumin and Co-Q10 take a “divide and conquer” approach in the body — and the relationship is piquing the interest of scientists, as the two seem to help each other’s causes.
While they both possess impressive mitochondrial restoring and antioxidant properties, curcumin seems to power through inflammation and free-radical threats so that Co-Q10 can perform its duties more efficiently.[7,8] Once “the coast is clear,” so to speak, Co-Q10’s unique antioxidant activity in the heart and the brain can then be maximize. It could be said that each of these antioxidants is the best at what they do, which is why they make a great pair.
Boswellia Extract: Clinical studies have shown boswellia to lower levels of inflammatory markers by modulating the production of pro-inflammatory enzyme 5-LOX, which is common in joint discomfort and other inflammation-related concerns.[9,10]
How Much Curcumin Should I Take?
Curcumin has been studied to be safe in very high doses, even up to 10,000 mg/day. In clinical trials, the doses used vary depending on the research teams’ models and objectives. Here is a chart of average curcumin doses used in these clinical trials. Click the left column to be taken to more information about the research.
Average Curcumin Dosage Used in Clinical Studies
|Health Concern or Objective||Curcumin mg/day|
|Inflammation||800-1,000 mg up to 2 times a day|
|Joint Support||400-600 mg up to 3 times a day|
|Rheumatoid Arthritis||500 mg up to 2 times a day|
|Mood Support||1,000 mg/day|
|Heart Support||50-4,000 mg|
|Liver Support||1,000-20,000 mg|
|Weight||500 mg/kg of body weight|
Curcumin: A Fun Backstory
For centuries, the traditional system of medicine in India relied on turmeric’s powerful anti-inflammatory properties to address things like pain related to inflammation.
But the local residents of India also used it in their cooking — a lot of it. So when epidemiological researchers noticed that the population of India had remarkably low incidents of cognitive disorders — 4 times lower than those of the same age group in the U.S., in fact — they looked right to the most powerful (and prevalent) spice in their diet for answers: curcumin. What unraveled after this link was revealed astonished scientists and doctors worldwide.
Curcumin’s Antioxidant and Anti-Inflammatory Benefits Are Too Good to Ignore
It was one particularly ground-breaking brain health study that put turmeric on the map in the early 2000s. It drew mass attention when researchers were astonished to find that low doses of the golden spice significantly reduced amyloid plaque burden — something brain health doctors had been seeking to do for decades. Then, in 2005, a group of researchers discovered that curcumin strongly inhibited the formation of these proteins in test tube models. Needless to say, more than 1,000 studies have since followed, confirming some truly impressive connections.
Not only has curcumin exhibited anti-amyloid properties in several studies, its potent antioxidant properties have been shown to help prevent oxidative damage to DNA, while its anti-inflammatory properties have been studied to be both powerful and far reaching.
In fact, many experts maintain that the single most important health discovery to come from the extensive research on curcumin is its ability to disrupt painful and health-damaging chronic inflammation. One study even found curcumin’s ability to attack inflammation rivaled that of a top OTC pain killer.
As you may or may not know, chronic inflammation is the silent killer that should scare us all. Especially when it’s the kind that happens at the micro level; the kind you can’t feel but that is threatening the health of your organs, tissues, blood vessels and joints. It wreaks havoc on every system in the body, setting loose dangerous free radicals that seek healthy cells and stable nutrients to destroy. It prevents nutrient absorption, damages healthy tissue and can severely compromise your quality of life.[18-24]
After sorting through the incredibly impressive body of research on curcumin that exists to date, trust me when I say that curcumin’s spot on the pedestal is much deserved.
Here’s a summary of the curcumin benefits we’ve written on over the last few years:
Curcumin’s Anti-Inflammatory Benefits:
We know that body-wide systemic inflammation is at the root of several chronic diseases. And while many nutrients have been found to help relieve pain related to inflammation, curcumin’s unique mechanism of action makes it a one-of-a-kind solution.
Studies have shown that the way curcumin works its magic is by effectively “switching off” the body’s most powerful inflammatory chemical, Nf-kappa beta, along with specific enzymes that have been implicated in inflammation.[33-36,52]
Another key study also found that curcumin blocked inflammatory pathways, effectively preventing the launch of a protein that triggers swelling and pain.
As you’ll read, it’s curcumin’s ability to mitigate inflammation that makes it such a value healing agent for specific systems of the body.
It’s no secret that curcumin has a powerful impact on both the inflammation and plaque build-up that is the hallmark of an aging brain. Curcumin’s mechanisms of action in the brain have been studied extensively.
Back in 2005, a study published in The Journal of Biological Chemistry catapulted curcumin into the spotlight when it revealed that curcumin strongly inhibited the formation of malformed proteins within the brain in test tube models.
Further studies in animal models continued to demonstrate curcumin’s remarkable ability to prevent the formation of malformed proteins and significantly improve the body’s ability to break down existing build-up in the brain.[26,27]
Not surprisingly, hundreds of studies on curcumin and brain health soon followed, as brain health specialists worldwide stood astonished. And, remarkably, researchers typically noticed rapid improvements. In 2007, a group of researchers found that feeding curcumin to mice for only 7 days significantly cleared and reduced existing proteins in the brain.
In 2008, a landmark clinical trial in humans with severe cognitive decline was conducted to measure the effects of curcumin. The results, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, clearly confirmed the findings that were seen in animal models.
The participants treated with curcumin had significantly higher levels of dissolved protein in their blood compared to those in the placebo group. These findings clearly show that when taken orally as a supplement in moderate doses (1,000 mg and 4,000 mg/day is what was used in the study), curcumin has the ability to effectively pass into the brain, bind to abnormal proteins, and assist the body in their breakdown and excretion. Curcumin is one of the only substances known to have such a profound effect on these proteins.
More recently, curcumin has even been found to help produce dramatic recovery results in Alzheimer’s patients and even reverse brain impairments.
Curcumin’s anti-inflammatory properties are impressive, and contribute greatly to the spice’s ability to quell joint discomfort and pain, however few people know that turmeric also contains a special class of beneficial plant nutrients called turmerosaccharides that act rapidly on the immune system to help relieve pain and restore joint flexibility.
In a clinical trial published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 109 patients with arthritis of the knee were randomly divided into two groups. One group received 800 mg of ibuprofen, while the other group received 2,000 mg of turmeric.
After six weeks, the turmeric group performed slightly better in their walk, and they reported less pain in going up and down stairs. More importantly, the turmeric group had less adverse effects, as significantly more abdominal pain and discomfort were reported with the ibuprofen.
According the Arthritis Foundation, anywhere from 1,000 mg to 1,800 mg of curcumin a day may be beneficial for reducing joint discomfort related to osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis.
Check out the research that found curcumin outperformed Ibuprofen for knee pain and joint discomfort to learn more about curcumin’s ability to outshine conventional medicine’s most popular “solutions” when it comes to reducing joint discomfort.
Since 1960, there have been over 2,000 published studies referencing curcumin’s impact on depression or major depressive disorder. Because curcumin has properties that can attack depression through several biological pathways, researchers have long hypothesized it could be successful in reducing the symptoms of people diagnosed with major depressive disorder.
In light of this, one research team found that curcumin did, in fact, produce impressive increases in serotonin and noradrenaline levels when administered at doses of 10 mg per kilogram of body weight.[30,31]
Another study, a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study involving 56 individuals, confirmed the results. Researchers tested the effects of 500 mg of curcumin administered twice a day for eight weeks.
Interestingly, during the first four weeks, no difference was noted in symptoms between participants who took the curcumin and those who took the placebo. However, throughout the second four weeks, the spice was significantly better than the placebo in alleviating mood-related symptoms.
Discover more about curcumin’s ability to help effectively fight depression in Study Finds Curcumin Rivals Antidepressants in a BIG Way.
Curcumin for Heart Support and Cardioprotective Benefits:
According to a review published in the International Journal of Cardiology, even those looking for the basic cardioprotective perks of natural foods and ingredients can benefit greatly from curcumin’s anti-thrombotic, anti-proliferative, and powerful anti-inflammatory properties.
Chronic, body-wide inflammation, the kind that slowly but surely results in unseen damage to the heart and blood vessels, is one of the known risk factors for worrisome heart complications. But when it comes to supporting heart health, studies have shown that curcumin’s powers extend far beyond its anti-inflammatory properties. Some have even said curcumin’s positive impact on heart health is as powerful as exercise.
Research has shown that curcumin promotes healthy function of the endothelium, the thin layer of cells that creates an interface between circulating blood and the vessel wall. Endothelial cells line the walls of the body’s entire circulatory system, from the arterial walls of the heart to the smallest, most vulnerable capillaries — and their role in heart health is critical.
When the endothelium isn’t functioning properly, vessels can’t properly dilate and blood flow to vital organs is compromised on the spot. The proper functioning of this delicate layer of cells plays a key role in warding off the development of atherosclerosis, arterial hypertension, heart failure, ischemia-reperfusion injury and even dementia.
Several studies have confirmed that curcumin successfully disrupts the arterial inflammation that threatens blood and nutrient supply to the brain and other vital organs. In one study, researchers noted that “Curcumin exerts several positive pharmacological effects; these include anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-hypertensive, anti-cancer, antiviral, anti-infective and wound-healing properties.”
A 2016 study published in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism found that even low doses of standardized curcumin extract can restore endothelial functioning to increase flow-mediated dilation of vessels by a “clinically substantial” amount. At just 50 mg a day for eight weeks, flow-mediated dilation (FMD) improved by 1.7%, while at 200 mg a day for eight weeks, FMD increased by a “clinically meaningful” 3.0% with a benefits to harm ratio of 546:1.
Given these impressive results, the study authors concluded, “Oral curcumin supplementation may present a simple lifestyle strategy for decreasing the risk of cardiovascular diseases.”
In fact, a recent review published in the February 2017 issue of the European Journal of Pharmacology highlighted curcumin’s remarkable and unique ability to capture and recycle misfolded proteins and other cellular byproducts that are commonly associated with heart failure.[41,42]
Curcumin spells good news for the millions suffering with a slow or overwhelmed liver. More than 100 studies have shown that curcumin has a unique ability to shield the liver from damage caused by exposure to chemicals and drugs.
A study published in Liver International found that curcumin has a remarkable ability to protect the liver from the everyday toxins that tend to overwhelm this organ, which is responsible for cleansing impurities from our bodies.
The researchers found the ancient spice was able to attenuate liver injury induced by ethanol, iron overdose, cholestasis and acute, subchronic and chronic carbon tetrachloride intoxication.
Another study published in the same peer-reviewed journal confirmed curcumin’s ability to successfully inhibit liver cirrhosis, even when administered in relatively small doses. Researchers of the study noted that curcumin’s anti-inflammatory properties may help significantly slow the progression of liver cirrhosis.
And it seems curcumin’s powerful antioxidant properties help support optimal liver function as well. Shedding more light into its impressive mechanisms of action, research published in the journal Molecular Pharmacology indicates that in addition to dramatically suppressing inflammation, curcumin curbs oxidative stress by increasing the content of hepatic glutathione — an antioxidant critical to liver health.
Skin Health Benefits of Topical and Oral Curcumin:
The benefits of curcumin for skin health extend to both oral and topical use.
As we’ve discussed, curcumin quells inflammation through nuclear factor-KB inhibition, but its potent antioxidant capacity can also protect the skin from age-inducing free radical damage.
Most remarkable, though, might be curcumin’s ability to help repair and restore the skin. In clinical trials, it has been shown to induce transforming growth factor-beta, triggering the accumulation of extracellular matrix, which continues through the remodeling phase of wound repair.
Many skin experts have been stunned to find that curcumin can work wonders for healing burns, too, by helping to slash infection and healing them more quickly. It has also been found to improve collagen deposition, calm psoriasis, and even increase the skin’s firmness and elasticity.
In one study, 28 women applied a topical gel every day for 4 weeks. Half of the group received a topical gel including turmeric and the other half received a gel that did not include turmeric. At the end of the 4-week study, the skin was evaluated using the speed of propagation of ultrasound shear waves, and self-evaluations were collected from each of the study participants.
Based on both measures, the results found that the turmeric group experienced statistically significant improvement in skin firmness and elasticity, compared to that of the placebo group.
Curcumin for Weight Management:
In clinical studies, the amount of curcumin used to have a dramatic impact on weight management is often higher than one could feasibly consume — even in supplement form. But if you’ve ever set out on a journey to lose weight, you know that every bit of help is welcome. And researchers insist curcumin may provide just that — but in a very unique way.
In one study, curcumin effectively suppressed the expression of factors that generate new fat cells. Researchers found that while supplementing a high-fat diet with curcumin did not affect total caloric intake, it did reduce weight gain, adiposity, and microvessel density in adipose tissue.
It may also play a role in influencing how your body burns calories, thanks to its potential to transform white fat — the kind of fat that merely stores energy — into the more calorically demanding (and mitochondria-packed) brown fat. This type of fat produces heat in the body, speeding the rate at which we burn calories.
To learn more about how spices can play a role in weight loss, check out our article 3 Spices That Can Whittle Your Middle.
Interactions: Are There People Who Should Avoid High Doses of Curcumin?
Curcumin is considered one of the safest medicinal spices in the world, even at high or mega doses. However, as is the case with any natural supplement, it is always best to consult with your physician, especially if you are currently on medications.
In particular, you may want to avoid higher doses of curcumin if you are pregnant, have a hormone-sensitive condition, take a blood thinning medication, take medication for diabetes (as curcumin works to balance blood sugar as well), or have gallstones or gall bladder disease.
For even more information on the many health benefits of curcumin, check out our archive of clinical research on Live in the Now. I’m certain you’ll be impressed by the growing body of scientific research that backs curcumin’s superior health and healing properties.
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Joshua Corn – Editor-in-Chief
Josh is a health freedom advocate and veteran of the natural health industry. He has been actively involved in the natural health movement for over 15 years, and has been dedicated to the promotion of health, vitality, longevity and natural living throughout his career. Josh has successfully overcome several personal health challenges through natural means, and believes that sharing information can empower people to take control of their health so they can solve their own problems and live life to its fullest potential. Josh is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Live in the Now. Additionally he serves as CEO of Stop Aging Now, a company that has been formulating premium dietary supplements since 1995. Josh is currently working on his first book about natural health, and is gearing up to launch the Live in the Now radio show. In addition to his work in the natural health field, Josh is an avid outdoorsman, animal lover and enjoys “living in the now” with his wife and two sons.