Are You Wasting Money on Turmeric?
If you’re a fan of Indian food, you’re probably quite familiar with turmeric. A member of the ginger family, this brilliant yellow-orange spice is used frequently to make curry—a staple in Indian and other Asian cuisines.
But turmeric is far more than a culinary staple; it’s a centuries-old medicine too. One of its most active components—curcumin—has an amazing, centuries-old reputation in Ayurvedic medicine as a powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. Only over the past decade or so has Western medicine finally started to recognize and appreciate what ancient healers knew all those years ago.
In recent years, turmeric and curcumin have both been studied for their potential to prevent and fight chronic health problems like diabetes, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular disease, depression, various gastrointestinal conditions, and even cancer.
Even better, aside from very, mild stomach upset, turmeric and curcumin do not cause any significant side effects.
So, it’s no surprise that we’ve started seeing turmeric and curcumin added to everything from teas and lattes to juices and kombucha—even chocolates and candies touting remarkable health-fueling benefits.
But chances are, you’re getting duped…
For all these spectacular benefits, though, turmeric and curcumin do have one major drawback: notoriously low bioavailability. This term simply refers to the degree to which the nutrient is absorbed and used by your body. The higher the bioavailability, the better. It means that more of that particular nutrient can enter your bloodstream and work its magic.
Unfortunately, turmeric is not one of those substances. As a result, you may be eating lots of turmeric or using products that contain turmeric/curcumin, thinking you’re doing yourself (and your health) a favor—but in reality, you’re not doing much of anything.
It’s important to know this so that you are not wasting your money on inferior products, and so that you’re getting the most bang for your buck when you buy a turmeric/curcumin supplement or product.
All this is not to say that you shouldn’t eat foods or drink beverages (tea, kombucha, etc.) that contain turmeric. Go ahead and add this colorful, delicious spice to your diet as much as you like. Every little bit helps and it certainly isn’t going to hurt you.
But if you’re buying cases upon cases of turmeric-enriched beverages or eating massive amounts of curry hoping you’ll see some kind of benefit, you’ll probably be disappointed. For serious therapeutic effects, you would have to consume A LOT of it…so much that you would very quickly grow sick of it.
There are roughly 200 mg of curcumin in one teaspoon of fresh or ground turmeric, and you need 1,000–1,500 mg daily if you want to reap any of curcumin’s health benefits. For this reason alone, the most powerful benefits can only be achieved through supplementation.
Speaking of supplementation, here’s another thing you should know…
Ordinary Curcumin Just Won’t Do
There are SO many curcumin supplements on the market. Some boast “pure curcumin” as though it’s something special. But, as you just learned, your body can’t absorb pure curcumin (or turmeric). Some manufacturers include additional substances in their formulations to enhance bioavailability.
One such substance is piperine, a black pepper extract and the compound responsible for making black pepper so pungent. While piperine does work to improve bioavailability, it also contributes to indigestion in some people. So be aware of that if you’re prone to indigestion.
There are also manufacturers that create curcumin products with proprietary delivery systems to enhance bioavailability. One of the more well-known brands is Meriva®, which discovered how to attach plant extracts to phospholipids to deliver a product that is 29 times more bioavailable than ordinary curcumin.
Another is Cavacurmin®, which binds curcumin to cyclodextrins—natural sugars that have the ability to blend together oil and water. In the case of curcumin, cyclodextrins improve its solubility in water…which increases absorption substantially.
One study showed that Cavacurmin® was more than 40 times more efficiently absorbed than other curcumin supplements and pure curcumin powder. Additionally, curcumin uptake in those taking Cavacurmin® was at least 4.6 times higher than the next-best commercial curcumin formulation.1
So the moral here is this: If you’re going to spend your money on a supplement with such important and wide-ranging benefits as curcumin, you want it to work.
If you’re hoping to relieve your joint pain, reduce general inflammation, improve your cardiovascular health or just add another layer of protection against some of today’s most challenging inflammatory diseases, make sure you choose higher quality brands that contain one of the proprietary curcumin formulations I’ve mentioned. If more of the compound can be absorbed and utilized by your body, you’ll see and feel benefits faster and far more efficiently.
You can find products that contain Cavacurmin® or Meriva® online and at most health food stores. Read the label carefully to make sure you see these specific names in the ingredient list.
The typical daily dosage is 500 mg two or three times a day.
- Purpura M, et al. Analysis of different innovative formulations of curcumin for improved relative oral bioavailability in human subjects. Eur J Nutr. 2018 Apr;57(3):929–38. doi: 10.1007/s00394-016-1376-9. Last access August 8, 2019.
Last Updated: May 7, 2020
Originally Published: August 19, 2019