Curcumin is solid gold for your health—but are you getting your gold’s worth?
The article below was written for Newport Natural Health by Robert Iafelice, MS, RD, LDN. Learn more about Robert and our other experts here.
There’s no shortage of herbal supplements on the market today. Mother Nature has provided us with an abundance of treasured herbs to better our health. But if you could only take one, which herb do you choose?
You would be hard-pressed to find a better option than curcumin. This amazing plant compound has been called “Solid Gold,” not just because of its brilliant yellow color, but by virtue of its wide-ranging health benefits as well.
Curcumin’s Health Benefits
In the past five years, nearly 10,000 research articles have been published on curcumin (and other related compounds) found in the traditional Indian spice turmeric.1 Over 100 clinical trials have provided evidence of the therapeutic potential of curcumin against a large variety of ailments.2 The image below pretty much sums it up (Figure 1).
As if all these potential benefits are not enough, findings from a new animal study indicate that curcumin may be useful in the treatment of an underappreciated but very serious condition called sarcopenia – the loss of muscle mass and strength with age.3
Muscle is critical for lifelong good health. Not only can muscle wasting with age impair your ability to function, it can undermine your metabolic health as well. Skeletal muscle is important for blood sugar regulation by acting as a “sink” for the disposal of excess blood sugar. Loss of muscle can increase risk for diabetes, which, in turn, increases risk for cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. Muscle is the organ of longevity.
While curcumin exhibits a wide range of biological activities in the body, its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects are the most significant. This is consistent with oxidative stress (excessive free radicals) and inflammation being implicated in most chronic diseases.4
In the new sarcopenia study, for example, prolonged supplementation with curcumin in aged rats with muscle atrophy resulted in larger muscle mass and function. (This is especially impressive considering that the rats were food restricted!) Suppression of inflammation and oxidative (free radical) damage were suggested to be the mechanisms whereby curcumin imparted beneficial effects on aged skeletal muscle.3
So now….motivated by these promising reports about curcumin, you’re probably anxious to rush off to the nearest health food store and stock up on this versatile herbal remedy….but wait…
Not so fast….
Curcumin’s Achilles’ Heel
Curcumin does have a major drawback. It is exceptionally challenging to deliver curcumin to target tissues that need it. In other words, the bioavailability of curcumin ranks in the lousy category. One contributing factor is the poor absorption of curcumin from the gut into the bloodstream.1,4 In fact, in one study, consumption of a huge dose of curcumin (equivalent to roughly 5 bottles (60 ct.) of curcumin) resulted in extremely low to zero serum curcumin.5 Other reasons for the very limited bioavailability of curcumin include rapid digestion and processing, and prompt elimination from the body.4
In the past decade, various strategies have been successfully utilized to enhance the bioavailability of curcumin. One commonly used approach is combining curcumin with piperine – the principal bioactive component of black pepper. Piperine significantly improves the absorption of curcumin.4 However, the increased curcumin absorption triggered by piperine appears to result from irritation of the gastrointestinal tract. Additionally, piperine could alter the metabolism and absorption of medications taken at the same time.6,7
A new and safe curcumin formulation called CAVACURMIN® has been shown in a recent clinical study to be about 40 times more bioavailable than standard curcumin extract! What’s more, CAVACURMIN® was shown to be nearly 5 times more bioavailable than the next best commercially available curcumin formulation.8
So what makes CAVACURMIN® so effective?
CAVACURMIN® Curcumin Complex
The technology behind the enhanced bioavailability of CAVACURMIN® is borrowed from the pharmaceutical industry. It has been used extensively as a drug delivery system to increase a drug’s water solubility and thus its oral bioavailability. The technology is based on the use of cyclodextrins – naturally occurring carbohydrates produced from the breakdown of starch.8,9
Like some drugs, curcumin is a hydrophobic (water-hating) compound that does not dissolve well in water. Since water is the primary component of blood plasma, substances must be water-soluble in order to be freely transported within the bloodstream.
In CAVACURMIN®, curcumin is bound to a particular form of cyclodextrin called gamma-cyclodextrin, which has GRAS (generally recognized as safe) approval by the U.S. FDA.10
Basically, fat-soluble curcumin is encapsulated as a “guest” within a lipophilic (fat-loving) cavity in the gamma-cyclodextrin molecule. Gamma cyclodextrin consists of hydrophilic (water-loving) glucose building blocks linked in a ring structure and facing outward. This hydrophilic shield (shaped like a truncated cone) surrounding the curcumin enables it to disperse (instead of otherwise clumping together) and dissolve more readily in water (Figure 2). As a result, curcumin is more effectively absorbed into your body. Meanwhile, the gamma-cyclodextrin is harmlessly degraded by your starch-digesting enzymes.8-10
Synergistic Plant Extracts
Beyond enhanced absorption and bioavailability, the overall effectiveness of curcumin can be improved by coupling it with other natural compounds such as resveratrol.2 Like curcumin, resveratrol is a polyphenol with potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Celebrated for its anti-aging effects, resveratrol is naturally found in a variety of foods including grape skins, wine, peanuts, berries, and cocoa.11,12
Both curcumin and resveratrol are especially noted for their neuroprotective effects and are being investigated for the treatment of neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. In a recent animal study, the synergistic effect of a resveratrol-curcumin combination significantly counteracted brain damage induced by aluminum toxicity. In other words, the combination of the two plant compounds was more effective compared to resveratrol or curcumin alone.13
Grape seed extract is another plant compound with disease-protective benefits. It is rich in proanthocyanidins (OPCs) – a type of polyphenol compound with an antioxidant potency that is 20 times stronger than vitamin E and 50 times stronger than vitamin C.14
In a study in cultured human cancer cells, the combination of curcumin and grape seed-OPCs potently suppressed the development of colorectal cancer. The two plant extracts were shown to modify multiple cancer-promoting mechanisms in a cooperative manner. The anti-cancer effects of the curcumin-grape seed alliance were superior to the effects of the individual extracts.15
Curcumin is the active component of the spice turmeric, which has been used as a traditional natural remedy for centuries. With the ability to target multiple genes and signaling pathways at the cellular and molecular level, curcumin is being used to prevent and/or treat a broad spectrum of chronic disorders, including cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and autoimmune disease. Curcumin’s health benefits are primarily attributed to its formidable antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities.
However, curcumin’s major shortcoming is its poor bioavailability. Various delivery systems have been developed to overcome curcumin’s poor absorption. The great news is that a curcumin formulation called CAVACURMIN® has been demonstrated in a clinical study to increase curcumin’s absorption by a factor of 40 compared with standard curcumin!
Another way to enhance the therapeutic potential of curcumin is to combine it with other similar antioxidant polyphenols to create synergistic effects. Research has shown that resveratrol and grape seed extract can be particularly valuable when added to a curcumin formulation.
Simply put, what’s not to like about a well-formulated and bioavailable curcumin supplement? Pick up some curcumin and take advantage of its tremendous health benefits. Both your body and your brain will be eternally grateful.
But buyer beware.…not all curcumin is created equal.
- Kotha RR, Luthria DL. Curcumin: Biological, Pharmaceutical, Nutraceutical, and Analytical Aspects. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland). 2019;24(16).
- Kunnumakkara AB, Bordoloi D, Padmavathi G, et al. Curcumin, the golden nutraceutical: multitargeting for multiple chronic diseases. British journal of pharmacology. 2017;174(11):1325-1348.
- Receno CN, Liang C, Korol DL, et al. Effects of Prolonged Dietary Curcumin Exposure on Skeletal Muscle Biochemical and Functional Responses of Aged Male Rats. International journal of molecular sciences. 2019;20(5).
- Hewlings SJ, Kalman DS. Curcumin: A Review of Its’ Effects on Human Health. Foods (Basel, Switzerland). 2017;6(10).
- Shoba G, Joy D, Joseph T, Majeed M, Rajendran R, Srinivas PS. Influence of piperine on the pharmacokinetics of curcumin in animals and human volunteers. Planta medica. 1998;64(4):353-356.
- Velpandian T, Jasuja R, Bhardwaj RK, Jaiswal J, Gupta SK. Piperine in food: interference in the pharmacokinetics of phenytoin. European journal of drug metabolism and pharmacokinetics. 2001;26(4):241-247.
- Lee SH, Kim HY, Back SY, Han HK. Piperine-mediated drug interactions and formulation strategy for piperine: recent advances and future perspectives. Expert opinion on drug metabolism & toxicology. 2018;14(1):43-57.
- Purpura M, Lowery RP, Wilson JM, Mannan H, Munch G, Razmovski-Naumovski V. Analysis of different innovative formulations of curcumin for improved relative oral bioavailability in human subjects. European journal of nutrition. 2018;57(3):929-938.
- Loftsson T, Brewster M, Másson M. Role of Cyclodextrins in Improving Oral Drug Delivery. American Journal of Drug Delivery. 2004;2:261-275.
- AG WC. Products. CAVACURMIN®. 2019; https://www.wacker.com/cms/en-us/products/brands/cavacurmin/cavacurmin.html. Accessed November 12, 2019, 2019.
- Li J, Zhang CX, Liu YM, Chen KL, Chen G. A comparative study of anti-aging properties and mechanism: resveratrol and caloric restriction. Oncotarget. 2017;8(39):65717-65729.
- Li YR, Li S, Lin CC. Effect of resveratrol and pterostilbene on aging and longevity. BioFactors (Oxford, England). 2018;44(1):69-82.
- Zaky A, Bassiouny A, Farghaly M, El-Sabaa BM. A Combination of Resveratrol and Curcumin is Effective Against Aluminum Chloride-Induced Neuroinflammation in Rats. Journal of Alzheimer’s disease : JAD. 2017;60(s1):S221-s235.
- Shi J, Yu J, Pohorly JE, Kakuda Y. Polyphenolics in grape seeds-biochemistry and functionality. Journal of medicinal food. 2003;6(4):291-299.
- Ravindranathan P, Pasham D, Balaji U, et al. A combination of curcumin and oligomeric proanthocyanidins offer superior anti-tumorigenic properties in colorectal cancer. Scientific reports. 2018;8(1):13869.